After two wins as double-digit underdogs, the Michigan State Spartans had a reality check versus No. 4 Ohio State. MSU was blown out by the Buckeyes, 52-12, marking the first time the Spartans failed to cover a large spread this season.
For the second straight week, MSU opened as a double-digit underdog, spotting Penn State 13 points for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. matchup. The line has risen to as high as 15.5 on certain sportsbooks and would be the third biggest spread MSU has faced this year. Last week’s 22.5 point spread to Ohio State was the largest, while MSU’s 27-24 upset win as a 22-point underdog to rival Michigan on Oct. 31 was the second biggest spread for the Spartans from the oddsmakers.
It’s been an up-and-down first-year for MSU head coach Mel Tucker. A week before the Ohio State loss, Tucker led the Spartans to a 29-20 win over No. 13 Northwestern as a 13.5-point underdog. But in MSU’s other games, the Spartans have been outscored a combined 163-46 in four losses.
MSU’s Jekyll-and-Hyde nature could have the Spartans pulling off the upset over Penn State or losing in another rout. It simply depends on which MSU team shows up.
Another straight up MSU win would cash out the Spartans’ +510 moneyline.
At this point, it’s fortunate that the game is still being played. The Michigan Wolverines’ game Saturday against rival Ohio State was canceled for the first time since 1917 because of COVID-19 concerns.
Lombardi’s status in doubt
With under five minutes left in the second quarter against Ohio State, MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi hit his head on the ground during a sack. He looked dazed as he made his way to his feet and was eventually taken to the locker room and would not return to the game. His status for Saturday’s game against Penn State is still unknown, but in Tuesday’s session with the media, Tucker noted Lombardi’s progress.
“(He) seemed to be doing better yesterday,” Tucker said. “We’re evaluating everything, we’re going to go through today and I’m anticipating by the end of the day (Wednesday) we’ll know who we’re going to go with and then we’ll do that. But we’re still in the evaluation process right now.”
If Lombardi isn’t able to play, Payton Thorne will lead MSU’s offense. Thorne completed 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards and an interception in relief of Lombardi against Ohio State. Thorne also played the entire second half during MSU’s 24-0 loss to Indiana after Lombardi was ineffective for the first half of the game.
On the season, Thorne has completed 26 of 46 passes for 257 yards and has no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Will MSU be able to run the ball?
MSU continued the trend of its games being tied to the offense’s ability to run the ball. In the Spartans’ two wins, they’ve eclipsed 100 yards rushing, gaining 195 yards on 47 carries (4.1 per attempt) against Northwestern, while finishing with 126 yards rushing in the victory over Michigan.
But against Ohio State, the MSU ground game was inept, recording 81 yards rushing on 28 attempts, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. In the Spartans’ other three losses, they gained just 50 yards on 39 tries versus Rutgers, 59 yards on 32 carries against Iowa and had 60 yards on 24 attempts to Indiana.
Penn State features one of the better run defenses in the Big Ten, surrendering 135 yards rushing per game, which is tied for the fifth-best mark in the league. The Nittany Lions are coming off a strong defensive performance where they held Rutgers to 2.6 yards per carry (83 yards on 26 carries).