Penn State Preview: Michigan State

Penn State v. Michigan State 2018 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 6 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Spartan Stadium, which features a capacity of 75,005.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 54 degrees with some sunshine giving way to clouds and rain at times in the afternoon.

The line: Penn State –6.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Michigan 28-21, while Michigan State had a bye.

All-time series: Michigan State leads 17-15-1.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan State escaped Beaver Stadium with a 21-17 win.

Throwback classic (2016): We’re sending it back only two years, to when Penn State demolished Michigan State 45-12 to win the Big Ten East Division title, before winning the conference championship a week later against Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Overview: Penn State is 7-0 for the fifth time since joining the Big Ten, and while the Nittany Lions have created a ton of momentum the last few weeks (and really, the entire season), Saturday looms ahead. Michigan State has been outscored 72-10 in its last two games — losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin — and that stat actually makes the Spartans seem more dangerous. That’s how odd this game has been since James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley.

Penn State wins if: Sean Clifford continues to protect the ball. The first-year starter has thrown only two interceptions, and the home crowd will be thirsting for a win Saturday. It’s been almost a month since the Spartans’ last victory, a 40-31 win over Indiana on Sept. 28, and the same amount of time since Michigan State’s last home game. The atmosphere should be plenty rowdy, though won’t be anything Clifford hasn’t seen before. Protect the ball, and stay unbeaten: That’s the mantra Saturday for the superstar sophomore.

Michigan State wins if: the Spartans’ offensive line gives quarterback Brian Lewerke enough time to have downfield success. Penn State ranks fourth nationally in rush defense per game (66 yards), and Michigan State doesn’t appear to have the ground game to make it work Saturday. The Spartans average a respectable 117 yards per contest, though nothing that’ll shift the dynamic of the game. Unless a team can gain 200-plus yards against Penn State, and it doesn’t appear the Spartans have that potential, the air attack is the best bet. That’s what Michigan State will need Saturday.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain (yes, we’re going with the true freshman running back again). Saturday will be a game when James Franklin might want to (have to?) divert from the running back rotation and go with a bruising back if the game turns into a contest of one grinding possession after another. Cain leads Penn State with 329 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Trivia tidbit: Though Michigan State leads the overall series, Penn State is ahead 14-9 since joining the Big Ten.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 34, Michigan State 30

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 30, Michigan State 21

From The Archives: Penn State V. Michigan State (2016)

Penn State v. Michigan State (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

James Franklin might’ve been more right than anyone thought.

Lofting the Big Ten East Division trophy above his head moments earlier, Franklin proclaimed “This is just the beginning” after Penn State downed Michigan State 45-12 at Beaver Stadium in late November 2016.

The Nittany Lions exploded in the latter part of the game, outscoring the Spartans 35-0 after halftime, indicative of how the team had played most of the season.

“The second half comeback kids did it again,” is how John Black ’62 concisely summarized in the lead for that edition of The Football Letter, a neat intro for a cold and windy Senior Day that served as the prelude for the team’s first Big Ten title since 2008.

More than 250 lettermen returned for the contest, at the urging of Franklin, and former All-American linebacker LaVar Arrington returned from California to serve as the honorary captain.

Trace McSorley threw four touchdowns — two to Chris Godwin, one to Mike Gesicki, and another to Andre Robinson — while Robinson ran for another score, to boost Penn State.

Penn State v. Michigan State (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

After the game, fifth-year senior Evan Schwan, who Black noted could’ve transferred in 2012 without penalty though stayed at Penn State, said:

“This whole season has just been a blessing. … You have to keep fighting, keep working and believing in yourself and your family.”

A week later, Penn State continued their magical run with a victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, and that success has continued since.

Franklin and the Nittany Lions have a 27-6 mark since the start of the 2017 season, including a perfect 7-0 record heading into Saturday’s battle against Michigan State, in East Lansing.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., at Spartan Stadium. And with Wisconsin losing last Saturday to unranked Illinois, the possibility of a return to the Rose Bowl, or perhaps another Big Ten championship, still figures prominently this season for Penn State.

As Franklin said, it’s just the beginning. We hope you stick with us for the rest of the season (and beyond) for what’s sure to be a fun ride.

Penn State connection remains strong for chapter president

Penn State @ Michigan State (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Michigan Chapter President Gary Wade welcomed alumni and friends to East Lansing in 2017. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Not much has changed for Gary Wade ’77 over the years. And that’s good.

Wade heads up the Penn State Alumni Association’s Michigan Chapter, serving as president since 2012.

“I’m involved for the same reasons I first got involved, it’s exciting,” Wade said. “I really enjoyed my years at Penn State. Studying was hard, there was a certain grind to get your degree, but there’s a certain joy to the Penn State community.

“You meet another person, and you’ve never met them before, and as soon as you have a common bond as Penn Staters, you enjoy sharing stories — even if they’re decades apart.”

Whether the stories revolve around studying at the library or attending a football game, “the thrills are the same over the years,” Wade said.

That consistency has served the chapter well, most notably through a core group of board members. The chapter successfully holds repeat events, like television watch parties, annual member socials, and student sendoff picnics, with Wade pointing out that things run more smoothly with minimal turnover.

One of the main contributors is Bob Veres ’74, the chapter’s treasurer, and as Wade describes, “sports guru.” Veres has been active with the chapter since the 1970s, securing football tickets for numerous games and overseeing various contests for the Michigan group.

Complementing these stalwarts, the chapter has expanded its efforts with the help of some personnel additions.

“We do have a couple of new people on board, and that’s made things a bit more exciting,” Wade said. “They’ve come in with ideas and made a few changes with what we do.”

For one example, Wade pointed to Brodie Schultz ’15, ’17g and his work toward organizing a THON golf outing each of the past few years. Schultz helped the chapter exceed its goal for each of the past two years with the golf event, raising more than $25,000 combined.

Additionally, the new members have increased the chapter’s presence on social media, and you can follow the Michigan Chapter on Facebook.

“They like Penn State, the networking, and the benefit of meeting up with Penn Staters in different fields and degrees,” Wade said. “They all have the common core value of wanting to help Penn State and wanting to help the chapter.”

Sometimes, these demographics merge: longstanding board members contributing to recent graduates getting involved.

The chapter has worked diligently with scholarship fundraising, awarding $13,000 last summer to nine students, and awarding more than $83,000 over the last decade. The scholarships benefit Penn State students hailing from Michigan, such as Alexandra Fahoome ’16, who received a scholarship in 2015. Fahoome returned to Michigan after graduating and now leads the Michigan Chapter’s communications efforts.

Penn State @ Michigan State (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Families will enjoy time with the Penn State Cheerleaders and Nittany Lions at Friday night’s mixer (photo from 2017 event in East Lansing). Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Wade and his group will be busy this weekend, when undefeated and No. 6 Penn State comes to East Lansing for a showdown against the Spartans.

Friday night, the chapter will host an alumni mixer at a local restaurant. Then, there’s a block of tickets available for members for the game. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Spartan Stadium.

The atmosphere Friday night is more manageable for alumni and friends to get photos and some face time with the cheer team and Nittany Lion, who typically headline each away game mixer that Alumni Association affiliate groups host. It’s a little less hectic, Wade said, and Penn Staters have the opportunity for some meaningful interaction.

Wade has a little more time for himself now, too. He retired last summer after 41 years at Chrysler, a job he landed out of college because of his Penn State degree. He was recruited by another Penn State grad, George Miller ’59. Miller is still involved with the Michigan Chapter, so Wade continues to see him on a regular basis

It’s those types of connections that have enriched Wade’s Penn State experience, one that transcends decades, geographic regions, and different perspectives from generation to generation.

“The Penn State community in Michigan and other places I’ve been, it’s a great community to be involved in,” Wade said.

There are nearly 300 Alumni Association affiliate groups, spanning geographic regions, academic colleges, and shared interests. You can view a full list and connect with Penn Staters anytime at alumni.psu.edu/groups.

Nittany Lion Look Back (And Ahead)

Michigan/Michigan State

Penn State is 7-0. It hasn’t been always perfect in those seven wins, especially on offense, but the record speaks for itself. 

The Nittany Lions passed their biggest test yet, holding off Michigan 28-21 in front of the fourth-largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history. 

To get to 8-0, Penn State will have to beat a Michigan State team that has dashed its College Football Playoff hopes in each of the past two seasons. 

As always in this series, let’s take a quick look back at Penn State’s White Out triumph over the Wolverines before looking ahead to another crucial encounter with the Spartans in East Lansing.

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Looking Back

Star of The Game: KJ Hamler 

Hamler is Penn State’s most important player on offense, and on Saturday he demonstrated why. The redshirt sophomore tormented the Michigan defense with six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 100-yard kick return touchdown called back for holding at the start of the third quarter. 

A 53-yard touchdown from Sean Clifford to Hamler to put Penn State up by 14 with 13 minutes to go was made possible by the latter’s ability to burn past the Wolverines’ secondary. Hamler iced the game late in the fourth quarter with a tough three-yard run for a first down, taking a hit to the helmet in the process. Where would this offense be without him? 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Moment of Magic: The defense’s goal line stand

On the Wolverines’ final possession of the game, it looked like the Penn State defense (on the field for 82 total snaps on the night) had lost all its steam. Michigan marched to the red zone with less than four minutes to go, looking to tie the game at 28. 

Having held for the first three downs, Penn State’s defense got the final stop it needed on fourth down, when safety Lamont Wade did just enough in coverage to force a drop from Ronnie Bell in the end zone. The White Out crowd exploded. The scoring threat was over. The defense had made its stand.

Looking Ahead

Michigan State controls the series

The battle for The Land Grant Trophy has been pretty one-sided as of late. Michigan State has won five of the past six matchups with Penn State, including heartbreaking losses for the Nittany each of the past two seasons. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Blowout losses for Sparty 

The 2019 season hasn’t gone to plan for Sparty. Michigan State began the year ranked No. 18 in the country, but a woeful offense has seen the Spartans drop its three toughest games so far. 

In Week 3, Mark Dantonio’s team dropped an ugly 10-7 decision at home to Arizona State. Then, a 34-10 loss in Columbus to Ohio State was followed by a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of Wisconsin. 

Brian Lewerke’s late heroics 

In 2017, Lewerke drove the Michigan State offense down the field for a game-winning field goal, dashing Penn State’s hopes for a potential College Football Playoff berth. 

A year later in Beaver Stadium he led the Spartans on an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to pull ahead 21-17 with 19 seconds left on the clock. The drive was capped off with his 25-yard touchdown pass to Felton Davis. 

He will be looking to make it three wins from three against Penn State on Saturday.

Penn State Preview: Michigan

Purdue 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel 

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 16 Michigan, 7:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 294-74.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 59 degrees and mostly sunny.

The line: Penn State –8.5.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Iowa 17-12 at Kinnick Stadium, while Michigan thumped Illinois 42-25.

All-time series: Michigan leads 14-8.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan earned a convincing 42-7 victory in Ann Arbor.

Throwback classic (2008): Penn State roared back from an early 10-point deficit to dismantle Michigan 46-17 on the Nittany Lions’ path to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance.

Overview: Penn State’s trajectory had them competing for a spot in the playoff next season, though they’re showing this year is also a reality. Sean Clifford’s acclimated to the offense immediately, distributing the ball efficiently through the air while also remaining a threat to run whenever needed. The defense has been as good as imaginable, with future NFL first-round draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos totaling 18 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks to lead the group.

Here’s what Michigan has going in its favor. The Wolverines essentially have to win this game, both in terms of the Big Ten race, and their season. They host No. 8 Notre Dame next weekend, and if they lose both contests, then it’ll feel like Harbaugh will never win the Big Ten or national championship at Michigan. Remember, this was supposed to be the year for the Wolverines, with Shea Patterson coming back to run a revamped offense, Ohio State welcoming a new coach, and Penn State moving on from Trace McSorley. So, Saturday means a lot more to Michigan. Not just for this season, though also for their future.

Penn State wins if: the White Out atmosphere is everything it promises to be. The crowd will undoubtedly be loud, disruptive, and influential in the outcome of the game. For all the talk about Xs and Os this week, what’ll be most interesting to see is how Patterson and the Wolverine offensive line handle what’ll be the toughest environment they’ll play in this year, and maybe in their collegiate careers.

Michigan wins if: Josh Gattis engineers the best offensive performance of his career. After working with James Franklin for a number of years, including at Penn State as the wide receivers coach, Gattis now serves as Michigan’s offensive coordinator. The Wolverines have produced big numbers, albeit against Rutgers and Illinois, though have looked fairly stagnant during other parts of the season (Wisconsin, Army). Penn State features perhaps the best front-seven and overall defense in the country, so Gattis needs to show something we haven’t seen yet this season: a big-time performance against a marquee opponent.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. While Penn State’s running back rotation has continued through thte first half of the season, Cain constantly stands out. He was in the game during the Nittany Lions’ season-defining drive last week against Iowa, capping off a scoring drive and giving Penn State enough cushion to hold off the Hawkeyes. Cain’s a true freshman, though has shown he can handle the spotlight.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State stands 6-0 for the fourth time since 2000.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31, Michigan 21

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 24, Michigan 14

From The Archives: Penn State V. Michigan (2008)

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Evan Royster finished with a game-high 174 rushing yards. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

The week leading up to the showdown against the Wolverines was typically jovial at University Park.

Fans camped outside Beaver Stadium starting on Monday, and hundreds of alumni helped dedicate the Alumni Walk at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on Friday. In between, all the usual wonderment enveloped Happy Valley during Homecoming of the 2008 season.

Then, the game started, and the good vibes changed.

Punctuating this point, John Black stated in the lead to that game’s edition of The Football Letter: “All the omens were ominous.”

Michigan had bested Penn State nine consecutive times in the previous decade. And on the first play of the game, A.Q. Shipley’s snap sailed over the head of quarterback Daryll Clark, resulting in a 16-yard loss after Clark fell on the ball.

The Wolverines then corralled a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Penn State scored 39 unanswered for a resounding 46-17 victory that halted all the built-up frustration. Clark ran for two scores and tossed a short touchdown to Jordan Norwood — “a 3-yard laser,” as Black described.

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Daryll Clark accounted for three touchdowns while leading Penn State to the comeback victory on Homecoming. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Evan Royster gashed Michigan for 174 rushing yards on only 18 carries. Penn State’s all-time leading rusher started the scoring for the Nittany Lions with a 44-yard touchdown run toward the end of the first quarter.

The Wolverines stumbled through one of their worst seasons, finishing 2008 with a 3-9 overall mark and 2-6 in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s season, meanwhile, continued on an upward trajectory. Well, at least, for the most part. The Nittany Lions suffered one of the program’s most painful losses in the last quarter-century two weeks later, a 24-23 setback at Iowa on a last-second field goal. Daniel Murray booted in a 31-yard field goal with one second left for the Hawkeyes, derailing Penn State’s national championship aspirations.

Penn State rebounded, defeating Indiana and Michigan by a combined score of 83-25 to finish the regular season 11-1. The Nittany Lions earned a Rose Bowl berth, dropping a 38-24 decision to USC in Pasadena.

Back to the comeback against the Wolverines.

That week’s edition of The Football Letter featured a front-cover photo of a Beaver Stadium, flyover by two Navy F-18 Hornet jets, a good example of how this member-benefit publication showcases the entire day—and surrounding pageantry—of fall Saturdays.

When those game days happen in Happy Valley, there’s even more of an opportunity to connect alumni and friends to the program through Steve Manuel’s photos and John’s firsthand account.

You can view the game’s photo gallery on our Flickr page, and also browse galleries over the years by visiting our “albums” tab.

From the Alumni Blue Band’s performance to Black describing how “a colorful autumn sunset glow settled over Bald Eagle Ridge,” fans got the complete picture of not just how Penn State beat Michigan, but also what it was like to be in University Park on game day.”

Taken from The Football Letter’s intro that bookended the lead recalling the ominous omens:

“From the nation’s largest Homecoming Parade, to the soccer and volleyball victories to the White Out student section in Beaver Stadium dancing and singing to music of Celebration, it was a wonderful 89th Homecoming.”

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Two Navy F-18 Hornet jets flew over Beaver Stadium prior to kickoff against Michigan. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Penn State Preview: Iowa

Each week throughout the 2019 season, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays. 

Game details: No. 10/9 Penn State @ No 17/18 Iowa, 7:30 p.m., broadcast on ABC

Venue: Kinnick Stadium 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): Kick-off temperature of 49 degrees, mostly clear skies. 

The line: Penn State – 3.5 

Last week: Penn State won its Homecoming matchup against Purdue, 35-7. Iowa lost a defensive struggle at Michigan, 10-3. 

All-time series: Penn State leads 16-12. Penn State has won five consecutive meetings. 

Last meeting (2018): Penn State held off Iowa in a cold, sloppy afternoon game in which Trace McSorley gutted out an injury he suffered in the second quarter. A timely interception at the goal line by Nick Scott, and a late fourth-quarter stand helped the Nittany Lions hold of the Hawkeyes, 30-24.

Throwback classic (2007): Having suffered five-straight losses in the series, Penn State won comfortably 27-7 on Oct. 6, 2007. The win marked just the second time in seven meetings that Joe Paterno had gotten the better of Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes went on to win the next three meetings. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Overview: Two of the best defenses in the Big Ten will go head to head at Kinnick. Penn State is the fourth-ranked total defense in the country, while Iowa is fifth-best. This game will probably come down to which offense can make the most big plays. The Hawkeyes were dreadful against Michigan, while Penn State has scored 94 points combined in its first two Big Ten games. That being said, Iowa’s defense will be a much more difficult test for Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions’ offense than the Maryland and Purdue defenses were. 

Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions defense can bottle up the Hawkeyes run game. Penn State’s front seven has feasted through five games, leading the nation in sacks and tackles-for-loss, albeit all against unranked teams. Iowa is going to want to win this game by running the football and controlling the clock. If the Nittany Lions bottle up the Hawkeyes rushing attack and get after Nate Stanley, who was flustered by a blitz-heavy scheme from the Wolverines a week ago, they can walk out of Kinnick victorious. 

Iowa wins if: It can limit Penn State’s big-play ability. The Nittany Lions offense thrives on chunk plays. Getting the ball down field and in space to the likes of KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, and others is what makes this offense tick. As good as the Hawkeyes defense has been, they’ve only registered seven team sacks this season. Led by defensive end AJ Epensa, Iowa is going to have to get after Clifford and limit the time he has to find his big weapons. 

Count On: A close game. The history of this matchup will tell you, these two teams usually play a close game, especially when they play at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State isn’t going to blowout Iowa the way it did Maryland and Purdue. It’s going to be another tight contest with a handful of key plays deciding the outcome of the game. 

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. The freshman had a breakout performance against Purdue a week ago with 105 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Penn State is going to continue its running back committee approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lean on the physical running style of Cain a little bit more this week. 

Trivia tidbit: As consistent of winners as Penn State and Iowa have been over the years, both programs only have one Heisman trophy winners to their names. John Cappelletti is Penn State’s lone winner, securing the award in 1973. Nile Kinnick, the namesake of Iowa’s stadium, won the Heisman in 1939. 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31,  Iowa 21

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 27, Iowa 17