Penn State vs. Michigan State: Battle for the Land Grant Trophy
Four Things to Look for: Penn State vs. Michigan State
1. The home of the Land Grant Trophy
Both No. 7 Penn State and No. 24 Michigan State lost heartbreakers a week ago. Penn State lost a competitive battle at Ohio State. Michigan State lost in three overtimes against a tough Northwestern team. The Nittany Lions and the Spartans will look to get back on track this week as they battle for the Land Grant Trophy.
The Land Grant Trophy has gone to the winner of the Penn State-Michigan State game every year since 1993. The trophy itself is not pretty, it is actually very strange looking, but otherwise very important to both schools. The Land Grant Trophy currently resides in Happy Valley and Penn State head coach James Franklin would like to keep it that way. In his weekly press conference Franklin stated, “We need to work really hard to make sure that we keep the Land Grant Trophy as much as we possibly can because we take a lot of pride in it…It’s one of the cool things about college football.” The Nittany Lions not only want to keep the Land Grant Trophy in their possession, but they also need to win big to stay in College Football Playoff contention.
2. Penn State offensive line against another talented front seven
It is no surprise that the Penn State offensive line is up for discussion again this week. The unit is undoubtedly the weakest unit for the Nittany Lions. Furthermore, there is no word on starting tackle Ryan Bates. The offensive line is steady when they are healthy, but with the injury to Bates the whole unit faltered last week against Ohio State. Head coach James Franklin did not give any updates on Bates during his weekly press conference. Furthermore, he stated that right tackle Chasz Wright will have to play well this week. If Bates does not play Wright will undoubtedly resume at right tackle, shifting Will Fries over to left tackle.
The Spartan front seven is coming into this game with 19 sacks on the season. The Penn State offensive line has given up 16 sacks this season. Last week alone the Penn State o-line unit gave up 13 tackles for loss against Ohio State. The o-line will have to pay particular attention to defensive end Kenny Willekes and middle linebacker Joe Bachie. Combined, Willekes and Bachia have seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss on the season. To win by the margin necessary this weekend, the Nittany Lion o-line will have to step up and play better than they have all season.
3. Saquon Barkley involvement
Last week against Ohio State the game started off with two Saquon Barkley scores in the first five minutes; the first coming off of the opening kick-off, which he returned for a touchdown. The Buckeyes avoided kicking the ball in Barkley’s direction for the remainder of the game. This is another facet of Barkley’s game that makes him dangerous. He has two kick-off returns for touchdowns on the season and is currently boasting a Penn State record 15 games with a touchdown. The Spartan defense is only allowing 89.8 rushing yards per game this season, meaning that it will be another game that Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will have to get creative. Michigan State’s defense is weaker against the pass, so the passing game may help keep the Nittany Lion playmaker involved in the battle for the Land Grant Trophy.
4. Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke against Penn State’s talented secondary
Brian Lewerke is coming off of his best game of the season. He threw for 445 yards and four touchdowns during the triple overtime game a week ago. He also had an interception that ended up costing the Spartans the game. In addition, Lewerke is the Spartans second-leading rusher with 343 rushing yards and three scores this season.
The Nittany Lion front seven will have to put pressure on Lewerke and make him throw the ball against a Penn State defense that is leading the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-14. This will come in handy during the battle for the Land Grant Trophy on Saturday. The Spartans have one of the Big Ten’s best receivers in Felton Davis III. Davis is 6’4”, but has only had 54 yards on four receptions over the last few weeks. The receiver to watch after the triple-overtime loss a week ago is Cody White. White has 264 receiving yards over the last two games. If the Penn State front can hurry Lewerke and force the Spartan’s to turn the ball over, the Land Grant Trophy should stay safely in Happy Valley. Putting the Nittany Lions back on track.
The battle for the Land Grant Trophy makes its way to East Lansing this Saturday when No. 7 Penn State takes on No. 24 Michigan State at 12:00 pm EDT on FOX. The Land Grant Trophy currently resides in Happy Valley and if the Nittany Lions want to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive, it will have to stay that way. The Penn State offensive line is struggling and the Michigan State front seven is stingy against the run. Look for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to find creative ways to get Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley the ball. Finally, the Nittany Lions will get back on track and win by a decent margin on Saturday.