The State of State: Penn State Edition

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Mark Dantonio has great respect for Joe Paterno who announced this week he will return in 2011.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.
Mark Dantonio has great respect for Joe Paterno who announced this week he will return in 2011. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

As Michigan State heads into its season finale against Penn State, many are calling the Spartans’ season “magical”. So far, excluding the loss against Iowa, it certainly has been thrilling. The team has done much better than experts predicted before the season. The Spartans have simply found ways to win. When the run game has stalled, Kirk Cousins has aired it out. When the defense has struggled, the offense has picked up the slack. Edwin Baker has entrenched himself as the back of the future for Michigan State, Captain Kirk has improved a great deal, and the defense has only allowed 19 points per game. The team’s chances at a prominent bowl game are looking good.

 

With this in mind, let us look at the present state of the Spartans. Although MSU did not turn out a particularly dominating performance as many (including myself) expected, the team got the job done. Yet again, the Spartans had trouble with an opponent it should have crushed. However, the green and white got the W, which is all that matters. Even though the ground attack has had trouble at times, Cousins had his way through the air. The defense did not have the great game that it should have had. Purdue drove down the field multiple times, putting up 24 points on offense. However, the key play of the game was, not for the first time this year, made by special teams. A blocked punt with five minutes left in the fourth quarter kept the momentum in favor of Michigan State and sealed a fifteen point comeback. As the season-ending showdown with Penn State looms, there is much to praise the Spartans for, but also much to be concerned about.

 

  • The numbers on the ground from the battle with the Boilermakers were not inspiring. Yet, Edwin Baker nearly rushed for 100 yards, picking up 90 yards on 16 carries. With that performance, Baker hit the Century Mark, and now has 1,069 yards on the year. What makes that statistic more astounding? The fact that he only carries the ball an average of 15 times per game.
  • When the coaching staff put the ball in Baker’s hands late in the first quarter and early in the second, the sophomore did not disappoint. He helped keep a drive alive by converting a key 4th and 2, and also scored a touchdown of over twenty yards. Coach Treadwell needs to put the ball into Baker’s hands more.
  • Since Baker has received the majority of the carries, freshman LeVeon Bell has been left out of the equation. Bell has not seen the ball more than ten times in a game since Illinois. Remember that this kid has 603 yards and eight touchdowns on the year. It would be nice to see Bell pick up at least a few carries in this game.
  • The injury to Captain Kirk thoroughly scared Spartan Nation in the first quarter. Luckily, he only missed one series because of the left shoulder injury. He is, arguably, the most important player on the team. He has steadied Michigan State throughout the season, time and time again. Yet, his questionable decision, in the latter part of the first quarter, resulted in an interception and a touchdown for the Boilermakers. Twice in a row, the second resulting in the pick-six, Cousins threw a dangerous pass in the vicinity of promising Purdue corner Ricardo Allen. Cousins has to stop having occasional mental lapses like that, especially in the critical finale with Penn State.
  • Nevertheless, Cousins has had an exceptional year. He has passed for 2,553 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season. Considering that he still has a year of eligibility left, Spartan fans have good reason to be excited.
  • The Michigan State receiving core has been solid all season. Against Purdue, it was spectacular, particularly Mark Dell. The senior exploded for 108 yards and two touchdowns, which gives him 761 yards and 6 TDs on the year. Junior B.J. Cunningham, who added on a touchdown, has also had a great season.
  • The wide receiver who has had a “quiet” season is, surprisingly, Keyshawn Martin. The all-around athlete has missed a few games due to injury, and has seen a decline in his numbers. Also, opposing defenses are becoming aware of Martin’s big play ability and are game-planning against it. Although Martin may not see the ball too much in this game, he will play a big part in the upcoming game.
  • The defense has seen exceptional play from young bucks such as Johnny Adams and Tyler Hoover. Against Purdue the defense, as a whole, struggled. Adams especially had a tough time, committing a personal foul penalty and allowing his man catch a touchdown pass- on the same drive. This is to be expected from young players, but it must not happen too often on Saturday. The Nittany Lions’ freshman quarterback Andrew McGloin has the potential to carve up defenses, as he did early on against the Buckeyes. The Spartan secondary especially must be wary to this big threat.
  • On special teams, K-Mart made his return, but more notably Dan Conroy missed an extra point. Until then, Conroy had been perfect on the season for extra points. Luckily, he did not miss another one. However, a missed kick like that can haunt a kicker’s psyche. He has to be confident going into Saturday, as his leg could be the deciding factor against Penn State.  
  • Regardless of how Saturday’s showdown goes, the 2010 season will go down in the books as one of the most exciting for Michigan State football. The Spartans have come together and overcome deficits time and time again to accumulate a 10-1 record. A ten win season is great for any team, especially one that faces stiff competition in the Big Ten. However, an eleven win year with a Rose Bowl appearance would be even better.
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