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Know Your Foe: Michigan State Spartans

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This game is scarier than it should be....

Michigan State v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Penn State is through two-thirds of its stretch against Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State and is sitting at 7-0 on the season and No. 6 in the country. The Nittany Lions will now look to conquer their potentially biggest demons when they take on the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing on Saturday afternoon

University of Michigan State:

Location: East Lansing, MI
Enrollment: 50,344

Michigan Football Facts:

Home Stadium: Spartan Stadium (75,005)

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (13th season, 111-54)

Conference: Big Ten

Conference Title: 3 total (3 in Big Ten)

Overall Bowl Record: 12-16

Series History:

Saturday’s matchup between Penn State and Michigan State will be the 34th in the series. The Spartans currently hold a 17-15-1 lead in the series and are winners of five of the last six games and are 6-3 in the Mark Dantonio era. Penn State will look for one if its biggest wins over Michigan State in the series on Saturday.

Oh yeah, the two teams also fight for this beauty.

land grant trophy lasers

Last Season (7-6, 5-4):

Michigan State was looking for a second-straight double-digit win season after a successful 10-3 campaign in 2017. That would not be so, however, for the Spartans as they struggled mightily on offense. On October 6th, the Spartans would get their biggest win of the season, pulling out a victory of the then No.8 ranked Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. It would be their biggest win of the season by far and would only beat Purdue, Maryland, and Rutgers the rest of the way. The last three games of the season for the Spartans truly summed up their offensive struggles with just 26 points including a 7-6 loss to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl.

Recruiting and offseason:

The Spartans looked to jumpstart their offense by promoting quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to offensive coordinator but as an in-house hire it left a lot to be desired for the struggling program. On the recruiting trail, the Spartans signed 18 recruits and had the 32nd ranked class nationally, which was the seventh-ranked class in the Big Ten.

What they did last week: BYE week

Michigan State had an extra week to prepare for Penn State as they are coming off their bye week while the Nittany Lions took on the Michigan Wolverines. Prior to last week, the Spartans were dealt their second straight blowout loss on the season. On October 12th, the Spartans were blown out by the Wisconsin Badgers 38-0 while on the road at Camp Randall. The Spartans had just 149-yards in the game while allowing over 400-yards to the Badgers, including 222 yards on the ground. In the week before, the Spartans traveled to Columbus and were blown out by the Buckeyes, 34-10.

Offense:

The Spartans made a change at offensive coordinator prior to this season and so far it’s debatable if the move has paid off. Against teams like Tulsa, Western Michigan, Northwestern, and Indiana, the Spartans offense has looked good, scoring an average of 37.5 points points per game. Against their tougher opponents in Arizona State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, they’ve totaled just 17 points, or 5.6 points per game. The difference is staggering to say the least.

The Spartans passing game has been average with senior Brian Lewerke leading the offense. This season, Lewerke is completing 57.5% of his passes for 1,596-yards, and 11 touchdowns. Against the trio of Arizona State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, his numbers are on par where he has been for most of the season, completing 56% of his passes (51-for-91) for 562-yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His average quarterback rating for those three games was 96.9 and his QBR was an average of 53.8. Overall, their passing attack ranks 64th in the country.

The Spartans run game this season has taken a big step backward from year’s past, averaging just 117.1 yards per game on the ground. That ranks 110th in the country out of 130 teams. Their top running back is freshman Elijah Collins who has 492-yards and three touchdowns on 98 carries. Overall, he’s averaged a solid five yards per carry.

The Spartans have taken decent care of the football so far this season with nine turnovers in their seven games. Five of those turnovers have come out in their last two games with three turnovers against Ohio State and two turnovers against the Badgers.

Defense:

The one thing that the Spartans had going into this season was their defense and for the most part has lived up to expectations. Through seven games, the Spartans have given up an average of 21 points per game. In their first five games, they allowed just 75 points total and 15 points per game but like their offense, the defense has struggled against top tier teams. After allowing 75 points in their first five games, they allowed 72 points against Ohio State and Wisconsin.

While the defense has struggled overall, the Spartans pass defense has remained rather solid throughout the season. They’re allowing just 195.6 yards through the air and was able to keep a strong Ohio State passing attack under check in their 34-10 loss, giving up just 206-yards through the air. The two teams that did have great success against the Spartans defense? Western Michigan (285-yards) and Indiana (286-yards), outside of those teams, the next highest passing total was the Buckeyes 206-yards. The Spartans defense has also totaled seven interceptions this year and won’t make it easy for Sean Clifford to throw the ball on Saturday.

While the Spartans pass defense has remained strong throughout the season, no matter the opponent, their rush defense has done the opposite. After being impressive through the first five games, the Spartans have given 545-yards in their last two games including 323-yards to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Nittany Lions have been able to garner a strong running games at times this season, especially with Noah Cain in the backfield. Saturday could be another chance for Cain to show his abilities.

Special Teams:

The Spartans special teams this season has been up-and-down for the most part. Kicker Matt Coghlin is perfect in extra-points this season, going 18-for-18 but is just 11-for-17 when it comes to field goals. Punter Jake Hartbarger, however, has been tremendous, averaging 46.5 yards per punt.

Their return game has been adequate for the most part, the Spartans are averaging 23.2 yards per kickoff and eight yards per punt return. They’re not explosive and they’re not likely to hurt you on returns but they’ll pick up some decent yardage on both.