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No. 11 Penn State vs. Michigan State: Game Preview

Who’s ready for some Friday Night Lights?

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Nittany Lions seek their 10th win of the season as the regular season comes to a close on a Friday night in Detroit.

No. 11 Penn State (9-2, 6-2) vs. Michigan State (4-7, 2-6)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit, MI

The Betting Line: Penn State -21 (Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)

TV: NBC, 7:30 p.m. - Noah Eagle (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst), Kathryn Tappen (sideline)

Weather: The weather will not be a factor on game conditions since it will be played in a dome. If you are making the trip to Detroit, the low will be in the 20s on Friday night with a chance of rain and snow mix, so dress warmly and be careful on the roads.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 87-38, 10th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 111-53, 13th Year

VS. MICHIGAN STATE: 4-5

Harlon Barnett (Interim):

MICHIGAN STATE RECORD: 2-7, First Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-0

FUN FACTS

MICHIGAN STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Katin Houser stepped into the starting quarterback role during the second half of the 2023 season, and has done mostly well for a freshman. He’s completing 58.6 percent of his passes with six touchdowns to four interceptions, and is coming off his most productive day in leading the Spartans to a 24-21 victory over Indiana on Saturday. Houser threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns, including a clutch 36-yard strike to tight end Maliq Carr to put the Spartans ahead with just 1:10 remining in the game.

The Spartans run game goes nearly exclusively through sophomore Nathan Carter, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on the season. After reaching 100 rushing yards in four of the first five weeks, Carter has seen his production dip as his single-game high over the last six games is 52 yards (which he did twice in games against Rutgers and Ohio State). Carter is used on screens on occassion, but isn’t a big factor in the passing game. It’s possible that Carter may not be available on Friday after leaving the Indiana game early with an injury, which would leave them with fifth-year senior Jaren Mangham as their next healthy option with back-up Jalen Berger out for the season. Mangham has 69 yards on the season with a 2.8 yards per carry average.

Michigan State will be using a backup center that is short on experience, which could spell trouble against a very dangerous Penn State pass rush that has been the strength of the team throughout the season. Michigan and Rutgers both found some success running the ball on third downs to neutralize the pass rush, and the Spartans will likely attempt to follow that trend.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSE

The biggest storyline when Penn State has the ball is who exactly will be under center on Friday night. Drew Allar was forced out of the Rutgers game early in the second half, and was replaced by Beau Pribula who helped Penn State pull away for a 27-6 victory. Pribula ended up as the team’s leading rusher for the day with 71 yards on the ground, and only put up one short pass during his time on the field. James Franklin commented that Allar will be the starter if healthy during his weekly press conference on Monday, so we’ll need to wait to see how things shake out.

The Spartans defense has been unspectacular but capable this season, and not nearly as leaky as some of the Spartans defenses during recent seasons. Their biggest question mark heading into the game is the defensive tackle unit that has been hampered by injuries. They were down to three available defensive tackles on Saturday, and could be less than that this week. The Spartans have even had to resort to moving offensive linemen over on defense to have enough healthy bodies.

Regardless, they were able to make enough stops to come away with a 24-21 victory over Indiana, and could find ways to slow down a Penn State offense that has struggled to find its rhythm throiughout the year, especially when it faces a somewhat capable defense.

The Spartans like to bring extra pressure from its linebackers, and senior Aaron Brule and freshman Jordan Hall have doen a great job of making plays in the backfield this season. They should be used to get Penn State’s offense off schedule, which has faced difficulties keeping the chains moving when they have second and/or third-and-long situations. Michigan State also has a rising star in safety Jaden Mangham who leads the team with four interceptions and is sixth on the team in tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PREDICTION

Penn State-31, Michigan State-7

You have to give Michigan State credit. It’s been one thing after another for the past seven months. Their starting quarterback and star wide receiver left for the transfer portal after spring ball. Then head coach Mel Tucker was let go in the midst of an ugly sexual harrassment scandal in week two. The team was flailing with a six-game losing streak that included an 0-5 start in Big Ten play. It would have been so easy to pack things in for the season, but the Spartans will not quit. They enter the game winning two of the last three, and with a win on Friday night, could still manage to sneak into the bowl picture at 5-7 as it seems likely there will be more bowl spots than eligible teams this season.

It won’t be enough on Friday night though. There’s a clear gap between Ohio State and Michigan at the top and Penn State. There’s also a large gap between Penn State and the #4-14 teams in the conference. The Nittany Lions defense, provided they continue to play to their potential, will be able to keep points off the board while creating opportunities for the offense. While the offense has been lackluster, they will be able to do enough through the running game and working the tight ends to gradually build up a lead. It seems as though by this point we should know what’s coming, and just sit back to watch it unfold.