Michigan State goes into the last game on the schedule.
The Spartans (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) play Saturday (4 p.m. FS1) in the regular-season finals with the Land Grant Trophy in the No. 11 Penn State (9-2, 6-2). Line.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday’s game and a prediction for the final score:
Last chance for bowl eligibility
Despite being shorthanded by injuries and suspensions, Michigan State won three of four and was close to being eligible for the Bowl when it hosted an Indiana team that put East Lansing on a seven-game losing streak. Then, last week, the Spartans gambled away a 17-point lead in the second half of a 39-31 double overtime loss to the Hoosiers.
Examine Michigan State’s bowl odds, even if they fall to 5-7
That meltdown leaves Michigan State with just one chance at six wins and a bowl bid, and it requires an upset at Penn State, which has only lost to top-five states Michigan and Ohio. The Spartans will need to find a way past last week’s loss to play their best game of the season and earn a second away win against a league table this year. There’s still a chance for Michigan State to win a bowl game 5-7 if there aren’t enough teams eligible, but that takes some help.
Who is Available for Michigan State?
The Spartans played their last three games without eight players, due to their role in post-game incidents following an Oct. 29 loss in Michigan in linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon, defensive end Zion Young and Brandon Wright, linebacker Itayvion “Tank” Brown are suspended indefinitely, as are defenders Angelo Grose, Khary Crump, Justin White and Malcolm Jones. Washtenaw County prosecutors on Wednesday announced criminal charges against seven of the eight (Jones is the only suspended player not charged), with Crump facing a felony charge for brandishing his helmet while the other six face misdemeanor charges.
As of Thursday night, there had been no comment from Michigan State coach Mel Tucker or athletic director Alan Haller on the charges or the status of the players moving forward. Tucker previously said players must practice and attend meetings leading up to a game in order to play.
7 Michigan State football players have been charged following tunnel incidents
In addition to the suspensions, which include five players who have started at least once this season, Michigan State is also grappling with a slew of injuries. Defensive ends Jeff Pietrowski and Khris Bogle have been absent since September, and long snapper Hank Pepper has missed six straight games. Left-start tackle Jarrett Horst missed the last three games and right-start guard Matt Carrick was out in the last two. Brian Greene, who replaced Carrick in the starting lineup, was unavailable last week, as were tight end Tyler Hunt and cornerback Ronald Williams. Running back Jarek Broussard was injured in the first half against Indiana, looking shaky leaving the field and not returning.
Porous barrel defense
A year after ranked 15th in the nation in rushing defense with 117.2 yards per game allowed, Michigan state ranks 100th with 180.3. The Spartans have allowed five opponents to run at least 200 meters, including three of the last four. Tucker said Monday this is the fourth straight week the team has been unable to meet in practice due to a lack of fit bodies, and it’s hampering the rushing defense.
The latest setback came last week against Indiana, who ranked 127th in the country at just 85.8 yards per game. The Hoosiers then beat the Spartans for season-highs of 44 carries for 257 yards and four touchdowns, while quarterback Dexter Williams II was just 2-for-7 passing for 31 yards in his first career start. Shaun Shivers had 13 rushes for 115 yards and two touchdowns, and Williams rushed for 86 yards and a score.
The lack of practice shots contributes to Michigan State’s struggles in run defense
The battered run defense obviously doesn’t bode well for Michigan State, which faces a tough test on Saturday. Penn State is 44th in the nation at 184.1 yards per game and is led by two true freshmen. Nicholas Singleton has 132 carries for 863 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Kaytron Allen has 135 rushes for 748 yards and nine scores. Senior sixth-year quarterback Sean Clifford is also a threat with his legs, having rushed for 177 yards and five points.
Undulating rushing game
Michigan State struggled to keep the ball running against high-profile competition, averaging just 53.8 yards per game against its first six power-five opponents this season. The Spartans have shown life lately running with the ball, averaging 183.6 yards over the past three weeks and that has helped Payton Thorne in the passing game.
Faced with the opposition, they pulled off their best rushing performance of the season by piling up 242 yards on the ground against Indiana. Jalen Berger had 21 carries for 119 yards while Elijah Collins finished his first 100-yard game since 2019 with 19 rushes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time the Spartans had had two 100-yard rushers in a game since 2014.
Why Michigan State’s Payton Thorne thinks he’s a better player than last season
Aside from being injured by Michigan for 418 yards and four touchdowns, Penn State has been solid and ranks 21st in the country in fast defense at 112.4 yards per game. The Nittany Lions have held eight opponents for under 100 yards, including each of the last four.
Special teams clean up
Special teams delivered Michigan State’s win over Rutgers two weeks ago, but they were a disaster against Indiana. Jaylin Lucas returned the opening kickoff 43 yards to set up a touchdown and he hit an 88-yard return in the third quarter. It was the first kickoff return touchdown the Spartans allowed since 2017.
One of the nation’s top players, Bryce Baringer, rushed for a season-low 31 yards on three tries. Ben Patton was just 1-3 on field goals, missing from 22 yards in what would have been a game-winner when regular time was up. A high snap helped block his 28-yard attempt in first overtime. The Spartans are now 5 to 11 in field goals this season.
Michigan State nearly doubled Indiana in overall offense (540 to 288), but special teams made the difference. The Spartans can’t afford similar missteps and succeed at Penn State.
Michigan State has already lost possession of the Paul Bunyan Trophy to Michigan and the Old Brass Spittoon to Indiana, and it’s hard to imagine Saturday’s shorthanded Spartans retaining the Land Grant Trophy. They’ve struggled under adversity this season, and that should be the case again against Penn State, but Michigan State has too many weaknesses and has already blown their best shot at qualifying for the Bowl. Penn State 31, Michigan State 14
Related Football Stories from Michigan State:
Mel Tucker sorts through key selection decisions as the clock ticks and the day of the signing approaches
Mat Ishbia says he gave Mel Tucker’s contract extension $14 million
Overheard by Mel Tucker at the press conference: Eyes on everyone and the winning edge
Michigan State has a “sense of urgency” ahead of the regular-season finals at Penn State
Michigan State advances with the final shot to qualify for the Bowl