With an improved running game and defense, Penn State has responded from perhaps the most trying season in school history with impressive back-to-back wins.
The Nittany Lions (2-5) seem to have put the first 0-5 start to a season in school history behind them and seek a third straight win when Michigan State visits in the teams’ latest battle for the Land Grant Trophy on Saturday in University Park, Pa.
Freshman Keyvone Lee rushed for 95 yards and the defense held Rutgers to 205 total yards in last Saturday’s 23-7 victory, the 900th in school history. The Nittany Lions are the eighth program in FBS to reach that mark.
Lee also rushed for 134 yards in Penn State’s 27-17 defeat of Michigan on Nov. 28, and the Nittany Lions rushed for at least 245 yards for the third time in four games.
“They’ve continued to battle, and that’s a good sign about who our program is and what we built here,” coach James Franklin said Tuesday.
The Nittany Lions held Rutgers to zero or negative yards on 45 percent of the snaps and just 43 yards in the first half. Linebacker Jesse Luketa led the way with 10 tackles, one for a loss, and a fumble recovery.
Michigan State (2-4) has wins over Michigan and Northwestern, but its four losses have been by a combined 117 points, including last Saturday’s 52-12 drubbing by Ohio State, which was playing without coach Ryan Day and 23 players.
The Spartans were outgained 521-261, turned the ball over four times and racked up 10 penalties for 101 yards. The Spartans are last in the conference in scoring offense (17.4), total offense (314.7), yards per carry (2.6) and turnover margin (-9).
“We have the ability, in my mind, to play better football,” coach Mel Tucker said Tuesday. “We take care of the ball, we eliminate foolish penalties, we win the field position battle and we continue to work on our technique and fundamentals and play more physically, I believe that we can have success.”
Against the Buckeyes, Payton Thorne relieved an ineffective and injured Rocky Lombardi and provided a spark. The redshirt freshman completed 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards while rushing for 42 yards and a 20-yard touchdown.
Penn State holds a 15-9 edge in the Land Grant Trophy series and won 28-7 last year. Sean Clifford threw four touchdown passes, three to Pat Freiermuth, who set a single-game record for Penn State tight ends.
–Field Level Media