LAST TIME OUT: November 17, 2007 – Michigan State struck first to go up 7-0 but PSU responded swiftly by putting up 24 unanswered points, including a TD run by Kevin Kelly off of a fake field goal at the start of the third quarter. At the time, such a play seemed to be a back-breaker to Sparty’s confidence and would lead to the Nittany Lions cruising to an easy victory in East Lansing.
But, as a certain former Big Ten football coach once exclaimed: “NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND!” Sparty came to life as QB Brian Hoyer continually decimated PSU’s “bend but don’t break” defense which resembled something more along the lines of “it’s broke and we can’t do a damn thing to fix it.” Before anyone realized what had happened, Sparty had regained the lead with just a few minutes to play.
PSU tried desperately to respond, relying on the legs of third-string tailback Brent Carter to carry them down the field all the way to the MSU 24-yard line before JayPa, in all his infinte wisdom, decided to give Anthony Morelli one final shot at getting rid of his “can’t get it done in the clutch” image by allowing Morelli to throw four straight incompletions and seal the worst choke job in the Joe Paterno era (17 point-lead blown). This was shortly followed by Yours Truly screaming obscenities to himself in a local Damon’s parking lot.
OFFENSE: No surprise here folks, Javon Ringer is the heart and soul of Sparty’s offense. Mark Dantonio’s gameplan will likely involve getting the ball to Ringer at least 30 times in order to try to wear down our D-line while also shortening the game and thus, giving our offense fewer opportunities on the field. However, Ringer has looked rather pedestrian against teams that have a defensive pulse. Thus far, Cal, Ohio State, and Wisconsin have kept Ringer from reaching the century mark for rushing and two of those three teams ended up delivering Sparty its only defeats this season. Certainly, a very encouraging sign for our defense which ranks 2nd against the run.
Unfortunately, there’s another person on MSU’s offense to worry about: Brian Hoyer. Yes, that same Brian Hoyer who college football analysts have labeled “inconsistent” all season long due to his sub-50% pass completion rate and his paltry 9 TDs/6 INTs. The same Brian Hoyer who looked like John-fucking-Elway against our secondary during last year’s collapse, going 16-for-21 passing with 257 yards and 4 TDs.
Words cannot emphasize enough how important it is for PSU’s defense to get consistent pressure on Hoyer whenever he tries to make our defense pay for zeroing in on Ringer. Case in point: Wisconsin held Ringer to a season-low 58 yards rushing but allowed Hoyer to throw for 251 yards through the air which made all the difference as it helped set up MSU’s game-winning field goal. Aaron Maybin will need to lead the 4-man rushing attack once again, and it wouldn’t hurt to try blitzing linebackers not named Josh Hull.
Receiving-wise, Mark Dell and Blair White are consistent big play threats as both have racked up nearly 600 yards receiving each. Fortunately for our secondary, Dell is questionable due to injuries and may not play. Tight end Charlie Gantt has also made some noise for Sparty as a great secondary option and in fact, leads the Spartans in receiving TDs with 4 of them. So, while there may not be a Devin Thomas in this group, MSU still has guys who are more than capable of burning us for a score (or at least setting up one) if we’re caught napping.
DEFENSE: The pass defense is pretty decent, ranking 39th in the nation (191 yards per game). Otis Wiley is the clear leader of the secondary with 4 INTs, one of them going back for a pick-six. Wiley will have to come up with a big turnover or two if MSU wants to have a serious shot at winning consecutive games over PSU for the first time since this “rivalry” began in 1993.
Sparty’s greatest concerns though, lie in its rush defense which currently gives up on average about 148.5 yards a game and ranks 73rd in the nation. PSU’s offensive gameplan had better involve a shitload of handoffs to Evan Royster and Stephfon Green and several instances of Daryll Clark calling his own number. The key matchup here will be our O-line against their D-line. If the O-line can regain its swagger from earlier in the year, it could be a very long afternoon for Sparty’s defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Brett Swenson is perfect on extra points and is 19 of 24 on field goals with a very impressive 6 for 7 between 40-49 yards. His long is from 50 yards out.
Bottom line: Don’t let this game come down to a field goal.
PREDICTION: I realize Michigan State is technically still alive for a Rose Bowl bid should they do the unthinkable and win tomorrow. Unless I’ve interpreted the tiebreaker rules incorrectly though, if PSU loses tomorrow and OSU takes care of Michigan as expected, then the Buckeyes earn the Rose Bowl bid. Why do I bring this up? Because OSU-Michigan is a noon game whose outcome will be known before Sparty and PSU kickoff at 3:30. If the Buckeyes indeed have the win wrapped up, then there will be a little less motivation for Sparty as they wouldn’t have a BCS bowl to play for and are already headed to a January bowl game regardless of the outcome.
This is not to say that PSU has no reason to be motivated: It’s senior day for the high school class of 2005 that is credited with turning around the fortunes of a fallen program in its darkest hour under the bright lights of Beaver Stadium with a Rose Bowl berth and second Big Ten championship in four years on the line. If there is ever a time for PSU to regain its early to mid-season swagger, THIS is the game to do it in.
While on paper, PSU has the clear edge talent-wise, one cannot underestimate the coaching brilliancy of Mark Dantonio. He is the MacGyver of college football coaches, being able to do a lot with very little. It was less than two years ago that Dantonio accepted the MSU coaching job, taking over a program racking dis-a-prin and toughness and brought an old-school smashmouth style of play to East Lansing.
While Dantonio’s methods may be as outdated as Betamax, the fans sure as hell aren’t complaining. Anyone who can take a 4-8 team to 9-2 and January bowl bound in just two seasons deserves the highest of accolades. The comeback win over PSU last year surely had to have been a major confidence-booster to the program, and undoubtedly Sparty knows they stand a chance tomorrow as well. Suffice it to say, this is not your older brother’s Michigan State football team.
With that being said however, PSU has rose to the occasion in all of their much-hyped games this season (see: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State) and I see absolutely no reason why they can’t do the same tomorrow. MSU will put up a fight no doubt, especially since they’ve had a bye week to rest up and are a little more fresh than PSU. However, a bye week is a double-edged sword whose downfall is that it can also take a team that’s on a roll out of its rhythm as they try to shake off the rust(see: PSU at Iowa).
Ergo, PSU will get off to a stronger start, come up with a few more big plays, and will feed off the frenzied Beaver Stadium crowd/student White-Out. The victory bell win ring one final time for the seniors as Derrick Williams stands in the end zone, clutching a giant red rose with his teeth.
Penn State 27 – Michigan State 17
Oh, and of course. How could I end a PSU-MSU post without displaying the ginormous abomination that is the “Land Grant Trophy?”