Players To Watch: Michigan State
It’s all on the line for the Michigan State Spartans (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) Saturday when they host the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3 B1G). In the final regular season game, a Spartan win will send them to the Big Ten championship game, but a Nittany Lion win will be a statement and their first against a top 25 team dating back to two seasons ago. In addition, the No. 5 Spartans are looking to secure a spot in the College Football playoffs with a big win over Penn State.
No. 18 Connor Cook, QB
The senior starting quarterback said he would be “ready to go” last Tuesday before he didn’t appear in the 17-14 win against Ohio State. Although they escaped Columbus with a win, it will be imperative for the Spartans to have their starter back. The senior is just 18 yards away from 2,500 on the season, and will undoubtedly help the passing game that only collected 91 yards last weekend.
No. 3 L.J. Scott, RB
The freshman running back will have to help his offense by establishing a run game to allow Cook and the passing game to get going. Scott, who leads the team with 577 yards on 107 carries, also leads the team with nine touchdowns. He will also have to be a solid extra blocker in the backfield to keep away the Nittany Lions, who lead the nation with 44 sacks.
No. 16 Aaron Burbridge, WR
The Spartans will have to get both the passing and running game going early and senior wide out Aaron Burbridge will be key for Michigan State. The Nittany Lions rank 16th in the nation in total defense, so Burdbridge will have to be on his game. The senior leads the team with 1,083 receiving yards and adds six touchdowns as well.
No. 30 Riley Bullough, Mike Linebacker
The leader of the defense, Bullough leads the way with 83 total tackles (36 solo, 47 assists). If the redshirt junior is on his game the Spartans could shut down freshman running back Saquon Barkley early and force Christian Hackenberg to make some magic in a one-dimensional offense. Bullough also adds two interceptions and will have to shut down the short passing game across the middle. Especially on third and short, Penn State likes to run DaeSean Hamilton or Chris Godwin over the middle on a quick slant and if Bullough can knock those balls down the Lions’ offense could be in for a long day.
No. 89 Shillique Calhoun, Defensive End
Time and time again we’ve watched Hackenberg dazzle, but we’ve also seen him struggle quite a bit. There’s no question when he’s uncomfortable in the pocket, and can’t get into a rhythm he is unable to show his NFL potential. If Calhoun, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks, and the rest of the Spartans defense can get to Hackenberg early, they shouldn’t have a problem shutting down the Nittany Lions’ offense.
Brandon Pelter is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org