Can Michigan State Beat Penn State? Sure. Here's How...

Can Michigan State Beat Penn State? Sure. Here's How...

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Can Michigan State Beat Penn State? Sure. Here's How...

In the aftermath of last Saturday’s 29-19 home loss to Northwestern, Michigan State’s season appears to be at a crossroads.  A visit to #8 Penn State looms as a challenge.  But there can be a road to a victory for the Green & White.

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It’d be interesting to go back in the archives and see just how many of The Experts had Michigan State reeling at this point in the season, owners of a 3-2 record, and a really ugly loss at home to Northwestern appearing to introduce the beginning of a downward spiral.

I was not one of those Experts – my prognostications had Michigan State with a 5-0 record right now and I didn’t have a loss on the entire season’s slate.

I wonder how many of The Experts picked Old Dominion to beat Virginia Tech earlier this season.

I wonder how many of The Experts licked BYU to go into Camp Randall and Wisconsin the Badgers a few weeks ago.

I wonder how many of The Experts had Stanford hanging on to Top 25 status by their intellectually powerful fingernails after being punked by Utah at home right now.

For that matter, I woder how many of The Experts actually predicted – last week – that Northwestern would defeat Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.

Sure, there were some of The Experts who said that Northwestern would “keep the game close” but my Buckeye pal Ziegers is literally the only living human I know who actually said, out loud, that Northwestern was going to win that football game.

Michigan State is not playing good football right now.

Unless, of course, your definition of “good” includes words like “sloppy,” “anemic,” “delicate,” “fruitless,” and “bad.”

I’m not saying that Michigan State is a bad football team right now.

All I’m saying is that when I watched the movie “A Star Is Born” featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga the other night, I speculated on the possibility that some of the scenes that included Cooper and Gaga being intimate might have been very well-rehearsed.

But, as usual, I digress.

People – including The Experts – always tend to ignore the fact that any college football team can beat just about any other college football team with the exception of Alabama on any given Saturday.

The Notre Dame people never used to understand this when Charlie Weis would hobble up out of his sideline bacarlounger and lead his Fighting Irish to a close loss to USC.

That never meant that Notre Dame was a national championship team and that Charlie Weis was the greatest coach in all of college football.

What it meant was that on that day, Notre Dame whipped it up, got focused, dug deep, executed a game plan, tackled well, ran hard, made good plays, avoided making stupid mistakes and was good enough to lose a close game.

But, it showed that a team was able to put it together for an afternoon and go toe-to-toe with the champs.

And then Notre Dame would, to the shock of the Notre Damers, get back to the business of losing to Tulsa at home, South Florida at home, or Navy at home.

Ask Virginia Tech fans if they think a team can lay an egg against an inferior opponent and wind up losing to that inferior opponent due to the inferior opponent having been able to put it together for one game.

The chances of Michigan State beating Penn State and immediately rejuvenating the Spartans’ season are small right now.

But this, as The Experts like to say from time to time, is why they play the games.

Are there a few “things” that we can point to as possible factors that could actually lead to a victory for Michigan State?

Sure.

Here are a few.

COLE CHEWINS

How much of an impact can one person have on an offense’s ability to be effective?

There isn’t any disputing the fact that the absence of Cole Chewins – a guy who had started 16 straight games before being injured against Arizona State – has had a domino effect on the Spartans’ offensive line.

The offensive line has not been good.

I’m not saying that the Spartans’ offensive line is made up of tackling dummies.

All I’m saying is that when Urban Meyer says, “Hello,” I don’t believe him.

Chewins played some last week against Northwestern and he’s been out on the field more and more these last couple of weeks.

There is chatter about Chewins being close to 100%.

If Chewins is able to go – and if he’s able to be Cole Chewins – this might jumpstart the offensive line.

Consider this:

If Chewins is out there at left tackle, that allows Tyler Higby to move to his natural position of left guard where he’s started 13 games and has played winning football.

For all of the problems over the offensive line in the aggregate, it appears as though Matt Allen has sort of settled in at center and Jordan Reid has kind of done the same thing at right tackle.

The right guard spot remains a question mark – if Kevin Jarvis can’t get out there this Saturday, the Spartans will send out former walk-on Blake Bueter to take on the right guard duties.

No matter what, this unit is wobbly.

But…..

If Chewins is able to go and if he’s able to be Cole Chewins, it’s not crazy to think that the line might be able to be serviceable.

Can a serviceable offensive line put together enough stretches that allow for some running, some protection, and some unforced-error-free clock-gobbling time to get Michigan State three or four touchdowns, somehow?

Was Old Dominion’s offensive line a dominating unit that had better athletes, a better game plan, and a faster/stronger/beefier makeup than the Virginia Tech defensive front?

BRIAN LEWERKE

This is pretty straightforward.

Is this the week when Brian Lewerke plays error-free football, makes good decisions at key points, is let loose by the coaching staff and takes full advantage of opportunities to tuck and run?

It’s not as if the idea of Lewerke playing a great game requires everyone to go light a candle at your local Catholic grotto.

The guy is a winner, has played brilliantly in the past, and hasn’t had a leg amputated, as far as we can tell.

Can Lewerke play like he did last year against Penn State when he was 33 of 56 for 400 yards and 2 touchdowns?

Lewerke found Felton Davis 12 times last season against Penn State and Davis accounted for 181 yards while grabbing a touchdown.

Lewerke gained 25 yards on 7 carries last season against Penn State.

What’s so crazy about thinking that Lewerke can have another great performance against a team he torched a year ago?

Lewerke doesn’t have the receiver options he had last season (has anyone stopped to think about how much Hunter Rison is missed this season?) but his legs can potentially make up for that…

HARASS, PRESSURE, SACK McSORLEY

In last season’s 27-24 victory over Penn State, Michigan State sacked Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley 3 times.

McSorley still put up great numbers – he was 26 of 47 for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns.

But Michigan State also picked off McSorley 3 times.

The 3 sacks and the hurries and the general pressure impacted McSorely all game long.

That pressure that the Spartan defense created indirectly – and, in some cases, directly – led to limiting McSorley from having even more yards and connecting for more big plays, more scores, etc.

After a couple of weeks of what we were calling a “surge,” the Spartan defense took a step backwards last week against Northwestern by only getting to Clayton Thorson once for a sack.

Thorson lit up the Spartan defense for 373 yards.

Would one or two more sacks have changed the game to such a degree that Thorson wouldn’t have been able to connect on one or two of the passes that allowed him to make enough plays to get the win for the Wildcats?

If Michigan State can create pressure, can hurry McSorely, and can put him down enough to give the struggling secondary a shot at limiting the output by Penn State through the air, this gives the Spartans a shot at being in this game when the fourth quarter rolls around.

BUSINESS TRIP

We’re not trying to convince anyone that Michigan State is going to head into Happy Valley and dominate the #8 team in the nation.

However, are people – including The Experts – even aware of the fact that Michigan State has won three out of the last four matchups against Penn State?

Penn State is a legitimate Top 10 team and they came within a whisker of being a Top 5 team a couple of weeks ago against Ohio State.

But this isn’t some program that forces the Spartans to curl up into the fetal position.

On the contrary, I’d guess that Michigan State isn’t heading to Happy Valley to somehow find the courage to stay close with the #8 team in the nation.

I’m guessing that the Spartans, particularly with the dynamics that have become the story of this team following a disappointing 3-2 start to the season, are heading to Penn State to beat Penn State, a team Michigan State is 4-1 against since 2010.

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