Quick 2020 Recap
The Spartans were just 2-5 in 2020, but at least made the most of its two victories - beating Michigan on the road, and upsetting West Division champs Northwestern. The rest of the season was rough, which started with a loss in the season opener at home against Rutgers, and also included blowout losses against Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State. The Spartans had a winnable game against Maryland in the “Champions Week,” only to have their season cut short when the match-up was canceled due to COVID cases.
Offensive Player to Watch: WR Jalen Nailor
Michigan State always has that one lethal receiver who can take over a game, don’t they (Felton Davis, anyone?)? Nailor had a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore, catching 26 passes for 515 yards -a fantastic 19.8 yards per catch- and four touchdowns. He had one of his best games in 2020 against the Nittany Lions, with 100 yards receiving and two scores. Nailor will certainly have the attention of the Penn State defense this time around.
Defensive Player to Watch: DE Drew Beesley
Beesley enters his sixth year with the Spartans, and is looking to turn his “super senior” season into an NFL payday next fall. Beesley led the team with three sacks in the shortened 2020 season, along with 5.5 TFLs and a forced fumble. He will be looked upon to create plays in the backfield to help a defense that will be breaking in several new starters.
Major Changes for 2021
The Spartans return just two starters on offense from 2020. However, some new faces may help turn things for the worst offense in the Big Ten. Michigan State will also have an open competition at quarterback to replace Rocky Lombardi. The competition appears to be between Payton Thorne, who completed 56.5 percent of passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions in the four games he appeared last season, and Anthony Russo, a graduate transfer from Temple who is hoping to raise his NFL prospects with the Spartans this fall. Otherwise, Mel Tucker is back for year two at the helm after taking over for Mark Dantonio, who is no doubt staring intently and frowning somewhere.
Penn State Wins If
The defense does its job. The Spartans offense continues to be a trainwreck, and Tucker will need more time to get the pieces in place to change that. Even if the offense has an off day, they should have no issue producing enough to leave with a victory.
Michigan State Wins If
The Spartans offense takes a huge leap forward and becomes formidable by the end of the regular season. If not, Michigan State will need a special teams touchdown and a pick-six or two to stay in the game.