Penn State’s Prey 2019: Michigan State Spartans

For whatever reason, head coach Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State Spartans (7-6, 5-4 BIG) have the Nittany Lions number. The Spartans have won the last four of five meetings including a heart shattering comeback last year.

This year the Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing where Michigan State has outscored Penn State 82 to 40 in the past two matchups. On top of that Michigan State will have a BYE week to prepare for the Nittany Lions, but will have to travel to Ohio State and Wisconsin in the weeks prior. It’s safe to say we will know a lot more about the Green and White before October 26th.

Michigan State has had one of the most consistent defenses in the country for the past decade but their national relevance has been held back by their incompetent offense. This team will go as far as the offense can take them, so let’s start there.

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Offense (18.7 PPG, Returning Starters: 9)

Michigan State wasn’t very good at scoring points as you can see from their points per game from 2018. Part of that was due to the nagging shoulder injury to quarterback, Brian Lewerke (57%, 5,214 yards, 30 TDs, 19 INTs and 235 rushes, 7 TDs). So what does Dantonio do to fix the offensive woes that have haunted the team for years? He doesn’t hire anyone and he doesn’t fire anyone. Instead he plays a game of musical chairs with his assistants. The quarterbacks coach is now the offensive coordinator and the old offensive coordinator is now the quarterbacks coach. The old tight ends coach is now the new offensive line coach and the old offensive line coach is the new tight ends coach. The assistant defensive backs coach is the new receivers coach and the previous receivers coach is now the assistant defensive backs coach. Good luck with that.

Michigan State loves to run the ball but they aren’t typically known to run a QB-run scheme. However, there might be a change on the horizon as Lewerke has a goal to run for at least 700 yards this season. The quarterback run does alleviate the pressure on the running backs, but I am not sure that’s the gamble you want to risk with a quarterback coming back from a shoulder injury. Speaking of the running backs, they averaged a mere 3.5 yards per rush and now have to replace LJ Scott.

At receiver Felton Davis, who ripped apart Penn State over the years, is finally gone. Darrell Stewart Jr. (101 catches, 943 yards, 3 TDs) and Cody White (77 catches, 1,045 yards, 6 TDs) will have big shoes to fill.

They also return seven offensive linemen with experience and should be much improved upfront now that they are finally healthy.

Defense (17.2 PPG, Returning Starters: 8)

It must be frustrating for a defense to be playing at a championship-caliber level year in and year out and not receive any help from the offense. This year, the Spartans defense could again be the best in the Big Ten. Last year, they led country in rush defense but did show a slight weakness in allowing 230 passing yards per game.

The secondary brings back Josiah Scott (43 tackles, 4 INTs, 21 pass breakups) who has thrived in two seasons at the corner position. Josh Butler (29 tackles, 6 pass breakups) should start across from him. David Dowell (121 tackles, 7 INTs, 13 pass breakups) is an experienced safety and will look to be more consistent this year. Xavier Henderson will be a new face at the other safety position but does have game experience when he played at the nickel position.

Look no further than Joe Bachie (214 tackles, 19 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 11 pass breakups, 5 FFs) when looking at the linebacker corps. He has started in 26 straight games for the Spartans. Tyriq Thompson (48 tackles) also returns at the Sam position. Antjuan Simmons will be at the Will spot and is expected to be a stud as well.

The defensive line is the sole reason why the linebackers just mentioned will be so productive in 2019. Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams anchor the interior and Kenny Willekes had 20.5 TFLs at the defensive end position. This group will be the main reason why they are gonna be tough to beat this year.

There are really good players no matter where you look on this defense. But are they ready to carry the torch again in 2019? What happens when this unit is on the field all game long?

Cory’s Take

It’s quite sad that I am taking the Spartans to win this game because there isn’t anyone on this schedule I want the Lions to pummel more than Michigan State. However, it feels like Dantonio has Franklin’s number and until Penn State shows me they can consistently win on the road against good teams I won’t like this matchup. It just feels like Michigan State’s defense might control this one. But like I said, we’ll know a lot more about this matchup when we get into October.

Too-Early Prediction

Penn State: 21

Michigan State: 24


(Follow me on Twitter @Cory_Lestochi)

This is the eighth installment of Penn State’s Prey 2019. If you have missed any of the pieces you can find them here: Idaho, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, MarylandPurdueIowa, and Michigan.

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