Nittany Lions close regular season against Michigan State
Fresh off a 10-year contract extension that will pay him $7.5 million annually, Penn State head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions will head to Michigan State to take on the No. 12 ranked Spartans (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) in their regular season finale.
Penn State was able to come through with a 28-0 victory last week over Rutgers with backup quarterback Christian Veilleux leading the way. Veilleux entered the game because fatigue due to the flu forced Sean Clifford out of the ball game. There were 21 players out last Saturday due to the flu that was making it was through the Nittany Lions roster.
The freshman looked good against the Scarlet Knights, throwing for 235 yards and two touchdowns and he also did a nice job of extending play, rushing for 36 yards. Veilleux has a big frame at 6-4 220-plus and he moved well in the pocket and hung in there and made some really nice throws. With heralded recruits Drew Allar and Beau Pribula getting to Penn State next season, it should be a pretty talented quarterback room for 2022.
The Nittany Lions defense was also impressive against Rutgers and really dominated the entire game, coming through with a shutout. The Scarlet Knights punted on 10 of its first 11 drives with the other drive ending the first half and its final three drives ending in a turnover on downs, an interception and the end of the game. Rutgers crossed the 50-yard line on only one drive. The Nittany Lions also shutout Indiana this season, marking the first time Penn State has shutout two conference opponents since joining the Big Ten in 1993.
The Penn State passing offense will be key this afternoon - whether it’s Clifford or Veilleux at quarterback - they should have success against the Spartans passing defense. Michigan State ranks 14th in the Big Ten in passing defense (339.9) and has struggled this season. Any one who has watched the Nittany Lions knows that they have struggled running through football this season and the Spartans rank fifth in the Big Ten in rushing defense (123.5). So, I would expect PSU to struggle there again later today.
However, this one comes down to Penn State containing Kenneth Walker III and the Michigan State rushing attack. Walker III paces the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,498), rushing yards per game (136.2) and rushing touchdowns (17). The Nittany Lions do have a solid run defense, but they have struggled at times against good running backs. Penn State is giving up 131.7 rushing yards per game. If it can keep Michigan state to that 130-150 yard mark on the day that will be a good day at the office.
If the Nittany Lions are going to have success on the day, it will be because of their standout defensive end Arnold Ebiketie. The transfer from Temple continued his incredible season with five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a strip-sack against Rutgers. He has at least one tackle for loss in seven-straight games this season and leads the Big Ten with 16.0 tackles for loss and ranks second among Power Five defensive linemen. He’s also third in the Big Ten in sacks (9.5) and third among Power Five defensive linemen in total tackles (58).
Penn State will face off with Michigan State for the 36th time this afternoon. This series is as even as it gets at 17-17-1, but the Nittany Lions have won the last two match-ups. Last season, Penn State earned a 39-24 win in Beaver Stadium. Clifford threw for two touchdowns, both to Parker Washington, and rushed for another. Jahan Dotson caught eight passes for 108 yards and scored on an 81-yard punt return.
I like for the Nittany Lions to make it three straight against the Spartans. Penn State’s strength offensively is its passing game and Michigan State just struggles so badly there. I think the defense rallies and holds Walker III to a mediocre day in the run game as well.
My pick is: Penn State 27, Michigan State 17.