Penn State Nittany Lions at (9) Michigan State Spartans (-1.5)
After upsetting the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, the Michigan State Spartans (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) control their own destiny to get to the College Football Playoff. The Spartans will look to take a step closer by booking their ticket to the Big Ten Championship Game when they host the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) this Saturday, at Spartan Stadium, in East Lansing (3:30 PM Eastern).
The Spartans 17-14 win over the Buckeyes changed the entire landscape in College Football, sending most experts predictions and playoff scenarios to the trash. Their win was impressive not only because of they knocked off an undefeated opponent, but because Michigan State only recorded 294 total yards; led by an average game from QB backup Tyler O’Connor, who completed only seven of 12 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown.
“We know how to win,” coach Mark Dantonio told the Associated Press after the victory.
Michigan State combined for 203 rushing yards in the game, with eight different players chipping in. Their defense, earned an A+ grade, holding Buckeye QB J.T. Barret to 46 passing yards and on the day, and Heisman Candidate RB Ezekiel Elliott to just 33 rushing yards on 12 carries.
It was the Spartans second win in a row after losing to Nebraska on a bad call two weeks ago. But a win puts them in a title game against Iowa, with the winner all but guaranteed to make the final four.
The Spartans haven’t named a starting quarterback for the weekend; they are waiting to find out about starter Connor Cook (shoulder), who has thrown for 2,482 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
“It’s a day-to-day type thing. It’s really how he advances in terms of his healing, and that’s all I can say,” Dantonio said on “Mike & Mike” on ESPN Radio.
Penn State, on the other side, has dropped two in a row: falling at Northwestern 23-21 on Nov 7 before losing to Michigan 28-16 at home this weekend. The Wolverines outgained the Lions 343-207 in total yards and earned five more first downs.
QB Christian Hackenberg has had better days, completing only 13 of 31 passes, for 137 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. Their running game also was less than impressive, averaging 3.2 yards per carry on the day, earning only 70 rushing yards in 22 carries.
“My heart hurts for these seniors,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Last time they’ll play in Beaver Stadium and they’re leaving not on a positive note.”
The biggest problem for Penn State for the past two seasons has been the pass protection. The Lions allowed 44 sacks on Hackenberg in 2014 and so far in 2015 that number is at 36. Despite the constant pressure, Hackenberg has thrown 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season.
“No one really can question Christian Hackenberg’s mental or physical toughness, and we have got to get our protection and our run game more consistent to help him out”, Franklin added.
The Spartans have won the last two games against the Nittany Lions, covering the spread both times. The total has gone OVER in 13 of Michigan State’s last 16 games when playing Penn State.
Pick: Michigan State -1.5.
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