Third straight top-10 opponent, Penn State, awaits Michigan State
James Franklin knew his Penn State team didn't play a complete game last week in beating Michigan. However, the Nittany Lions held on to remain unbeaten and tied with Ohio State atop the Big Ten East Division.
So, as No. 6 Penn State heads to Michigan State this week, the focus will be to play a full four quarters, primarily on offense as the Nittany Lions managed just seven points over the final three quarters in the 28-21 victory over the Wolverines.
"I think consistency is about everything," Franklin said. "It's about our run game. It's about our protection. It's about hitting the throws that we should hit consistently. It's all of it. It's third down and we missed some opportunities. It's explosive plays. But we played a defense this past week; that's who they are. If you look over the last ... I don't know how many years, that's who they are. It's big plays against them, and if you're able to hit your big plays, you're going to have success."
The Nittany Lions (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) had their share of big plays, highlighted by a 53-yard strike from sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford to sophomore wide receiver KJ Hamler in the fourth quarter for the winning score.
To avoid an upset this week against Michigan State, the big play will once again be critical.
The Spartans (4-3, 2-2), usually one of the most-consistent defenses in the nation, have been burned by the big play in each of their last two games. They were torched by a handful of big plays in a loss to Ohio State before getting run over by Wisconsin a week later.
After a bye week, Michigan State now faces its third straight top-10 team and is counting on the break to get things turned around.
"Young people have always been resilient and believe very strongly in themselves," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Certainly there's disappointment, but people get up off the ground quick around here, and that's what you have to do. If you're going to succeed in the next step, then you'd better get your mind right and get back up. That's been the message from day one around here since we've walked in, and I think that's the message in every program across the country."
While it has been a few years since Michigan State was in the Big Ten title hunt, it has had Penn State's number, winning each of the last two meetings and five of the last six.
Both of the last two games have come down to the final minute, with Michigan State winning on a field goal from Matt Coghlin as time expired in 2017 and getting a touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis with seconds to play last season.
For Penn State senior cornerback John Reid, there's extra incentive to flip the result this time around and keep pace in the chase for the division title.
"It's something we've seen," Reid said. "We rewatch all the games and know we're the ones on the field, and we just know that we need to finish it out. That's kind of our mentality, being humble and hungry, and then finishing out the game. That's kind of the plan every week. That's kind of how we want it."