Nittany Lions wary of Michigan State’s tough run defense
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A bye week allowed Penn State players to watch more film on their upcoming opponent, but all viewings showed the same thing: Michigan State stuffs the run and makes teams one dimensional.
“These guys are giving up 33 yards per game running,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “And I think the mistake you make is when you’re playing a team like that is that you abort the run and go all pass.”
So the No. 8 Nittany Lions (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) will be patient, Franklin said, when Michigan State (3-2, 1-1) brings its top-ranked rushing defense into Beaver Stadium on Saturday where both teams will try stay in the chase in an East Division that’s getting crowded at the top.
No. 3 Ohio State and No. 12 Michigan are unbeaten in conference play while the Nittany Lions and Spartans are coming off losses.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley is coming off his best rushing performance after racking up 175 yards on 25 carries against the Buckeyes. But he handed off on a fourth-down play the Buckeyes easily stuffed to hand the Nittany Lions a 1-point loss.
McSorley’s ready again if designed quarterback runs and scrambling are what it will take to open Michigan State’s defense up.
“Their mentality that teams aren’t going to run the ball against them, it’s given them the rush defense they’ve had over the last couple years,” McSorley said.
SO THROW IT
When Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio looks at the numbers, he doesn’t see a secondary that’s struggling that badly considering the situation. Opposing quarterbacks are being forced to throw on average 44 times against the Spartans and are averaging just under 8 yards per attempt.
“The answer for that probably is, they’ve hit some deep balls on us where deep ball judgment comes into play,” Dantonio said. “And again, I go back to a game of inches.”
It’s also a game of bodies and the Spartans have lost a handful. Corners Josiah Scott and Scott Smith are out, leaving a thin group for Penn State to attack.
McSorley’s 461 total yards in the Ohio State game is a program record. He would’ve had more if his receivers could hold the ball.
So far, the Nittany Lions have dropped 17 passes. Five came against the Buckeyes when Penn State was without star KJ Hamler for much of the second half because of an apparent head injury.
Hamler is expected to play Saturday, Franklin said.
A BOOST UP FRONT
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns when these teams last met but could have a tougher time now.
Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said he’s seen the defensive line improve each week and will get end Shane Simmons back into the rotation. Simmons, who played more down the stretch last season, has been limited after an unspecified injury in camp.
“How quickly he gets back to his peak playing potential, we’ll see,” Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said.
A GREAT PRACTICE AND A CHALLENGE
McSorley agreed with Franklin’s remark that Tuesday’s practice was the best in the four years the coach and his staff have been in Happy Valley.
Spartans linebacker Joe Bachie, meanwhile, had stern words after Michigan State’s loss to Northwestern.
“If you don’t want to lead, if you don’t want to go win, get out of the locker room,” he said.
Dantonio understood his captain’s frustration.
“When you are a leader, when you’re the head coach or when you’re the coordinator or you’re the assistant coach or the leader, captain, sometimes you have to be more demanding,” Dantonio said. “So that’s a part of it and ... that’s what we all do.”