— Story by PSU Insider Brian Tripp @
On Saturday #7 Penn State hosts Michigan State with a potential berth in the Big Ten Championship Game at stake. The Nittany Lions are riding a 7-game win streak and can advance to next week’s title game with a win and Michigan loss. Coaches, players and fans should know the outcome of #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Michigan prior to kickoff. If the Wolverines can win on the road, Penn State will be denied a chance to win the conference. However, a win against Michigan State would secure a 10-win season and essentially guarantee participation in a New Year’s Six bowl game. As always, our Penn State insider Brian Tripp provides his three keys:
Brian’s Three Keys:
- Manage Emotions – The atmosphere in and around Beaver Stadium will be electric as Penn State enters the final day of the regular season with a chance to win the Big Ten East Division. As Michigan and Ohio State play to an expected thrilling finish, Penn State must focus on beating Michigan State. If the Nittany Lions don’t win, results from across the conference are irrelevant. If Michigan wins, Penn State still can finish in the top 5 and play in a marquee bowl game. The annual senior day also alters pregame routines and this year’s class represents the final recruits from Joe Paterno’s tenure as head coach. Franklin and his staff have done a fantastic job limiting distractions to this point, but may have their toughest task yet on Saturday.
- Red Zone Touchdowns – Michigan State has one of the nation’s worst red zone defenses. Penn State’s offense has converted on 86% of its red zone opportunities but only 53% of visits have resulted in a touchdown. Against Rutgers, Penn State settled for four field goals and failed to score from inside the five-yard line. Field goals allow subpar teams to linger in games. With McSorley’s mobility, Barkley, Robinson, Godwin and Gesicki, Penn State should be better inside the 20.
- Create More Big Plays – Penn State has 97 plays of 20 yards or greater. Opponents have just 59. If the Nittany Lions total more big plays than the Spartans, they’ll win the game easily. Michigan State’s LJ Scott can break long runs and RJ Shelton is a weapon at wide receiver. If the Penn State defense forces MSU to sustain long drives through competent quarterback play, the Spartans will struggle to tally points.
Brian’s Player to Watch
Trace McSorley – Michigan State’s defense has been very effective against the pass over the last few weeks and McSorley struggled through the air in treacherous conditions at Rutgers. However, the Spartans have had difficulty getting to opposing quarterbacks and will surely focus most of their game plan around slowing Saquon Barkley. I think McSorley shines in the season finale and picks up a rushing and passing touchdown.
Brian’s Prediction: Penn State 27 Michigan State 17 – Penn State overcomes a sluggish start and connects on enough big plays to overwhelm Michigan State. The score is closer than the game with the Spartans scoring late. Unfortunately for Penn State loyalists, Michigan outduels Ohio State and plays for the Big Ten title.