By Peter Gleason
Penn State was idle last Saturday after their gut-wrenching loss to Ohio State.
And voila, the Nits moved up three spots to 8th in the AP top 25.
Here’s a look at their next Big 10 opponent:
Matchup: Michigan State (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 8 Penn State (4-1, 1-1).
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
TV/radio: Big Ten Network.
Line: Penn State by 13½.
Out: P Jake Hartbarger (right leg, season); CB Tyson Smith (illness, season), LG David Beedle (left arm), WR Cody White (left hand). Doubtful: CB Josiah Scott (left leg). Questionable: CB Josh Butler (undisclosed), RB LJ Scott (leg), FB Collin Lucas (head), RG Kevin Jarvis (right leg), WR Jalen Nailor (undisclosed); DT Mufi Hill-Hunt (knee), TE Noah Davis (undisclosed), LB Ed Warriner (undisclosed), LB Chase Kline (undisclosed), OL James Ohonba (undisclosed). Probable: WR Darrell Stewart Jr. (left ankle), WR Cam Chambers (undisclosed), DE Dillon Alexander (right leg).
Out: RB Mark Allen (undisclosed), LB Manny Brown (left program). Out first half: DT Antonio Shelton (targeting penalty). Questionable: DT Ellison Jordan (knee).
When MSU has the ball
The Spartans’ run game continues to be the biggest offensive roadblock. MSU continues to try to present a balanced attack, but the inability to get young RBs Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson room to run has forced QB Brian Lewerke to throw 51 times last week in a 29-19 loss to Northwestern. The Spartans rank 109th in the country with 123 rushing yards per game, which has been buoyed by long runs from WRs. MSU started its fifth different offensive line combination in that game and expect to start a sixth grouping in six games with the loss of David Beedle – the only senior at that position – for more than a month. Cam Chambers’ emergence against the Wildcats helped offset the loss of Cody White, who also is expected to miss at least the next month. Penn State’s defense showed significant improvement in a 27-26 loss to Ohio State two weeks ago, holding the Buckeyes to fewer total yards (389) than it did against Appalachian State (451) and Illinois (411).
When Penn State has the ball
The Nittany Lions, behind senior QB Trace McSorley, operate one of the nation’s most potent offense. Penn State leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally at 49.6 points per game and is the top red-zone offense at 100 percent efficiency, scoring 23 touchdowns and two field goals in its 25 visits. Coach James Franklin’s team has outscored opponents, 162-55, after halftime this season, including 104-41 in the final quarter and overtime. MSU, on the other hand, has been outscored, 58-18, in the fourth quarter. The Spartans continue to lead the nation in rush defense (33.8 yards per game), though they also are 122nd out of 129 teams in pass defense (305.2 yards). Northwestern basically abandoned the run to attack MSU’s coverage. Most of the yards through the air this season have come on short and intermediate passes, with a few coverage busts (Indiana, CMU, Northwestern) and a few well-thrown balls that bested good defensive play of the cornerbacks leading to the deep completions. MSU’s 23.4 points allowed per game, however, ranks 41st nationally and sixth in the conference.