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Michigan State Spartans vs. Penn State Nittany Lions, Preview, Predictions & Prognostications

When: Sat. Nov. 26, 2016; Noon ET
Where: Bloomington, IN; Memorial Stadium (52,929)
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 72-40-6
Last Meeting: Indiana won last year 54-36
Line: Indiana (-19)

Michigan State heads to Happy Valley to try and spoiler for the second straight week.

Amazingly enough, both of these teams are on the two opposite ends of the spectrum from where we thought they would be when we kicked this whole thing off in September. It’s Penn State — and not Sparty — that has a shot still alive for a Big Ten Championship birth and potential College Football Playoff appearance.

The Spartans have struggled so badly that there isn’t even a bowl appearance in sight. This will be Michigan State’s last game of 2016. How motivated will it be to ruin a dream season for Penn State, or will reality of almost doing the same to Ohio State result in a letdown?

1 Burning Question: Has this Spartan team improved enough to pull off the shocker?

There is a narrative out there that the Spartans are beginning to find their form from 2015 — albeit late, late in the season. Running back L.J. Scott is running with bad intentions behind an offensive line finding its sea legs, and all of a sudden the defensive line is starting to get pressure more consistently.

There is no doubt that Mark Dantonio still has plenty of talent on the roster, with four and five-star guys still running around in East Lansing. At some point this team has to put it together right? There have been injuries, inconsistent play at quarterback, and a youth movement that has yet to realize its potential.

So, the big question is whether last week was a sign of things coming together, or a series of fortunate events like the weather and cirmcumstances that made things appear as a mirage. We are about to find out Saturday.

2 Key Stats:

— 4.  That’s the number of sacks Michigan State had against Ohio State last week. That was after coming into the game with just seven the entire year. So what happened? Was it a case of pass protection not being on the up and up for OSU, or was it more a product of a young defensive line finding out what it takes to go all out every snap? Spartan fans are hoping it’s the latter, while Penn State fans think it is the former. Either way, getting pressure and push up front will be huge in this one. We’re about to find out.

.317. That’s the third down percentage on the year for the Penn State offense. That’s a highly surprising low percentage for a team still in the running for really big things this year. There’s been improvement throughout the year, but it just goes to show you that the Nittany Lions can’t get too far behind the chains and expect to convert a ton of 3rd and long opportunities. What happens on first down throughout this game is going to be huge for the dynamic of this game. The Spartans can’t let Penn State running back Saquon Barkley get four and five yards a pop.

3 Key Players:

L.J. Scott, Michigan State RB: Scott is finally starting to really assert himself. No. 3 was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, but coming into the year, there were still doubts. But no longer. Scott has now rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last five games and was simply the best player on the field last week against Ohio State in totaling 236 yards of total offense. If pride is on the line going against Saquon Barkley, expect Scott to show up big in this one. If he does, look out …

Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB: There has been a move towards a running back by committee approach across the conference this year, but not in Happy Valley. Barkley is the clear No. 1 and for good reason. He is a cut above the rest of the backs in the league with his ability to use a combination of power, speed and vision to gain chunks on the ground. He leads the Big Ten in rushing, and if he’s able to get loose early and often against the Spartan defense, it’ll be lights out for the Green and White.

Trace McSorley, Penn State QB: If the Spartan defensive line really has improved and can have success in slowing down Barkley, it’ll leave it up to McSorley to make plays down the field. When you put the tape on from early in the year to now, his growth in decision-making and keeping plays alive is evident. He is now a dangerous weapon in both modes of transportation, and if the Nittany Lions are going to punch their ticket to Indy, it’ll likely be because of his ability to compliment what Barkley will do on the ground.

 4 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Penn State 38-17
Dave: Penn State 27-24
Phil H.: Penn State 24-20
Philip R.: Coming
Zach: Coming


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