Nit­tany Lions on verge of Big Ten ti­tle

Nit­tany Lions host Michi­gan State with cham­pi­onship hopes on the line

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Travis John­son

Hav­ing played against Trace McSor­ley in high school, Derek Dowrey re­mem­bers one thing about the shifty quar­ter­back with the de­cep­tively strong arm he now blocks for ev­ery Satur­day.

“I just know that he torched us, ba­si­cally,” Dowrey said.

Bol­stered by smart de­ci­sion mak­ing, timely deep balls, quick feet and aware­ness to use them, the dual-threat quar­ter­back has helped No. 7 Penn State do the same to the rest of the Big Ten all sea­son. As a re­sult, Penn State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten, No. 7 CFP) is set for its big­gest game in nearly a decade and will face Michi­gan State (3-8, 1-7) in the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale Satur­day with a Big Ten cham­pi­onship, and pos­si­bly more, on the line.

Penn State would win the Big Ten East with a vic­tory and a Michi­gan loss to Ohio State.

The fact that McSor­ley is just

“He’s pretty much been who we thought he was go­ing to be. But I will tell you that’s typ­i­cally not the case, I mean, for all of us. Very rarely do they play out to be the per­son that you thought they were.” — Penn State head coach James Franklin on QB Trace McSor­ley.

256 yards from break­ing his pro­gram’s sin­gle-sea­son yardage record (3,215) with the stakes this high is no co­in­ci­dence. He’s ac­counted for an av­er­age of 283 to­tal yards per game dur­ing Penn State’s se­v­engame win­ning streak and 17 to­tal touch­downs. He’s tossed just two in­ter­cep­tions in that span. His quiet, calm de­meanor has been cel­e­brated again and again by his team­mates and coaches.

“He’s pretty much been who we thought he was go­ing to be,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “But I will tell you that’s typ­i­cally not the case, I mean, for all of us. In any in­dus­try, any re­la­tion­ship, you go in think­ing you know some­body pretty well. Very rarely do they play out to be the per­son that you thought they were.”

The Spar­tans, mean­while, are a team in tran­si­tion. Af­ter win­ning two of the last three Big Ten ti­tles, Michi­gan State’s sea­son will end with­out a bowl game for the first time since 2006.

“Our goals are to fin­ish much like we’ve al­ways tried to do, com­plete a cir­cle, fin­ish with a ‘W,”’ Michi­gan State coach Mark Dan­to­nio said. “I think that makes a big dif­fer­ence in ev­ery foot­ball sea­son. How you end that sea­son re­ally sets you up or plateaus you, or what­ever the case.” RUN-STUFFERS >> Michi­gan State’s run­ning game has thrived by chang­ing an­gles and de­ceiv­ing lineback­ers and the Spar­tans en­ter the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale led by pow­er­ful back LJ Scott, av­er­ag­ing 219 rush­ing yards in their last five games.

Penn State should be able to deal with this type of of­fense with lineback­ers Bran­don Bell and Ja­son Cabinda avail­able. In games they’ve played to­gether this sea­son, Penn State has al­lowed just 91 rush­ing yards per game com­pared to 221 per game when ei­ther star line­backer is out. BARKLEY A GO >> Penn State run­ning back Saquon Barkley, who was knocked from the Rut­gers game af­ter a hel­met-to-hel­met hit, spoke at length with re­porters on Tues­day and will play af­ter test­ing neg­a­tive for a con­cus­sion. DU­EL­ING TIGHT ENDS >> Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and his Michi­gan State coun­ter­part Josiah Price have been big fac­tors for their teams. Gesicki set Penn State’s sin­gle-sea­son re­cep­tions record for a tight end with his 42nd last week and en­ters the game with 14 catches for 200 yards over the last three. He hasn’t scored a touch­down since Oct. 8, how­ever. Price needs two catches to be­come just the third tight end in Michi­gan State his­tory with 100 in a ca­reer. CHANG­ING LINE­UPS >> Both teams have been hit hard by in­juries. While Penn State en­dured the loss of seven lineback­ers in Septem­ber and now is with­out its top three of­fen­sive tack­les, the Spar­tans have fielded dif­fer­ent start­ing line­ups in ev­ery sin­gle game with 25 play­ers earn­ing their first start or ex­tended play­ing time this sea­son. SE­NIOR DAY >> Penn State will honor 17 se­niors be­fore the game. Seven were true fresh­men in 2012, the year the pro­gram was sanc­tioned by the NCAA fol­low­ing the uni­ver­sity’s role in the Jerry San­dusky child sex abuse scan­dal. Four more re­cruits re­mained com­mit­ted to the team de­spite a four-year bowl ban and schol­ar­ship re­duc­tions and a trans­fer waiver that of­fered them the chance to go to an­other team with­out los­ing a year of el­i­gi­bil­ity.

Michi­gan State’s 28 se­niors, who were cel­e­brated in a pri­vate cer­e­mony in East Lans­ing last week, will play their fi­nal col­le­giate game at Beaver Sta­dium.

MEL EVANS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Penn State quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley (9) tries to get away from Rut­gers line­backer Deonte Roberts (26) dur­ing last Satur­day’s game.

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