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2023 Opponent Snapshot: Michigan State Spartans

Is Michigan State the new Northwestern?

Michigan State Spartans head coach Mel Tucker talks with wide receiver Antonio Gates Jr. (7) during a scrimmage at Spartan Stadium. Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Quick 2022 Recap

Michigan State fell off the map in 2022 as quickly as they rose in 2021, being exposed from game one on. They let Western Michigan rack up 334 yards on offense and were only up 21-13 through three quarters, before two fourth-quarter touchdowns made the score look worse than it was.

Everything came into clear view two weeks later, when The Spartans took on Washington, and found themselves in a 29-8 halftime hole they would not come back from. Like their game against Western Michigan, two fourth-quarter touchdowns masked what became the theme of the season: The defense could not stop anyone, and the offense wasn’t the potent machine it had been when they borrowed Kenneth Walker III for a season.

The bottom finally fell out when, looking for bowl eligibility, they blew a 24-7 halftime lead to Indiana in the penultimate game of the season. We all know what happened a week after.

So the question now remains, was 2021 the anomaly, or is Michigan State ready to take the mantle from Northwestern as the Jekyll and Hyde team from year to year?

Offensive player to watch: RB Jalen Berger

This pick is effectively by default as every offensive weapon with any returning experience has left the Spartan roster either via the transfer portal, the NFL draft, or graduation. Berger, himself a transfer from Wisconsin, had 683 yards rushing on 148 attempts last season, with eight touchdowns to his name. With a brand new quarterback and no security blanket at receiver, Berger is likely to carry an even bigger load this season than last.

Defensive player to watch: LB Jacoby Windmon

The UNLV transfer was every bit as good as advertised. He was one of the few bright spots in an abysmal defense, and Michigan State received great news when he announced he would return for his final year of eligibility. Windmon With 5.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles to go along with his 49 tackles, the linebacker was anywhere and everywhere for the Spartans in 2022.

Michigan State Wins if

With the caveat that who knows what Michigan State will do in 2023, the Spartans have a pretty clear blueprint for how to beat Penn State. They did it in 2021, and if they want to repeat in 2023, they’ll have to do the same thing. They’re going to need to find a way to air the ball out to soften out the defense, and hope Jalen Berger does his best impression of Walker. It definitely would help if a miracle play goes their way at some point in the game.

Penn State wins if

Likewise, Penn State also has a blueprint for success. Let Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen cook. The Spartans proved last season they they still have some fight, as they stayed with the Lions early. Penn State can avoid that by putting the game in their star running backs’ backs and take away opportunities for the Spartans to keep up.