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MSU-Penn State preview: Spartans eye 10th victory

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Penn State Players to watch

Christian Hackenberg, QB: The Penn State offense has struggled most of the season, but the sophomore remains dangerous. After an impressive freshman season, he threw for 773 yards the first two games this year and has 5,366 yards in less than two full seasons, becoming one of just eight players in school history to surpass 5,000 yards passing. Hackenberg also has 14 200-yard games in his career and 10 of his 28 TDs have gone for 40 yards or longer.

Mike Hull, LB: The senior had 10 tackles against Illinois and has a Big Ten-leading 121 tackles, ranking ninth in Penn State history. His 275 career tackles ranks seventh in Nittany Lions history and he has led the team in tackles in 10 of 11 games this season and is the 23rd player in school history to top 100 tackles in a season. Hull is the only player in the conference averaging 10-plus stops per game (11).

Akeel Lynch, RB: While the Lions have had trouble moving the ball, they have received a spark the last couple weeks from the sophomore with two consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Through the first seven games, Lynch had 187 yards on 36 carries and one TD. Over his last four games, he has 365 yards on 80 carries and two TDs.


Trophy game: Since the renewal of the series in 1993 when Penn State entered the Big Ten, the winner of the game has been presented the Land Grant Trophy. The trophy honors the two universities’ unique places in history as the two pioneer land grant schools in the nation. Since 1993, Penn State leads the series, 13-5.

Fond memories: The last time Michigan State visited Beaver Stadium, it walked away with a 28-22 victory and a share of the Big Ten championship. It capped an 11-win season, the first in what would become three out of four years with at least 11 victories. A victory today would give the Spartans 10 victories with a shot at 11 in a bowl.

Last chance: Since 1990, Penn State has won 20 of 24 games on Senior Day with its only losses coming to Michigan in 1999, Michigan State in 2010 and Nebraska in 2011 and 2013.

The end: There is no doubt today’s game will be the final regular-season game for 18 seniors, but the possibility remains it could be the final game for a few juniors, too. CB Trae Waynes, DE Shilique Calhoun and QB Connor Cook could enter the NFL draft. None have indicated they might leave.

Turnaround: Michigan State has handled its adversity well, bouncing back from its two losses by stringing together wins. For Penn State, it’s been a bit tougher. After the Nittany Lions found out they would be bowl eligible, they lost their first four conference games before getting their first victory. But a loss at lowly Illinois followed heading into today’s finale.

Facts and figures

■ A year after setting a Michigan State record with eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games, fifth-year senior RB Jeremy Langford has a chance to establish a school mark with his ninth consecutive 100-yard game.

■ Michigan State is 22-9 in Big Ten road games under Mark Dantonio, including a school-record nine-game winning streak and a 15-3 record since 2010. Dantonio has won at least one road game at every Big Ten stadium (excluding Rutgers, which joined the Big Ten in 2014 and where Michigan State has yet to play a conference game). Michigan State’s nine-game road Big Ten winning streak is the longest in school history.

■ The Spartans offense has set school records for most points (483), total offense (5,660 yards), offensive TDs (61) and made point-after attempts (63). The Spartans need one rushing TD to set a school record.

■ While Michigan State DE Marcus Rush will start in his 52nd career game, adding to his school record, Penn State senior S Adrian Amos will make his 36th career start. Junior T Donovan Smith (29), junior DE Deion Barnes (29), junior TE Jesse James (29) and senior G Miles Dieffenbach (24), are next on the list.

■ Michigan State leads the NCAA FBS in turnover margin (plus-1.73 per game). It is plus-19 in the turnover department and has forced 31 turnovers (15 fumbles, 16 INTs), which is fourth most in the FBS. Conversely, the Spartans have turned the ball over 12 times (six fumbles, six INTs), fewest in the Big Ten and tied for 11th fewest in the FBS.