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Disrespected Penn State gears up for Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Penn State linebacker Mike Hull remembers hearing the pundits on ESPN talking about the fact Ohio State hadn't played a good defense until beating Michigan State a couple weeks ago.

The fifth-year senior could only shake his head.

After all, two weeks before the Buckeyes went to Spartan Stadium and rolled up 49 points, they had to go double-overtime for a road victory over the Nittany Lions.

"That kind of stuff just eats at us a little bit," Hull told "So we've got to go prove it again."

The Nittany Lions have been doing a pretty good job of proving it all season. They are No. 1 in the Big Ten and the nation in rushing defense, allowing 81.4 yards, while ranking second in the conference in total defense (267.2 yards) and scoring defense (16.2 points).

And, Hull has been outstanding, leading the Big Ten with 121 tackles. Now he and his teammates will be looking to slow another explosive offense in the regular-season finale Saturday.

The Spartans enter the game No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense (514.5 yards) and second in scoring offense (43.9 points).

"I think if we win we can prove that we're better than what our record shows, especially on defense," Hull said. "If we hold this high‑powered offense in check than we can show and finally gain a little respect that we haven't gotten all year."

Those accolades might not have come from outside of the conference, but that isn't the same feeling at Michigan State.

"You have to respect what they've done and the consistency throughout the season," Michigan State's co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. "With some of the other struggles they've had, you know, they haven't had a lot of points helping them and they've hung in there tough. They're a great defense.

"We talk about on offense being consistent and they make it very difficult to be consistent with what they do. Every play there is somebody free who is running around it's hard. … It's geared for the (middle) linebacker and he does a great job. Look at the stats, he has 121 tackles and nobody else has half that."

The challenge for the Spartans will be to keep offensive balance, something that has been the key to their success. Michigan State is one of four teams in the FBS (Marshall, Mississippi State and Ohio State) averaging more than 245 yards rushing and passing.

For fifth-year senior running back Jeremy Langford, he'll be facing the difficult Penn State defense trying to gain more than 100 yards in his 16th straight game against a conference opponent.

"The offensive line is the key part to our offense," Langford said. "It does a great job at run blocking and pass blocking and rotating different players in all the time. Without them, we'd be a lot different offense. Our versatility is our strength."

That ability to rotate players up front will likely come into play as fifth-year senior Travis Jackson is doubtful to play after injuring his left leg in last week's game against Rutgers. Connor Kruse will likely shift over from the right side to take his place while junior Donavon Clark will start at right guard and sophomore Kodi Kieler will step in at right tackle.

"I think that's a program game," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "A chance to win No. 10. (It's) going to be a great challenge going over there."

Michigan State at Penn State

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.

TV/radio: ABC/WJR

Records: No. 10 Michigan State 9-2 (6-1 Big Ten), Penn State 6-5 (2-5)

Line: Michigan State by 131/2

Series: Penn State leads 14-13-1 (Michigan State 28-22, Nov. 27, 2010)

Did you know? Michigan State is 22-9 (.710) in Big Ten road games under Mark Dantonio.