Spartans Seek Revenge in Vain vs Penn State

Penn State Nittany Lions players in action

Rainman M.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 1:44 PM UTC

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 1:44 PM UTC

No. 24 Michigan State (6-2) hosts No. 7 Penn State (7-1) Saturday at noon with the goal of avenging last year's 45-12 debacle. Sparty opened as 12 point underdogs, but are now dogged by as few as 7.5 points.

Free NCAAF Pick: Penn State -7.5Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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Penn State Nittany Lions vs Michigan State Spartans  

Ohio State exposed Penn State's defensive weaknesses. They ran successfully behind effective run blocking. Quarterback J.T. Barrett utilized his mobility in order to dissipate Penn State's pass rushers, who did not know whether he would hand the ball off or run. In addition, he threw vertically down the field in order to stretch the defense. 

Michigan State is unable to follow any aspect of the Buckeyes' recipe.

The Spartans' run blocking is preventing any of their running backs from averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry. They rely on quarterback Brian Lewerke with catastrophic betting results. When Lewerke throws 40+ passes in a game, the Spartans are 0-2 both SU and ATS.

Penn State possesses the depth and talent to eliminate the Spartans' rush attack.  They rank 15th in allowing 3.3 yards per rush attempt.  The defensive line excels at achieving penetration into the opponents' backfield. Shareef Miller and Shaka Toney lead the line with combined 14.5 tackles per loss. 

Lewerke is mobile, but not like Barrett, who has rushed for 111 more yards and .6 more yards per carry. Lewerke has, in comparison, hardly utilized his mobility in order to achieve big gains.  Lewerke also averages 1.8 yards fewer per pass attempt than Barrett, ranking him 56 spots behind Barrett in that category. Lewerke consistently misses open receivers down the field and generally struggles to drive a vertical passing game.

The combination of anemic rush attack and unimpressive mobility from Lewerke gives Penn State's defensive line little to contain.  PSU can be bolder defensively thanks to Lewerke's inability to stretch them out vertically. 

The strength of PSU's top-ranked defense is their senior-laden secondary. Penn State ranks 11th in allowing an average 108 passer rating. Lewerke's greatest asset will be Felton Davis Jr., who will have at least three inches on the cornerback covering him in the end zone. However, the Spartans, unable to achieve an offensive attack that is either balanced or capable of achieving big plays, won't see much of the red zone. The Spartans also struggle with turnovers. The Nittany Lions rank 7th in forcing 2.5 turnovers per game.

PSU's injury-ridden offensive line likewise struggles with protection. But unlike Michigan State, they have elite talent elsewhere to overcome those issues.

Sparty traditionally struggles against a dink-and-dunk offense. Their linebackers excel against the run but struggle in pass coverage. Penn State's top offensive aim, to get Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley in open space, coincides with the Spartans' defensive struggle, which Northwestern's quarterback and running back tandem exposed last week, and mitigates concern over their lack of pass protection. Barkley averages 13.1 yards per reception.  

The Spartans' young secondary has been untested this season and, while they focus on stopping Barkley out of the backfield, will be stretched and exploited by quarterback Trace McSorley and his deep and experienced wide receiving crew.


The Verdict

With Saquon Barkley and a stacked wide receiver corps, Penn State can achieve big plays against a defense whose linebackers struggle in pass coverage and whose young secondary is vulnerable to mistakes. Expect PSU to break away with bigger plays as Michigan State's defense fatigues because of the offense's inability to develop a run game in order to prolong drives. Lewerke also makes too many mistakes by missing open guys downfield and committing turnovers. PSU will benefit from their determination, after last week's defeat, to be more aggressive offensively and defensively. Penn State has the experience, leadership, and playmakers to bounce back powerfully on our NCAAF Picks.

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