The Nittany Lions look to reach a 10-win regular season while sending off the seniors on a high note in their last game in Beaver Stadium.
(#11)Penn State (9-2, 6-2) vs. Michigan State (5-6, 3-5)
Kickoff: 4 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
TV: FS1, 4 p.m. - Noah Eagle (play-by-play), Mark Helfrich (analyst) *no sideline reporter listed in game notes
Weather: A sunny and dry day with a high of 50 will welcome fans, which should make up for all of you who sat through the Maryland (and Northwestern) games.
PENN STATE RECORD: 76-36, 9th Year
OVERALL RECORD: 100-51, 12th Year
VS. MICHIGAN STATE: 3-5
MICHIGAN STATE RECORD: 18-13, 3rd Year
OVERALL RECORD: 23-20, 4th Year
VS. PENN STATE: 1-1
Penn State will have the opportunity to tie the all-time series on Saturday, with Michigan State holding a slim 18-17-1 lead...James Franklin will be aiming for his 101st career victory as a head coach after hitting the century mark against Rutgers...Michigan State is coming off a loss to Indiana despite gaining 540 yards on offense...Penn State is 7-6 all-time on games played on November 26, going back to a 2-0 victory over Dickinson in 1891...Penn State beat the Spartans 45-12 in 2016, clinching a Big Ten East Division title during the last game played on Nov. 26...the Nittany Lions and Spartans also met on Nov. 26 in 1994, with Penn State coming out on top 59-31 on its way to an undefeated season.
MICHIGAN STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE
Payton Thorne is back to lead the Spartans offense in his third year with the squad. He’s capable, and makes impressive throws at times but also has a tendency to turn the ball over and miss easy throws as well. Thorne has put up respectable numbers this year, but has seen them dip without one of the nation’s best players lining up behind him, a luxury he enjoyed in 2021 as defenses had to focus on stopping Kenneth Walker III. His completion percentage has improved from 60.4 to 63.4 percent, but his touchdown:interception ratio has dipped from 27:10 to 18:10. Thorne is coming off his second most productive day of season, tossing for 298 yards against Indiana. He can definitely do some things to hurt you, but the more he has to throw into Penn State’s secondary and avoid the pass rush, the better for the Nittany Lions.
Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman are the main targets, combining for 99 receptions on the season. Coleman has exploded in his sophomore season, leading the team with 50 catches, 70 yards and seven touchdown receptions. At 6-4, 210 lb., he’s got the size and skillset to become one of the standouts in the Big Ten next season. Reed does a nice job of stretcching the field, and already has a 1,000 yard season under his belt.
Jalen Berger inherited the workhorse running back role from Walker, and is averaging 60.8 yards per game on the ground. He’s coming off his most productive stretch of the season with 331 yards from scrimmage in the last three games. This includes a 119 yard rushing outing against Indiana on Saturday, where the Hoosiers came just short in double overtime.
Penn State’s defense has been making plays behind the line of scrimmage at an unprecedented rate this past month. Expect them to aim for more to eliminate the Spartans small threat of running the ball with Berger, and force Thorne to drop back and deal with the pass rush and stellar play of the secondary, even without top cornerback Joey Porter Jr. during the past two weeks.
PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSE
The Spartans were able to overcome some glaring deficiencies on defense last season to get to 11 wins. This year, those deficiencies are in plain view. Michigan State’s defense is allowing 417 yards per game this season, with a run defense that ranks 100th in the nation. There’s also the fact they have been without several of their top defensive players since the altercation in The Big House tunnel, with seven now facing charges.
Despite the results and suspensions, Michigan State has some talented pieces, with many holding it together despite the personnel shifts. Linebacker Cal Haladay has been everywhere, already amassing 109 tackles. He has has a team-leading 10.5 TFLs. Cornerback Kendall Brooks isn’t far behind, with 93 tackles and forcing three fumbles. Defensive tackle Simeon Barrow can cause disruptions in the backfield, and leads active Spartans with three sacks.
Penn State will be without top wide receiver Parker Washington for the remainder of the year after missing the Rutgers game. Sean Clifford looked to Mitchell Tinsley and Brenton Strange more frequently in Washington’s absence, as well as Harrison Wallace, who has hopes of breaking out as a deep threat in 2023.
The Nittany Lions offensive line continues to remain in a state of flux following several injuries. However, several young players have shown promise and performed better than could have been hoped for down the stretch run of the season.
There’s no nice way of putting this - Michigan State’s kicking situation is atrocious. You may have witnessed this for yourself if you caught the end of last week’s loss to the Hoosiers in double overtime. The Spartans basically had the game wrapped up at the end of regulation, but what was essentially an extra point from the left hash went wide. They had another opportunity with a chip shot in the first overtime, but that attempt was blocked.
The Spartans have used two kickers this season who are a combined five of 11 attempts, including several misses from close range. You can expect some fourth down gambles on Saturday when Michigan State is in Penn State territory.
The Spartans do, however, have a stud at punter in Bryce Baringer. The senior is averaging an incredible 48.4 yards per punt, which is identical to his average from a year ago. He has no problem flipping the field with a 70 yard-plus punt, doing so egularly with a career long of 78 yards. He’s pinned opponents inside the 20 on 21 occasions, compared to just three touchbacks.
Penn State-41, Michigan State-10
There’s no question this Nittany Lions team remains focused and motivated as the regular season comes to a conclusion. We’re seeing the effects of a hard-working team with the right attitude, as each week players are improving from the week before while not allowing anything but the best of their potential.
This team will be ready to meet its potential and improve once again, this time in front of a home crowd with the added motivation of sending off the seniors on a high note. There will be some thrilling plays from the likes of Sean Clifford and P.J. Mustipher to mark the occasion, with some big moments from breakout stars like Abdul Carter and Nicholas Singleton, well before their final game in Beaver Stadium.
Michigan State will be fighting for a bowl game. It won’t be nearly enough against this Penn State squad. Good guys roll.