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Penn State-Michigan State Prediction: A Breakout Day for the Offense?

The Lions have waited all year to unleash their offense. A prime opportunity arrives Saturday.

Penn State, Michigan State and the Land Grant Trophy: What could be more compelling this weekend?

The Lions head to East Lansing with a recovering roster, a healthy quarterback and a coach signed up for another decade. Meanwhile, the Spartans host their Senior Day with an injured lineup looking to get over a 49-point loss to Ohio State.

How the fortunes have turned between the teams. Onto the preview.

Penn State (7-4) vs. No. 12 Michigan State (9-2)

  • When: 3:30 p.m. EST Saturday
  • Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
  • TV: ABC
  • Streaming: fuboTV
  • Betting Line: Penn State is a 4-point favorite, according to SI Sports Book
  • Series History: Tied 17-17-1
  • Last Meeting: Penn State 39-24 in 2020
  • Streaks: Penn State has won the last two meetings

The Spartans might be reeling

Michigan State could be without 6-8 starters because of injuries and the flu, according to Brett McMurphy of The Action Network.

Bettors reacted. Penn State on Saturday moved from a 1.5-point favorite to a 4-point favorite, according to SI Sports Book. The Spartans already were facing injury issues, particularly on offense, but now reportedly must challenge their depth even further.

Penn State was down 21 players against Rutgers last week because of flu-like symptoms, but coach James Franklin said the team's health was improving

Penn State's chance to unleash its offense

Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has had an uneven first year with Penn State, one whose results haven't matched the promise. The Lions ran a broader range of formations and plays than last year, doing so crisply at times, but really have labored getting into the end zone. Penn State ranks eighth in the Big Ten in touchdowns and ninth in red-zone touchdown success rate (52.78 percent). Saturday offers a window for the offense to break through and make a statement.

Penn State coach James Franklin said that quarterback Sean Clifford is healthy and ready to play Saturday, and he'll likely do so with an internal burn. Clifford was unable to get a proper Senior Day last week, having to leave the game after a quarter, and could use this game to help stamp his legacy. He certainly spent the week studying a porous Michigan State defense that allows more completions and passing yards than any team in the country. The Spartans' last four opponents averaged 435.3 yards passing with 11 touchdowns. Clifford and Jahan Dotson, who needs five catches to reach No. 2 on Penn State's career receptions list, could have a huge day.

Penn State Players to Watch

Parker Washington: The Lions' No. 2 receiver caught six passes against Rutgers and is more than a complementary player. He will make the Spartans pay for overpursuing Dotson.

Bryce Effner: Penn State's offensive line remains unsettled, meaning the versatile lineman could wind up at multiple spots. Effner played left tackle vs. Rutgers and could play there, on the right side or inside, depending on who's missing.

Curtis Jacobs: The outside linebacker missed last week's game with flu-like symptoms. His return is important to a defense looking to contend with Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III (if he plays).

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Michigan State Players to Watch

Kenneth Walker III: Walker's exceptional season went sideways at Ohio State, where he rushed for 25 yards and left the game because of injury. Walker's status remains uncertain; without him, the Spartans' offense is effectively hamstrung.

Jalen Nailor: The receiver missed last week's Ohio State game, and the Spartans need him back. Nailor is a big-play threat, with three touchdown catches of 60+ yards, and pairs well with fellow receiver Jayden Reed.

Xavier Henderson: The senior safety leads Michigan State not only in tackles but also in tackles for loss (11). He covers plenty of ground and could catch Clifford in some timely blitzes.

Five Things You Should Know

1. This is James Franklin's 100th game as Penn State's head coach. He has a career record of 67-32 and is 42-27 in Big Ten games.

2. Penn State leads the Big Ten in red-zone defense, having held opponents to just 14 touchdowns in 37 red-zone possessions.

3. Jahan Dotson is the third Penn State receiver to record 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in a season.

4. Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III leads the FBS in yards after contact (1,090), 20+ carries (19) and missed tackles forced (81).

5. Five of the last seven Penn State-Michigan State games have gone above the over/under total, according to Oddsshark.

Prediction

This is a pretty good matchup for Penn State, provided Clifford is in good form. Dotson and Washington should be bouncing off the walls to test the Spartans' secondary, and receiver Malick Meiga's emergence adds more big-play potential.

But ultimately, this game will turn on whether Penn State's defense has one more grudge match in it. Only Michigan has scored three offensive touchdowns against the Lions this season. If Penn State can hold the Spartans to two offensive TDs, it will retain the Land Grant Trophy.

Penn State 27, Michigan State 23

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