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Monday Notebook: Michigan State Week

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Oct. 30, 2017

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With film reviewed and corrections made, Penn State football has turned its full attention toward Saturday's assignment. Hitting the road for the second consecutive week, the No. 7 Nittany Lions travel to No. 24 Michigan State for a noon kickoff. 

Saturday's matchup also marks Penn State's only Big Ten regular season trophy game of the 2017 season. The Nittany Lions currently own possession of the Land Grant Trophy, having captured it for the first time since 2010 in last year's regular season finale.

Established in 1993, the Land Grant Trophy is presented to the winner of the Penn State-Michigan State game, initially established to honor a pair of pioneering land-grant institutions.

With a win on Saturday, Penn State would maintain possession of the Land Grant Trophy in back-to-back outings for the first time since 2008-09. The Nittany Lions are currently 14-7 in Land Grant Trophy outings.

Like Penn State, the Spartans enter the matchup coming off their first conference loss, falling in a 39-31 triple overtime decision on the road at Northwestern.

Looking at the statistics, Michigan State is ranked among the best nationally in rushing defense, allowing opponents an average of 89.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in FBS and tops in the Big Ten. In total defense, the Spartans are ranked eighth nationally (283.4) and third in the conference.

Before officially moving toward Michigan State though, take a quick look back at a few more bright spots from the weekend.

Not-So-Retired Kickoff Returner
Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer joked postgame that he might not be the retired kickoff returner he joked he was back in mid-September. Between running back Saquon Barkley and Farmer, two accounted for 175 of Penn State's 185 kick return yards against Ohio State.

A large part of that yardage of course came by way of Barkley's stunning 97-yard kick return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the game. Farmer made the most of his opportunities when Ohio State did opt to kick it to him though, highlighting the day with a career-long 59-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that led to a Nittany Lion touchdown drive.

Even with his success Saturday though, when asked about the kick returns, Farmer was quick to give credit to Barkley, although smiling at the notion he might not be retired anymore.

"He's probably the best player in the country," Farmer said. "He is the best player in the country. If I was a kicker or a coach, I probably wouldn't kick it to him too."

Honors and Awards
For his 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Barkley earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors, marking the second time he's earned special teams laurels and his fifth overall Big Ten weekly award this year.

As the major national awards begin narrowing down semifinalists and finalists, Barkley was selected as one of 18 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award, presented to the collegiate player of the year.

In the statistical standings this week, Barkley is still atop the FBS and conference rankings averaging 206.25 all-purpose yards per game. Having scored a touchdown in a school-record and FBS leading 15 consecutive games, Barkley has tallied nine rushing scores, good for third in the Big Ten standings.

Career High Day
Penn State safety Troy Apke posted a career-high eight tackles at Ohio State, halting several potentially big Buckeye plays that didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet, especially near the end of the first quarter. Apke added one tackle for loss and one pass breakup. Apke has posted at least four tackles in every Big Ten outing this year. 

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