Penn State wraps up its regular season and gets its last shot at a signature win when Michigan State comes to Beaver Stadium on Saturday. The Nittany Lions (6-5, 2-5) are 11.5-point underdogs for a Senior Day clash against a Spartans team that had national title aspirations shot down by Ohio State three weeks ago.
Penn State has trudged through the middle part of the season with losses in five of its last six games, perhaps none uglier than last weekend’s 16-14 setback at Illinois. Christian Hackenberg struggled again, completing 8 of 16 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, and the Nittany Lions were held to just 265 yards of total offense by the Big Ten’s worst defense.
In its season finale against Michigan State, Penn State gets one of the league’s toughest, most athletic defenses. The Spartans, while taking a small step back from a nationally elite unit in 2013, rank among the top league’s top four in most defensive categories and pose big problems to Penn State with the Big Ten’s best totals in sacks (34, tie) and turnover margin (+19).
The 2014 version of Michigan State has less bite defensively but is a much more rounded offensive team behind junior quarterback Connor Cook, who leads the Big Ten in passing (247.3 ypg). The Spartans are averaging nearly 14 more points per game over last season, lead the Big Ten in total offense (514.5 ypg) and rank second in scoring (43.9 ppg).
Penn State’s shot at pulling an upset should again hinge on the effort of one of the nation’s best defenses. Can the Nittany Lions slow down Cook and company? Does Hackenberg have a final big game in his right arm? Bob Flounders, Andrew P. Shay and Dustin Hockensmith debate those points and more on this week’s Keystone Sports Network podcast.