GAME NOTES: The 2010 regular season comes to an end for a pair of Big Ten Conference rivals, as the 11th-ranked Michigan State Spartans come calling on the Penn State Nittany Lions. The winner claims the Land Grant Trophy.
Michigan State is 10-1 on the year, and its 6-1 mark in Big Ten play has it in line to garner at least a share of the conference crown should it win this game. The Spartans, who haven't won the Big Ten title since 1990, have won back-to-back games since suffering their only loss of the season, that being a 37-6 setback at Iowa on October 30th. They are currently tied atop the conference standings with both Ohio State and Wisconsin.
As for the Nittany Lions, this has been an up and down season for Joe Paterno's club as they are 7-4 overall and 4-3 in conference. Penn State, which got Paterno his 400th career win a couple of weeks ago in a comeback victory over Northwestern, is coming off a 41-24 triumph over Indiana in Landover, Maryland last week. The Lions have won four of their last five games.
Since Penn State's admission into the Big Ten back in 1993, these two teams have closed out the regular season against each other every year. Overall, the Nittany Lions hold a narrow 14-12-1 advantage in the all-time series, and they have won the last two meetings. Michigan State hasn't won at Beaver Stadium since 1965.
Michigan State kept its hopes of a possible Big Ten championship alive last week in a home game with Purdue, although it wasn't easy as the Spartans slipped past the Boilermakers in a 35-31 final. MSU rallied from a double- digit deficit in the fourth quarter to earn the hard-fought victory, doing so on the strength of a 276-yard, three-TD performance by QB Kirk Cousins. Despite Edwin Baker picking up 90 yards and a TD on 16 carries, the running game never really got on track, thus the effort by Cousins was needed to keep the team in the Big Ten title hunt. Mark Dell served as Cousins' favorite target on the day, pulling down eight balls for 108 yards a pair of scores.
The Michigan State defense surrendered 378 total yards to the Boilermakers last week, with equal distribution coming from both the run (189 yards) and the pass (189 yards). The Spartans came up with a pair of INTs in the game, but failed to log a sack and only made three plays in the Purdue backfield. Eric Gordon was high man for MSU with his 12 tackles, while Greg Jones added eight stops and broke up a pass.
"What a day. Outstanding job by our football team hanging in. I think Purdue came ready to play, obviously. Didn't play our best football, but we just kept playing," exclaimed MSU head coach Mark Dantonio who was clearly proud of the way his team fought against a pesky Purdue squad.
Dantonio also credited the leadership of his QB for keeping the team focused, "He is resilient and a competitor, he has toughness and is the leader of our football team. When your leader does things, people follow."
Cousins ranks fourth in the Big Ten is passing, averaging 232.1 ypg and he has thrown 18 TD passes against nine INTs. Add Baker's 97.2 ypg and 12 scores, and it's no wonder the Spartans rank in the upper half of the conference in scoring offense (31.6 ppg) and total offense (413.5 ypg). Dell and B.J. Cunningham rank one-two on the team's receiving list with a combined 96 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 TDs.
To this point in the season, the Michigan State defense is giving up just 19.9 ppg to rank third in the conference, with foes churning out 125.4 ypg on the ground and 207.1 ypg through the air. The effort against the run ranks the unit third as well, and the Spartans have been particularly tough deep in their own territory as they rank second in the league in red-zone defense (27- of-37, .730). Jones has been the team's most active defender all season, logging 95 tackles while coming up with two INTs.
Matt McGloin threw for a career-high 315 yards and two TDs to lead the Nittany Lions to their 17-point win over Indiana last Saturday. As a result, Penn State improved to 14-0 all-time against the Hoosiers. McGloin, making just his third career start, was highly efficient in completing 22-of-31 passes, hitting WR Derek Moye six times for 90 yards and a score. Not to be left out, the PSU ground game also played an integral role, with both Evan Royster and Silas Redd each running for TDs and combining to help the Lions amass 171 rushing yards on the day. In all, the PSU offense produced just shy of 500 total yards
The Nittany Lions allowed only 90 yards on the ground, and just 332 total to the Hoosiers, who misfired on nine of their 13 third-down conversion attempts and held possession of the ball for just 23 minutes. Nate Stupar led the PSU stand with 10 tackles, while D'Anton Lynn finished with eight. The Lions logged just one turnover in the game, and recorded only two sacks.
Lacking significant playmakers on offense, the Nittany Lions average just 24.8 ppg to rank ninth in the Big Ten. Since taking over for freshman Rob Bolden, McGloin has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,025 yards, 11 TDs and only three INTs. Moye is PSU's leading pass catcher with 43 grabs for 741 yards and six scores. Royster, who earlier this season became the school's all-time leading rusher, paces the ground attack with 831 yards and five TDs, while Redd has come on of late to pick up 417 yards and two scores.
With the offense being rather vanilla this year, the Lions have relied on strong defensive play to keep them relevant, and foes are averaging just 22.1 ppg behind typical outputs of 164.7 ypg on the ground and 189.7 ygp via the pass -- that last figure ranking the team second in the league. Chris Colasanti is far and away the team's leading tackler after 11 games, making 92 stops. Lynn is next with 66, and Stupar checks in with 62.
Paterno, who recently said he is looking forward to returning in 2011, welcomes the challenge of facing a formidable opponent with so much on the line, "Playing a ranked team such as Michigan State...plays a very aggressive game, very intelligent football team, very disciplined, very well coached. At this time of the year, I think is, for a young team that's had to battle a lot of different problems on the field with the injuries and the youth in key spots, I think this is a very important experience for them."
This will surely be a physical battle between two proud teams. The Spartans have a ton to play for in terms of the conference title, but the Lions are tough to beat at home. Expect this one to go down to the wire.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 31, Michigan State 27