MSU vs. PSU Goes Under the Green Lenses

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SPARTANS READY: All the players are excited and ready to roll into Happy Valley.

More importantly, the players are ready and for the most part healthy. They have the opportunity of a life time ahead of them…a chance to win a championship. It has been a long 18-year wait since that happened and the Spartans need to make the most of it. The Spartans have many advantages and have neutralized others. First of all, the pressure is ALL on Penn State, a team who is at home and who had flirted with National

Championship hopes. Many national prognosticators don’t expect MSU to win and the Spartans have nothing to lose but to go in and play their best. This is a similar situation to when Ohio State came into town to face MSU and the Spartans couldn’t get off the mat from the get go. Now the pressure is on someone else. As I mentioned earlier, the Rose Bowl destination is not nearly as important as is finally winning a championship.

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Plus, the Spartans have played well on the road all year, even at Cal, and I’m sure many Spartan players would like that game over. Another advantage is not only time off from a physical stand point, but from an ability to really watch a lot of film. MSU has faced teams that spread it out and are explosive starting with Cal, followed by Northwestern and then Purdue. As the year went by, this Spartans defense has gotten better in shutting down these attacks and this must happen again for the Spartans to win.

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SPARTAN DEFENSE: The PSU defense brings plenty of misdirection and a wide open attack that the Spartans will have to contend with. They try to get Derrick Williams the ball in a variety of ways. They use him on end arounds and pitches as a running back, and they use him downfield as a receiver and as a explosive kick returner. They try to put the ball in his hands as often as possible. MSU will have to be great tacklers all day in stopping Williams and especially tailback Evan Royster. Royster is big, tough, and especially elusive when he breaks past the point of attack and is a big reason the Nittany Lion offense is difficult to stop. Deon Butler is a dangerous receiver with sprinters speed and Jordan Norwood gives PSU a solid receiving combo. PSU has two solid QB’s in Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin. Clark really stands in the pocket until the last second and is not as affected by pressure like most QB’s unless you actually get there. He also is very mobile and can pick up yards with his feet and they use him on bootlegs and QB draws. Devlin was a highly-touted passer who they like to work into red zone packages. However, the biggest reason this offense has been difficult to stop is the blocking up front. The Spartans will have to get off blocks and be physical to win this game. PSU has been locking up defenders all year and that can’t happen Saturday. The Spartan defense is also going to have to strip some balls, force some fumbles, and make some plays on the ball to be victorious. This is a difficult offense to stop, they spread you left and right with Williams, throw deep to Butler to loosen the box, and then slash Royster up the gut. The Spartans will not only have to get off blocks, be physical, pressure quarterbacks, and force turnovers, they will also have to be smart. Defense wins championships and now they have their opportunity to show us what they have. They have the ability to do it, they just have to get it done.

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SPARTAN OFFENSE: Brian Hoyer and the receivers are going to have to have big day to win this game. The Nittany Lion defense has great lateral  pursuit on film and really do a great job of stuffing the run. The Spartans would be wise to get away from the run on first and second downs and throwing on third down mentality. They may have to throw on first down to set up the run at best, and stay out of third and long situations. If they do throw however, there are openings in the Penn State zone defense which was exploited by Iowa, a team that doesn’t have a quarterback nearly as good as Hoyer.

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This PSU defense seems to be susceptible to wheel routes, hitch and go’s and other zone openings.  Also, the Spartan offensive line will have to protect Hoyer. Aaron Maybin at defensive end has been harassing quarterbacks all year and will have to be neutralized. DT Jared Odrick has been living in backfields all season and will have to be stopped as well.

If they can protect Hoyer, there is space in the second and third tiers of the PSU defense.

The Spartans will have to bring some throw-backs and misdirection of their own to be successful. They will also to throw deep to stretch the defense. The PSU defense often does well in picking up primary receivers, so Hoyer will have to do a good job in picking up second and third options before the rush gets there. Some play-action might work here as well and Hoyer may have to roll away from pressure to make throws. He will have to be careful, while there are open areas in the zone, if off target, this is a ball-hawking secondary with 14 picks this year. Yet, this offense has to stay on the field and score points for MSU to have a chance against a defense that has only given up 11.9 points per game.

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INTANGIBLES: MSU has made their share of mental mistakes the last few weeks and had the ability to play over them. They can’t make those same mistakes and play over them against PSU. They have to cover the TE, they can’t give up quick points after the offense scores, they have to protect the football, they can’t drop passes, etc. One good thing is the

PSU defense hasn’t been spectacular in the red zone. Thus the need for the Spartans to play deep in PSU territory and to get PSU to turn the ball over in their own end. Opponents are at an 83% scoring clip in the red zone, but the problem is, getting that deep against a stingy Nittany Lion defense. Also, the PSU offense has been explosive in the second and third quarters, MSU will need help from their offense to neutralize the PSU offense and keep them off the field. One more thing, one of the weaknesses has been the PSU kick coverage, this is a spot where MSU will need to make good returns to get good field position.