After a week off to collect our thoughts and reacquaint ourselves with friends and family, Penn State returns to action on Saturday afternoon against Michigan State. When the Land Grant Trophy is up for grabs, anything can happen, and we get into all of it on this week's edition of the Roar Lions Roundtable.
It has been two weeks since the Ohio State game, but it is hard to imagine the taste of the last eight minutes of the game is entirely gone for this team. How do you move on from that with seven games still left, and quite a bit still left to play for?
Craig: It all starts and ends with Trace McSorley. If you haven’t seen the clip from this week’s Unrivaled, you need to check it out. He called out the entire team and demanded they be better. I think we see the little issues start to rectify this week and the Lions really get rolling.
John: There is still quite a bit to play for an I am confident that James Franklin and his staff have reminded the team of that over the last two weeks. There are plenty of scenarios for this team to win the division, but none of those will matter if they can’t take care of the business at hand.
Joe: They all remember what happened last year. They had a bye week to let the Ohio State loss sting. They all saw the help they got to move up during that bye week. In front of a raucous home crowd, for a stripe out, this team will be ready.
This is practically the same scenario as last year coming off of the one point loss in Columbus. Obviously being at home will help, and the bye week is big, but what must the Nittany Lions do to avoid the hangover that cost them last year’s game against Michigan State?
Craig: Start fast and contain Lerwerke. He’s missing so many offensive weapons that they need to make him feel the heat and settle for check-downs. Having Shane Simmons back will help a great deal here.
John: I believe the bye week came at a good time after that loss. They still have a run of tough games later in the month, but there are enough players in that locker room that remember what happened last year.
Joe: Avoiding an otherworldly monsoon will help. But seriously, the time off and seeing how much season is left should be plenty of motivation for the Lions to kick the Spartans down a few notches.
Michigan State typically relies on a defense that snuffs out the run, and an offense that controls the game with their own rushing attack. They have half of that equation this year against the run, but have struggled to get anything going on the ground themselves. Is their 3-2 start explained that easily?
Craig: Yes and no. Their offensive line has struggled all year, but the injuries on both sides of the ball have hampered their passing game and their pass defense. Teams are shredding Sparty through the air, which is something you haven’t really seen during Dantonio’s tenure.
John: Not in the least in my opinion. Michigan State got better each week last season and they returned a lot of good players. They were ranked No. 11 to start the year and that seemed fair based on last season. Even though they struggled in their opener, the late game at Arizona State was going to be tough. I wasn’t too surprised they lost that one, but after the egg they laid last week against Northwestern, they surely don’t look like the same group that knocked off Penn State last year.
Joe: Like John, a few weeks ago I was terrified of this game. One for the fact that they’re coming off a huge letdown against Ohio State and two, the fact that Michigan State and Brian Lewerke still looked pretty tough. But after squeaking by Utah State, losing to ASU, barely beating 1-4 Central Michigan and now losing to Northwestern, I don’t know how you can be confident in any part of this team if you’re a Michigan State fan. I feel their issues run much deeper than a lack of a running game.
With LJ Scott banged up, and the rest of the rushing attack slowed, Brian Lewerke has pretty much been the offense along with wide receiver Felton Davis. How does Penn State slow those two, and the MSU offense down?
Craig: Pressure, pressure, pressure. The Spartans have given up nearly 2.5 sacks per game, and keeping Lewerke in the pocket and under duress will clip his connections to Davis. The other main thing will be making sure Davis hits the ground as soon as he gets the ball. The secondary will need to focus on preventing YAC.
John: Michigan State is still going to try to run the ball so Penn State has to be prepared for that. If the defense can get the Spartans in longer third downs, I feel that with the return of Simmons, they can get to Lewerke. He’s been prone to the turnover this year with six interceptions. If the defense can slow the run, Lewerke will feel as if he needs to make plays and that can lead to some ill advised throws.
Joe: If they play like they did against Ohio State, who has two seriously dynamic running backs and a great offensive line to complement it, they should be able to handle the Spartans pretty easily. Make Lewerke uncomfortable in the pocket and you’ll be set.
It’s homecoming, the Nittany Lions’ No. 8 ranking is their highest of the year, and they have revenge not only from last year’s loss in East Lansing on their minds, but are looking to atone for the heartbreak of a couple of weeks ago. What do you expect from this game on Saturday?
Craig: I expect a lot of things to be smoothed out. The drops, the tackling, the Lion package, the attention to detail on the lines. James Franklin claimed Wednesday was the best day of practice the team has had in four years. I think that juice will carry over to Saturday in front of a racaus homecoming crowd. Give the Lions 38-17, and the Land Grant Trophy comes home.
John: Penn State is more than a two touchdown favorite and I expect the game to be close to the point spread. I can see this one being a little too close for comfort at the half, but Penn State will pull away and the Spartans won’t be able to match scores. Penn State 36 Michigan State 20
Joe: Hard to criticize the way Penn State has played most of the year, both offensively and defensively. They snuck by what will eventually be a ranked App State team and had Ohio State on the ropes until the elite team came out on top. They’ll handle business against the Spartans and it won’t be particularly difficult. Penn State 45, Michigan State 23