Happy Thanksgiving BSDers. In an effort to entertain you, or at least give you something to look out as you attempt to come out of your turkey coma, LVS from The Only Colors took some time to answer a few of our questions. Penn State has an opportunity to play spoiler against Michigan State, something Michigan State was unable to pull off against Penn State back in 2008. I've checked with Penn State officials - Mark Dantonio only gets 3 timeouts per half (how he uses them, unfortunately is still up to him.)
QBsneak12: Penn State and Michigan State have played some pretty competitive games during this series. What does Penn State have to do in order to have a chance to hand MSU their second loss?
LVS: Two major things. First, knock down Kirk Cousins. He's vulnerable right now and can be prone to turning the ball over. (He's thrown two pick-sixes in the past three games.) Like most above-average quarterbacks, however, he's more than capable of picking apart a secondary when given time to do so.
Second, PSU needs to run the ball effectively; if they can do that, MSU's linebackers will have to concentrate on stopping the run. If that's the case, McGloin and Co. will have the opportunity to go crazy in play action.
QBsneak12: Who is a player Penn State fans will know about after this game?
LVS: Edwin Baker. He's an exceptional running back; he has quickness, vision, and better breakaway speed than any MSU running back in recent memory. His rushing total last week wasn't enormously impressive because MSU fell behind early and spent the entire second half passing the ball, but Baker is excellent and has been a huge part of the team's success this season.
QBsneak12: Duke and North Carolina will always be basketball schools. Do you think Michigan State is a basketball school?
LVS: No. MSU has excellent basketball tradition, but MSU fans take football more seriously than either of those schools do-or other Big Ten "basketball schools" like Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue do, for that matter. Even in the darkest days of the football program, there would always be 70,000+ at home games. Calling MSU a basketball school is a gross oversimplification.
QBsneak12: How do you feel about the new Big Ten? Do you like the divisions?
LVS:I'm fine with them. Some MSU fans were disappointed at having Indiana as the cross-divisional rival; I'm happy that we have a "rivalry" game that we'll win 70 or 80 percent of the time. That's particularly true because for the past fifteen years, MSU has had the most difficult set of protected rivalry games of any conference team. (Ohio State also has Michigan and Penn State, but they've obviously been far better equipped to handle those games than we have been.) On some level, it's disappointing that we'll be playing PSU, OSU, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Illinois only 4 times every 10 years. But a divisional alignment was inevitable and I think the conference has handled it as well as could have been hoped.
QBsneak12: Michigan State has a pretty impressive running attack. Is this the best stable of running backs in school history?
LVS: That's an overstatement; even looking only at recent tandems, I'd probably choose the 2007 Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer tandem over the current backs. The difference is that all of MSU's running backs are either freshmen or sophomores, and will only improve in subsequent seasons.
QBsneak12: Greg Jones gets a lot of headlines (rightfully so). Where would you rank him against Penn State's recent trio of Linebackers; Dan Connor, Sean Lee, and Paul Posluszny?
LVS: Well, I didn't watch any of those players as often as I've seen Jones, so I'm not the person to make the comparison. I can say that Jones has been absolutely outstanding throughout his career, and has all-too-often been the bright spot on terrible defenses. This year, he actually has some help surrounding him, and for that reason, his statistics are slightly down. Nonetheless, he's always in position to make tackles, he's excellent on the blitz, and has vastly improved his play in pass coverage. I'm not sure if he'll have the NFL success that Connor, Lee, and Posluszny have had because he's bit undersized. But you couldn't ask for more from a college linebacker.
QBsneak12: Better true freshman running back: Penn State's Silas Redd or Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell?
LVS: Again, I haven't seen enough of Redd so I'll demur on the comparison. Bell was outstanding at the beginning of the season but hasn't had much success lately; partly that's because the offensive line hasn't been giving him holes, but he's also seemed more tentative at taking his opportunities. That said, MSU certainly wouldn't be 10-1 without him; his efforts against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Michigan would comprise a successful freshman campaign standing alone.
QBsneak12: What are the 3 keys to the game?
LVS: From MSU's perspective:
--Getting pressure on the quarterback from the defensive line. MSU's line has struggled in the pass rush for most of the season, and last week against Purdue was no different. McGloin certainly has the arm to pick up big plays if MSU can't chase him around the pocket.
--Protecting Kirk Cousins. Cousins has a sprained left shoulder and left ankle. If he can avoid being hit much he'll probably be fine, but he won't be particularly mobile. The offensive line needs to keep PSU's defenders off of Cousins.
--Avoiding falling far behind early in the game. MSU has made a nasty habit of this in the past few weeks. They've been able to come back against Northwestern and Purdue, but obviously were unable to do so against Iowa. MSU has struggled in State College since, like, forever, and counting on another second-half fightback will probably be too much to expect.
QBsneak12: How do you see things playing out on Saturday?
LVS: Tough to say. I think MSU is the better team, and there's obviously plenty on the line for the Spartans. But Mark Dantonio teams have really struggled in these types of situations; when stakes are highest in conference play, the team has faceplanted far too often. (See: Ohio State and Penn State '08, Iowa this season.) This MSU team has seemed different - and better, obviously - than many of the previous versions. A win at Penn State to win a share of the conference would be a gigantic accomplishment. MSU should win, but I'm sure I'm not the only Spartan fan adopting a "prove it" attitude toward this game.
Well there it is folks. Thanks again to LVS from The Only Colors. Make sure to check back in tomorrow, in between shopping for Black Friday deals, to see the game predictions.