Penn State will try to send its seniors off the right way by upsetting Michigan State in the finale game of the 2014
Penn State (6-5, 2-5) vs. Michigan State (9-2, 6-1)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Line: Penn State -13.5
TV: ESPN2 Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Ed Cunningham (analyst) Jeanine Edwards (sideline)
Weather: Chilly and cloudy with temperatures in the upper 30s with little chance of precipitation.
PENN STATE RECORD: 6-5, 1st Year
OVERALL RECORD: 30-20, 4th Year
VS. MICHIGAN STATE: 0-0
MICHIGAN STATE RECORD: 73-31, 8th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 90-48, 11th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 2-3
...NOW THE FUN PART
MICHIGAN STATE OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
Outside of Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Penn State has mostly avoided an exceptional class of Big Ten running backs this season. That will change with senior Jeremy Langford coming to town this weekend. Unlike Coleman, who relies on speed and shiftiness to create big plays, Langford is a strong, physical back who wears down a defense as the game goes on. This could finally spell trouble for Penn State's nationally-leading run defense. If Penn State's offense struggles to stay on the field yet again this Saturday, expect to see more missed tackles as the game progresses with Langford being able to pick up chunks of yardage against a stout Nittany Lions run defense. Senior Nick Hill and sophomore Delton Williams do an excellent job of spelling Langford and not allowing the Spartan offense to miss a beat with their star running back on the sideline. Hill would likely be starting for most other programs. He is actually averaging slightly more yards per carry than Langford (6.0 vs. 5.7) and has a nose for the end zone, reaching paydirt nine times in 2014 on just 100 carries.
Michigan State's offense is much more than just Langford, though. The Spartans rank sixth nationally in scoring offense thanks to a balanced attack led by Connor Cook. The junior quarterback has an excellent chance to be a first-round NFL draft pick in May should he elect to forgo his senior season. Cook made a name for himself by blossoming into an NFL-caliber quarterback during the Spartans Rose Bowl championship season in 2013. He has not disappointed this fall, passing for 2,720 yards and 21 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He could be be a more consistent passer though, as evident by the fact he completed a so-so 58.7 percent of passes so far in 2014, which oddly enough matches his exact completion percentage in his first year as a starter in 2013.
The Spartans have an absolute stud in receiver Tony Lippett, the Big Ten's best wideout and a likely All-American selection. Lippett has already exceeded the 1,000 yard mark on the season to go along with a whooping 19.1 yards per catch average. Jordan Lucas has been outstanding all season, but needless to say he will face his stiffest test on Saturday. Should Penn State's young secondary succeed in slowing down Lippett, Cook will still have a bevy of other reliable receivers. Keith Mumphery, Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings Jr. and tight end Josiah Price all bring something unique to the table to help form arguably the Big Ten's best aerial attack.
With Michigan State's versatility, Penn State's defense will need to continue to dominate the run game while keeping pressure on Cook. By this point we know they're up for the task as long as the offense can find a way to keep from putting them in bad positions throughout the contest.
MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE
The Spartans defense isn't quite as skilled as the 2013 version, when they were undoubtedly the best unit in the nation. The 2014 Spartans defense is still damn good, and if Illinois, Indiana and Rutgers can shut down the Penn State offense, it should be a very simple task for Michigan State. The Spartans are quite good at stuffing the run, so don't expect Akeel Lynch to break the century mark for the third consecutive time. Unfortunately this also means Bill Belton has little chance to make a huge impact in his final game at Beaver Stadium, which is a shame considering everything he has been through since 2011.
Michigan State doesn't have the single standout linebacker like in year's past. Instead they have three steady performers who comprise an excellent unit. Safety Kurtis Drummond is the unquestionable leader of the secondary. The senior will be contributing on Sundays next year and does pretty much everything well. He's especially skilled at defending the run and actually leads the Spartans in tackles with 59 stops on the season to go along with four interceptions and nine pass deflections. Drummond is especially effective at blitzing from across the field and can easily find his way to the backfield.
Speaking of finding their way into the backfield, Penn State will have its hands full trying to slow down defensive end Shilique Calhoun. The junior has the potential to be a very high draft pick if he decides not to return for his senior campaign. A third of Calhoun's tackles occur behind the line of scrimmage and he is also leads the Spartans in sacks with 6.0 on the season. He will certainly add to those numbers on Saturday.
Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger is solid, but not very reliable beyond 40 yards. His season long is a 42-yarder in week seven against Purdue. Senior Mike Sadler has been a very consistent performer in his four years as a starter, and has the leg to flip the field if forced to punt deep in his own territory.
Sam Ficken will be playing his final game at Beaver Stadium, and as unlikely as it seems, there would be no more appropriate ending to Saturday's contest than the senior kicker hitting a game-winning field goal as time expires. Ficken has shown tremendous resilience during his career that saw many highs and lows. Take away a few blocked field goals, and Ficken has been perfect in 2014. That was hard to fathom following the 2012 Virginia game when many fans were calling for his scholarship to be revoked.
MICHIGAN STATE-30 PENN STATE-10
I don't have much in the way of expectations for this game. The defense should keep it close into the third quarter, but eventually the lack of production on offense will cause them to wear down and Michigan State has too much talent not to seize the opportunity by putting together a few long scoring drives.
Looking for a reason for hope? I was way off in my week 14 prediction last year.