GAME BLOG - Penn State vs. Michigan State
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions (6-5, 2-5) will host No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) on Senior Day inside Beaver Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday with television coverage on ABC (ESPN2 outer markets).
Penn State will pay tribute to a special group of seniors prior to Saturday's game. The program will honor a collection of 17 players who have exhibited unrivaled commitment to Penn State during some of its toughest times. A senior class that has seemingly gone through everything during its time in the Blue and White is deserving of a standing ovation from the Beaver Stadium faithful on Saturday.
The list of players who will be honored includes: Adrian Amos, DeShawn Baker, Brad Bars, Bill Belton, Drew Boyce, Jesse Della Valle, Miles Dieffenbach, Sam Ficken, Mike Hull, Ryan Keiser, Jesse Merise, C.J. Olaniyan, Devin Pryor, T.J. Rhattigan, Tyrone Smith, Deron Thompson and Zach Zwinak.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a tough 16-14 setback at Illinois last week after the Fighting Illini made a game-winning field goal with eight seconds left. The Lions enter the final week of the regular season having held nine of their 11 opponents to fewer than 20 points in regulation this season.
Penn State is the only FBS team in the top five in rushing defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. The Nittany Lions are No. 1 in the nation against the run (81.7 ypg.), No. 3 in the nation in total defense (267.2 ypg) and No. 4 in the nation in scoring defense (16.2 ppg) and No. 3 in pass efficiency defense (94.78).
Additionally, Penn State is second in third down conversion percentage defense (27.6 percent), is third in the nation in first downs defense (156 total), is 15th in passes intercepted (15) and is No. 17 in passing yards allowed (185.5 ypg).
Penn State is also one of just two teams in the nation to have not allowed a rushing play of 30 or more yards (Syracuse). The Lions also lead the nation with fewest plays of 30 or more yards allowed this season (7).
Saturday's game will pit one of the Big Ten's top defenses against one of the top offenses. Michigan State enters the final week of the season ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense (514.5 ypg) and the No. 3 in the Big Ten in total defense (299.0 ypg). Rated as the Big Ten's top passing offense, Michigan State has scored 27 or more points in every game on the schedule this season and is averaging 43.9 points per game.
The Senior Day game is also a Blue Out. Fans are encouraged to wear blue attire to support Prevent Child Abuse PA. Official Blue Out shirts have been available for purchase at the Penn State Bookstore and other downtown outlets since the summer, with proceeds going to Prevent Child Abuse PA.
The Penn State Blue Band will pay tribute to retiring director Dr. Dick Bundy with a halftime performance featuring music that he arranged and the formations he designed during his career, including music and formations used in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and 1986 Orange Bowl.
The Nittany Lions and Spartans will battle for the Land Grant Trophy on Saturday. Penn State and Michigan State were the nation's first two Land Grant institutions, both founded in February of 1855.
Welcome to the Gameday Preview for the week 12 matchup against Michigan State.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Seventeen seniors will be honored for their efforts before kickoff, but one name stands out in the group. Simply put, Mike Hull's impact on the 2014 team cannot be measured in statistics. The Pittsburgh native has been incredibly productive and consistent since the season began in Ireland on Nov. 30. Entering the week as the Big Ten's top tackler (11.0 tpg), Hull has a knack for being in a great position to make plays on virtually every single snap. His work ethic on the practice field is second to none, and Hull has made everyone around him elevate their game this fall. Hull has played a season at middle linebacker among the greatest players in Linebacker U history, and he is deserving of a big game in his final outing at Beaver Stadium.
2. No player has felt the effects of Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach being back in the lineup on the offensive line more than junior running back Akeel Lynch. On the heels of a career-high 28 carries and career-best 137 yards at Illinois, Lynch's confidence is at an all-time high. Lynch tallied his second-straight 100-yard performance in Champaign last week, which included a 47-yard touchdown run. Against a Michigan State defense that has been stingy against the ground attack, the Lions will need another strong outing from Lynch and the running back corps this week.
3. Like Hull and so many of the senior members of the team, kicker Sam Ficken has earned the respect of every single member of the football program for his work ethic and production and ability to overcome adversity. Ficken has been consistent every step of the way in 2014. He is 22-of-26 on field goal attempts (all four misses were blocked) in 2014. Ficken is ranked 11th in the nation in field goal percentage (84.6 percent) and third in the nation in field goals per game (2.00). Ranked second in Penn State history with 52 made field goals, the Indiana native will go down as one of Penn State's most productive kickers.
What to Watch For - Michigan State
1. Penn State leads the nation in defending the run at 81.7 yards per game. The unit will face a stiff test on Saturday against Michigan State junior Jeremy Langford. The Spartan running back enters the weekend having eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 14 consecutive Big Ten games (Longest streak in FBS conference games since the stat has been kept in 1996). Langford is a big, physical back with great speed. He will be looking to set a school record of nine-straight 100-yard games.
2. In the passing game, Michigan State junior Connor Cook and wide receiver Tony Lippett have been a formidable duo for the Spartan offense. Cook is the Big Ten's passing leader with 2,720 yards (21 touchdowns and 5 interceptions) while completing 59 percent of his passes. Lippett is the Big Ten's only 1,000-yard receiver thus far. He has made 56 receptions and scored a Big Ten-best 10 touchdowns.
3. Defensively, the Spartans field a talented collection of impact players. Safety Kurtis Drummond leads Michigan State with 59 tackles and four interceptions this season. The Spartans have three players with 11.0 tackles for loss, including standout defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Michigan State leads the nation in turnover margin (+1.73) and is No. 3 in turnovers gained this season (31).
The Final Word:
The 2014 senior class has been instrumental in helping Penn State earning a 30-18 on-field record during unprecedented circumstances in the last four years. The senior class has earned three-straight winning seasons and will have a chance for a fourth on Saturday. Nine of the 17 seniors graduated prior to the start of the 2014 season. The group also includes the No. 3 scorer in school history, one of the program's elite tacklers, a 2,000-yard rusher and six of the seven team captains. Additionally, the Nittany Lions are thrilled to pay tribute to safety Ryan Keiser, whose season was cut short with a season-ending injury prior to the Ohio State game. Keiser's maturity and leadership have been paramount to Penn State's success during the last for seasons. The kickoff is set for 3:36 p.m. on Saturday with Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham and Jeanine Edwards calling the ABC broadcast.
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