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Giger’s game breakdown: Lions should win easily

Photo by Penn State

Penn State is favored by 14.5 points over Michigan State in a noon kickoff to be televised by ABC. Here’s my game breakdown and score prediction.

OFFENSE

PSU: QB Sean Clifford said this week about the offense, “I think that we have a lot of meat on the bone, and I’m just excited to see how we can kind of put these pieces together and finish the season out and then kind of catapult ourselves into next year.” The offense has struggled this season, no doubt, and last week was a bizarre game at Rutgers because it was so windy that the coaches resorted to a wacky game plan of just running a bunch, especially with backup QB Will Levis. Look for Clifford to be turned loose more this week, and yes, for Levis to get some shots to throw the ball, as well. Let’s see if the Lions can finally put everything together and not turn the ball over now that the unit is feeling a little better about itself.

Michigan State: Spartans have been terrible offensively for much of the season, save for a stunning 29-20 win against Northwestern. QBs Payton Thorne and Rocky Lombardi both are expected to play. Sparty just doesn’t do anything very well. The team’s leading rusher has only 190 yards on the season. That’s incredible. I mean, seriously. A Big Ten team that has played six games has no one with more than 190 yards rushing. Tby comparison, PSU QB Sean Clifford has 276 yards rushing, and backup QB Will Levis has 186. Sparty’s leading rusher, by the way, is Connor Heyward, son of former Pitt standout RB Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, and brother of Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

Advantage: Penn State

DEFENSE

PSU: Lions have played much better the past two weeks, making big stops when necessary to set the tone on defense. That was against bad offensive teams in Michigan and Rutgers, and this is another bad offensive opponent. Coordinator Brent Pry said he was disappointed in the shoddy tackling early on, but that has improved. Pry also praised LB Brandon Smith’s development and said the defense has played well against the pass lately.

Michigan State: In three of the past four games, MSU has scored 0, 7 and 12 points. The exception was again the crazy 29-20 win over a solid Northwestern defense. Ohio State had 26 first downs and 521 yards in last week’s 52-12 win, and the Buckeyes were missing two-dozen players altogether because of COVID issues.

Advantage: Penn State

COACHING/INTANGIBLES

PSU: This will be the most bizarre senior day ever at Penn State. No fans will be allowed to attend, not even family members. That’s sad for the players because, at the very least, you’d like to see them be able to celebrate with their families. But this PSU team has battled through tons of adversity this season, and the guess here is the Lions are more confident now and will come out and put a whooping on the Spartans.

Michigan State: What could possibly motivate the Spartans in this game? I mean, really. Those guys are on the road, playing against a team with growing confidence and are two-touchdown underdogs. Don’t be surprised if PSU gets up early and clobbers Sparty to win the highly, highly coveted Land Grant Trophy.

Advantage: Penn State

PREDICTION

Penn State 34, Michigan State 16: This would cover the point spread, and I actually think it could be a lot worse. That’s if, however, Clifford and the offense protect the ball. That remains a big if.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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