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Staff predictions: Depleted Spartans host Penn State on 'Senior Day'

Michigan State is without several key players ahead of today's matchup with the Nittany Lions

It’s hard to believe we’ve reach Week 13 of the college football season. It didn’t seem all that long ago that Michigan State was kicking off 2021 with a big win over Northwestern. Fast forward 12 weeks later, and the Spartans are seeking their 10th win of the year.

That milestone victory won’t come easy however, as No. 12 Michigan State (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) hosts Penn State (7-4, 4-4) today in Spartan Stadium. The Nittany Lions have been a solid team throughout the season, and the Spartans are likely to be missing several starters for today’s game. The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy reported last night that up to 20 MSU players, including six to eight starters, could be ruled ‘Out’ today due to injury or illness.

With the deck stacked against Michigan State, Spartan Nation staff writers Matthew Lounsberry and Kenny Jordan each provide three bold predictions, along with game overview and a score prediction below:

Kenny’s 3 Bold Predictions:

1. Kenneth Walker doesn’t suit up.

Possibly the worst case scenario here. If the McMurphy report is true, I believe Kenneth Walker will be one of the inactive players. Walker has been dealing with an ankle injury for some time now, and last week against Ohio State the junior tailback only ran the ball six times for 25 yards. Granted, with the score the way it was, there wasn’t much time to run the ball, but we saw several other players in at running back for the Spartans. If Walker is unable to play today for MSU, the Spartans will be severely hampered on offense.

2. PSU’s Jahan Dotson eclipses 125 receiving yards

I maintained belief that Michigan State’s secondary could turn things around until last week, when Ohio State’s three-headed monster at receiver diced up the Spartans. Those Buckeye receivers are all future NFL players, but what has happened throughout the entire season to MSU’s back end can no longer be ignored. The Spartans’ secondary is one of the worst in the entire country, and they’ll face another premier receiver in Jahan Dotson. The Penn State wideout is likely going to be a high draft pick next April, and I don’t see MSU’s defense doing much to slow him down.

3. Payton Thorne throws for 3 TDs

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My predictions haven’t been the most kind to the Spartans so far, but I do have one that will give fans a glimmer of hope. I think Thorne will be the highlight of this game for a depleted Michigan State team. Thorne has been one of the underlying keys to Michigan State’s success this season, bringing consistent quarterback play to a program that lacked it last season. Thorne has talented receivers in Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley and Connor Heyward – if they’re available – and will throw for a couple scores to keep Michigan State respectable in this game. There are a lot of reasons to be excited for the future of this program with Thorne under center for the next two seasons.

Matt’s 3 Bold Predictions:

1. Michigan State scores first

Expect the Spartans to start fast in this game. I know the situation looks bleak with the injuries and the illness outbreak within the locker room, but Mel Tucker and Michigan State will be fighting for this senior class in today’s matchup. The Spartans will be juiced and ready to defend their home field as soon as the ball is kicked off, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Michigan State win the first quarter.

2. Payton Thorne throws early and often

I don’t know who will or won’t be available in today’s game, and I hope we get to see Kenneth Walker one last time at home this season. However, due to his limited snaps last week and the lingering rumors concerning health in the MSU locker room, I expect the Spartans to rely on Thorne quite a bit in this contest. I’ll predict that Thorne throws at least 40 times in this game, and eclipses 250 yards through the air. Michigan State will need its quarterback to be special against this Penn State defense.

3. Xavier Henderson forces a TO on ‘Senior Day’

Henderson has had an excellent career at Michigan State, and it just seems right for him to force a big turnover in his final game at Spartan Stadium. Whether it be via interception or a forced fumble, look for Henderson to make a momentum-changing play at some point on Saturday.

Game Overview/Score Predictions:

Kenny’s overview – No. 12 Michigan State comes into senior day at Spartan Stadium trying to put an exclamation mark to end the regular season against Big Ten East foe, Penn State. With a win, Michigan State would be undefeated at home in a season for the first time since the 2015 campaign. The Spartans will likely have to do it with several key players out, however. This doesn’t bode well for Michigan State, as they were already banged up and coming off a brutal defeat at the hands of Ohio State last Saturday. Penn State is a formidable team that hasn’t quite put everything together this season. They are led by one of the best receivers in the country in Jahan Dotson and Michigan State has struggled to defend the pass all season. Prediction: Penn State 38, Michigan State 21

Matt’s overview Let’s be honest, things aren’t looking good here for Michigan State. The Spartans bring a depleted roster into this matchup with Penn State, and are coming off a brutal loss to the Buckeyes a week ago. I expect Mel Tucker’s ball club to compete and battle in this game, especially for their various seniors, but I’m not sure they have the bodies to pull this one off. Michigan State will go toe-to-toe with the Nittany Lions for three quarters, but I think the lack of depth will catch up with the Spartans in the final quarter. Prediction: Penn State 30, Michigan State 20