Unbeaten Penn State eyes 'retribution' after falling last season to Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Penn State took care of business last week, avenging one loss from last season by jumping out quickly on Michigan, then getting a late stop to remain undefeated.

Now the No. 7 Nittany Lions will look to avenge another when they visit Spartan Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday to take on Michigan State. Both the Wolverines and the Spartans knocked off Penn State last season, with Michigan rolling and Michigan State winning in State College on a last-minute touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis.

Penn State's KJ Hamler (1) catches a touchdown pass in front of Michigan State's Xavier Henderson (3) during the first half of last season's game.

With one payback checked off the list, the Nittany Lions are ready for another.

“This says a lot about our ability to finish,” linebacker Micah Parsons said. “I've said it before this season that we're going to be a completely different defense. I think it's great that we went 1-0 tonight and we're going to continue this retribution. We're going to finish games this season and we made a big point this offseason of talking about finishing games.”

Of course, there’s a bit more at stake this season for Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) that simply a little revenge over a Michigan State team that now has won two in a row in the series. For the Nittany Lions, it’s about keeping pace with Ohio State in the Big Ten East while keeping alive their shot of reaching the conference championship game and a chance at reaching the College Football Playoff.

To do so, the defense will need to continue to play as well as it has all season while the offense will keep looking to hit the big plays. It did so against Michigan, highlighted by KJ Hamler’s 53-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. It was his second of the game and fourth for quarterback Sean Clifford.

Hamler, the Pontiac native who once starred at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, finished with six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns and also had a kickoff return for a touchdown called back. He was named this week as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week while also being named to the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll this week. It was his fourth career 100-yard game and second of the season and was his second career game with two receiving scores.

But it was Hamler’s 4-yard run on third-and-3 on the game’s final possession that might have been the most impressive.

“We would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think 10-12 is a good number. A lot of different ways to do that and that's on offense, that's special teams, a lot of different ways. The one thing that probably surprised me the most (on Saturday) is him turning into a power back at the end of the game there lowering the shoulder and hammering that thing in there. I didn't expect that, all 137 pounds of him, or whatever he is.”

While the offense has made the most of its big-play chances this season, Penn State’s defense has been its calling card. The Nittany Lions are allowing just 10 points a game and have recorded 28 sacks this season, second in the Big Ten to Ohio State’s 29.

Against Michigan State (4-3, 2-2), Penn State likely will be in position to continue that domination, as the Spartans rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense. It seems to be the perfect set-up for the Nittany Lions.

“We're extremely confident and that comes from our preparation, how we prepare, how we practice each week and the work we've put in throughout the offseason and throughout this season,” safety Garrett Taylor said. “So we have a ton of confidence and guys are playing and flying around and making plays.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau