Everything just feels different now. The guys on the team seem confident, James Franklin seems like he got his groove back, they seem to have figured out how to do things this peculiar year. It isn’t what they all wanted it to be, but have adjusted expectations and found a focus. This week, the march to .500 continues against Michigan State, who has also not had a great season. Yes, they beat Northwestern, but I think that says more about the Wildcats than it does the Spartans. As long as Penn State continues to take care of the ball, they should continue their climb up the standings.
Penn State 31, Michigan State 20
Two weeks against two pretty bad teams, two wins, and suddenly Penn State is being mentioned for bowl games? Really? 23 points against Rutgers does not inspire much confidence in me. The red zone scoring is still abysmal, and the offense is entirely too reliant on long, grinding drives - sooner or later, college kids are going to make mistakes, and asking them to never drop a pass, miss a block, and always stay on schedule with respect to down and distance seems unrealistic.
Michigan State 24, Penn State 17
Penn State is improving. Have they played some not-so-great teams the last two weeks? Maybe. However, I wouldn’t classify the Spartans above the Nittany Lions just yet. Rocky Lombardi throws a nice deep ball, but also really struggled against both Iowa, Ohio State and Indiana in particular (yes, I know Penn State lost to those teams as well...). I believe the defense will put enough pressure on him to force a turnover or two, and the offense will use a ball control approach with a few big plays and get the victory.
Penn State 35, Michigan State 21
Don’t look now, but Penn State is playing with a sense of purpose and is riding a wave of momentum thanks to two straight wins. That’s bad news for a Sparty team that has had their share of ups and downs and is coming off a soul-crushing defeat against Ohio State.
Sparty is better at defending the run than Rutgers or Michigan, but their secondary is ripe for the picking. Sparty’s ground game doesn’t inspire much confidence but there’s a good chance their backup QB Peyton Thorne will either start or get more PT than the struggling Rocky Lombardi, so they could be a thorn in PSU’s side from a passing standpoint.
Nonetheless, I like the Land Grant Trophy to remain in Happy Valley for a second straight year.
Penn State 27, Michigan State 10
Give Penn State credit. At 0-5 this team could have totally and completely quit, I know I expected them to. Instead of quitting, they have gone out and won back-to-back games dominating the trenches in both games. This included getting James Franklin his first win in Ann Arbor. Now... it’s LAND GRANT WEEK BAY BAY!!
Penn State and Michigan State both enter this game at 2-5, preparing to do battle for both the legendary Land Grant Trophy, as well as a third place finish in the Big Ten East. Penn State will not be able to run the ball on the Spartans as easily as they have the Wolverines and Scarlet Knights the last two weeks. If the Nittany Lions are going to pull this one out they will need Sean Clifford to step up and play maybe the best game he has all season. Due to a lack of faith in Clifford, I can’t envision the Nittany Lion winning streak growing to three.
Michigan State 20, Penn State 17
For the first time this season, I am confident that Penn State is poised for victory. This team has overcome the necessary obstacles to find its footing. Most importantly, they now expect to win.
Michigan State has been an inconsistent team this season, which is par for course with a new coaching staff needing to make things up as they go in 2020. They could perform like they did two weeks ago, when they were the only time to hand Northwestern a loss thus far. They could also fail to show up, like they did in games against Indiana and Iowa.
Penn State will be able to take matters in their hands either way. I’m expecting a tight, low-scoring first half with the Spartans up by a field goal. But some key adjustments lead to an offensive explosion in the second half, as the Nittany Lions put the game away in the third quarter.
Sean Clifford has a big day with his legs, rushing for two touchdowns and being on the receiving end of another from Will Levis on a gadget play. Keyvone Lee also earns a rushing touchdown after being set up by a near pick-six by Brandon Smith. Joey Porter Jr. and Daequan Hardy also pick off passes, thanks to a steady pressure from the defensive line that continues over from the Rutgers game.
The good guys roll, giving us some positive vibes and some hope following a frustrating and tumultuous regular season.
Penn State 37, Michigan State 13