Nit­tany Lions wary of Michi­gan State’s tough run de­fense

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - By Travis John­son

STATE COL­LEGE, PA. » A bye week al­lowed Penn State play­ers to watch more film on their up­com­ing op­po­nent, but all view­ings showed the same thing: Michi­gan State stuffs the run and makes teams one di­men­sional.

“These guys are giv­ing up 33 yards per game run­ning,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “And I think the mis­take you make is when you’re play­ing a team like that is that you abort the run and go all pass.”

So the No. 8 Nit­tany Lions (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) will be pa­tient, Franklin said, when Michi­gan State (3-2, 1-1) brings its top-ranked rush­ing de­fense into Beaver Sta­dium on Satur­day where both teams will try stay in the chase in an East Di­vi­sion that’s get­ting crowded at the top.

No. 3 Ohio State and No. 12 Michi­gan are un­beaten in con­fer­ence play while the Nit­tany Lions and Spar­tans are com­ing off losses.

Penn State quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley is com­ing off his best rush­ing per­for­mance af­ter rack­ing up 175 yards on 25 car­ries against the Buck­eyes. But he handed off on a fourth­down play the Buck­eyes eas­ily stuffed to hand the Nit­tany Lions a 1-point loss.

McSor­ley’s ready again if de­signed quar­ter­back runs and scram­bling are what it will take to open Michi­gan State’s de­fense up.

“Their men­tal­ity that teams aren’t go­ing to run the ball against them, it’s given them the rush de­fense they’ve had over the last cou­ple years,” McSor­ley said. SO THROW IT » When Michi­gan State coach Mark Dan­to­nio looks at the num­bers, he doesn’t see a sec­ondary that’s strug­gling that badly con­sid­er­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs are be­ing forced to throw on av­er­age 44 times against the Spar­tans and are av­er­ag­ing just un­der 8 yards per at­tempt.

“The an­swer for that prob­a­bly is, they’ve hit some deep balls on us where deep ball judg­ment comes into play,” Dan­to­nio said. “And again, I go back to a game of inches.”

It’s also a game of bod­ies and the Spar­tans have lost a hand­ful. Cor­ners Josiah Scott and Scott Smith are out, leav­ing a thin group for Penn State to at­tack. DROPSIES » McSor­ley’s 461 to­tal yards in the Ohio State game is a pro­gram record. He would’ve had more if his re­ceivers could hold the ball.

So far, the Nit­tany Lions have dropped 17 passes. Five came against the Buck­eyes when Penn State was with­out star KJ Ham­ler for much of the sec­ond half be­cause of an ap­par­ent head in­jury.

Ham­ler is ex­pected to play Satur­day, Franklin said. A BOOST UP FRONT » Michi­gan State quar­ter­back Brian Lew­erke threw for 400 yards and two touch­downs when these teams last met but could have a tougher time now.

Penn State de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brent Pry said he’s seen the de­fen­sive line im­prove each week and will get end Shane Sim­mons back into the ro­ta­tion. Sim­mons, who played more down the stretch last sea­son, has been limited af­ter an un­spec­i­fied in­jury in camp.

“How quickly he gets back to his peak play­ing po­ten­tial, we’ll see,” Penn State de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brent Pry said. A GREAT PRAC­TICE AND A CHAL­LENGE » McSor­ley agreed with Franklin’s re­mark that Tues­day’s prac­tice was the best in the four years the coach and his staff have been in Happy Val­ley.

Spar­tans line­backer Joe Bachie, mean­while, had stern words af­ter Michi­gan State’s loss to North­west­ern.

“If you don’t want to lead, if you don’t want to go win, get out of the locker room,” he said.

Dan­to­nio un­der­stood his cap­tain’s frus­tra­tion. “When you are a leader, when you’re the head coach or when you’re the co­or­di­na­tor or you’re the as­sis­tant coach or the leader, cap­tain, some­times you have to be more de­mand­ing,” Dan­to­nio said. “So that’s a part of it and ... that’s what we all do.”

CHRIS KNIGHT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Penn State quar­ter­back Trace McSor­ley (9) throws a pass against Kent State dur­ing a game ear­lier this sea­son in State Col­lege, Pa. McSor­ley has thrown for a to­tal of 757 yards and seven touch­downs in his last two games against the Spar­tans, and the spot­light will be on him again be­cause Michi­gan State fa­mously stuffs the run but can’t stop the pass.

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