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Spartans hoping to upset Penn State in season finale

November 23, 2016

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Times have certainly changed for the Michigan State football team and coach Mark Dantonio.

Last year, the Spartans went into their regular-season finale with Penn State needing a win to wrap up a berth in the Big Ten championship game. This year, it’s No. 8 Penn State hoping for a shot at the Big Ten title heading into this weekend’s matchup with the Spartans.

“You look at where we were last year, and it’s confounding,” Dantonio said at his weekly press conference Tuesday.

The Spartans (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) will miss the postseason for the first time in Dantonio’s 10 seasons as coach.

“It’s different, no question about it,” Dantonio said. “It’s not something we’ve had to go through. But maybe it’s something we have to go through right now.”

There are individual goals at stake for the Spartans. Running back LJ Scott is 65 yards rushing away from 1,000. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last five games.

But Dantonio says his team has a bigger goal.

“We want to finish with a ‘W,’” he said. “I think that makes a big difference in every football season. It’s how you end a season that either sends you upward or plateaus you. I think last year, even though we’d gotten as far as 12-1, and playing in that playoff game (a 38-0 loss to eventual national champion Alabama) I think it stung a little bit when we didn’t win, as opposed to the last four years, when we had won our bowl games.”

Injured defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who did not play last week against Ohio State, was left off the depth chart Tuesday, as he was last week.

“I left (the depth chart) as it was,” Dantonio said. “We’ll see whether he can practice or not and make a decision as the game goes on.”

Dantonio said quarterbacks Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry will likely see action on Saturday. Although O’Connor has started the last four weeks, Dantonio wouldn’t say if he would get the nod against the Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1, No. 7 CFP).

“We’ll make decisions based on how guys practice this week,” he said. “Tyler’s done a great job, but there are no givens. I think you’ll see both guys.”

If Ohio State beats Michigan on Saturday, then Penn State can advance to the conference title game by beating Michigan State. But the Spartans, despite their record, have been in the lead at some point in all 11 of their games this season.

“We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot on the offensive side,” receiver R.J. Shelton said. “Once we cut out those penalties, we’ve been right there in every game. It’s just the little inches we need to have a complete game.”

NOTES: Dantonio, noting his team is playing for the 11th week in a row, says the schedule doesn’t leave time for much outside football. “We’ve been buried in a bubble,” he said, then joked, “I do talk to my wife on occasion.” Asked if he watched his former players in Monday night’s NFL game, he deadpanned, “I had no chance to watch. I was talking to my wife.” ... Michigan State leads the series with Penn State 15-14-1. MSU is 4-2 against Penn State under Dantonio, including three wins in a row.

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