It’s been another up-and-down season for Michigan State, but they still have plenty to play for with bowl eligibility on the line in the last week of the regular season as they’ll visit #11 Penn State. The Nittany Lions don’t have much of a tangible goal like that to shoot for, but where they stand in the rankings, every win could make a significant difference when it comes to bowl placement. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this rivalry week Big Ten East clash.
Michigan State Vs. Penn State Odds
Penn State are the big home favorites in this one, as they’re listed around -18. The points total is set at 52.5, which will be a pretty tough number to pick.
Michigan State Vs. Penn State Prediction & Pick
This past weekend was a wild game in the midst of a wild season for Michigan State, as they held a late 31-14 lead at home against a terrible Indiana team, but ended up losing in double overtime despite the Hoosiers QB only completing two passes all game, one of which was in the second overtime. It was a truly dreadful performance against a completely one-dimensional offense for a Spartan defense that has fallen short of any possible expectations, and will now need an improbable road win if they’re going to make a bowl at all.
On the opposite sideline is a very solid Penn State team, who have quietly put together a very solid season- they’ve only lost to the two juggernauts of the Big Ten East, Michigan and Ohio State, and they were competitive with the Buckeyes well into the fourth quarter. It hasn’t always been pretty- PFF sees them as just barely a top-50 team in the country, and they don’t really have any phases of the game in which they are particularly dominant. But wins are wins, especially in a conference like the Big Ten, and even more so in a division like the East, and Penn State has found plenty in yet another solid season under head coach James Franklin. That being said, they may not be the #11 juggernaut they appear to be, and MSU might be a bit more scrappy than the average sub-.500 team. This game could be a good deal closer than the pundits, or betting line, may suggest.
I’m going to take the over in this one; the Michigan State defense is an absolute dumpster fire, and the Penn State unit is not the brick wall that many thought it to be in the earlier parts of the season. MSU’s offense has been surprisingly solid as well, and Penn State has less-surprisingly put up a good amount of points too, even in conference play. In terms of the spread, as I’ve alluded to, I like Michigan State to cover.
They have a lot more on the line, and advanced analytics do not see these teams as far apart as a stereotypical fringe top-10 team and the average team with a losing record. +18 is also a pretty good number if you can get it since it provides a little leeway outside of the significant football number of 17. Also worth noting is that perhaps PSU’s best player, soon-to-be NFL offensive tackle Olu Fashanu, is at best banged up, and at worst will be out of the lineup as he was for the past two weekends.
Michigan State O-Line vs. Penn State Front Seven
The MSU offensive line is actually more elite than almost any on the opposing side- PFF sees them as the 26th best run-blocking unit in the country, and the 15th-best when it comes to pass protection. They’re led by Jarrett Horst, who has obtained an overall grade of over 80 from PFF including a score in the high 80s in run-blocking- but he is hurt, and seems likely to miss this week’s matchup. Brandon Baldwin has filled in for him at left tackle and been just a touch better in pass protection, but infinitely worse against the run. Left guard J.D. Duplain and center Nick Samac have both played well, racking up a pass-protection grade of over 80; they are the heart of what is coming into gameday #12 as a talented but banged-up Spartan front five.
The Penn State run defense is just inside the top-100 of PFF’s rankings, not a great indicator for their front seven performance- but they’re the 9th-rated pass rushing uint, a much more auspicious spot for them. They’re led by star edge rusher Demeioun “Chop” Robinson, who has racked up 4 sacks, 7.5 total tackles for loss, and an incredible PFF pass rush grade over 90. The team’s best run defender has been linebacker Abdul Carter, who boasts 30 run-stops and a missed tackle rate of under 10%. Dani Dennis-Sutton and Amin Vanover also have pass rush scores over 80, and have combined for over 20 QB hurries with both having combined for just about as many snaps as Robinson on his own. Among other objectives, they’ll be tasked with making life tough for MSU QB Payton Thorne, who has taken a significant step back after an unspectacular but overall solid 2021 season.
Penn State Pass Catchers vs. MSU Secondary
Penn State’s receiving corps, ranked just inside the top-50 by PFF, has been led all year by NFL hopeful Parker Washington. However, he’s been banged up lately; he missed the blowout at Rutgers, and coach Franklin has provided very few updates on his status for this weekend. Mitchell Tinsley will step up as the WR1 without Washington on the field, if that’s the case; he led the team with 5 catches for 63 yards against Rutgers, and is right behind Washington in both categories on the season. The team’s touchdown leader, however, is tight end Brenton Strange with 5, and Theo Johnson, another tight end, has played the role of deep threat by leading the team with just under 15 yards per catch.
They’ll be squaring off against a State secondary that received a lot of incoming talent via transfers and recruiting, but has completely crashed and burned to the tune of being ranked outside of PFF’s top-120 coverage units. It’s truly been a disaster, as the Spartans have only picked off two passes all year, one of which was by a linebacker, meaning that only one truly belongs to the secondary. Cornerback Chester Kimbrough and safety Xavier Henderson have been relative bright spots, albeit in limited sample sizes. Georgia transfer Ameer Speed had some high expectations this season to serve as the team’s shutdown corner, and has been a total disaster en route to a PFF grade in the mid-50s. He’s been just one of many in that range for the Sparty pass defense; they’ll have one more opportunity to be much better against what could be a diminished pass-catching group, and help their team find a way to bowl eligibility.