BY PAUL ASPAN
PENN ST. INSIDER
Penn State heads into Saturday’s season finale at Michigan State looking for a strong finish to an up and down season. The Lions have beaten all of the teams they should have. However, they haven’t had a marquee win, and they got blown out at home by #1 Ohio State. In a down year for the Big Ten, Penn State is on the upper half of a mediocre conference – but that’s not saying much.
Off-the-field issues have been a constant problem throughout the season and Thursday was a busy day for some Lions’ players and their lawyers. Defensive tackle Chris Baker and back up linebacker Navaroo Bowman were the latest two Lions to face legal problems. The two were charged with assault Thursday in relation to a fight on October 7th. Starting tailback Austin Scott pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of rape and sexual assault stemming from an October 5th incident. Scott has since been suspended from the team. Baker and Bowman are listed as out on the injury report (personal/legal) for Saturday’s game in East Lansing.
While it’s tough to say how the volume of off-field issues have impacted Penn State’s game performance, the Lions have certainly been hurt by injuries. PSU has lost FB Matt Hahn, DT Jared Odrick, and DE Jerome Hayes. Promising freshman tailback Evan Royster tweaked his ankle in last week’s win against Temple and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.
In Penn State’s last five wins, they’ve succeeded with a balanced offensive attack. The Lions have averaged 224 yards on the ground and 223 yards in the air in those games. Expect State College to have another balanced day moving the ball as Michigan State doesn’t protect especially well against either the pass or the run.
On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lions will need senior linebacker Dan Connor and the rest of the top-five rush defense to step up once again as the Spartans run for over 200 yards per game.
Penn State can give itself an outside shot at a New Year’s Day bowl with a win on Saturday, although late December looks more likely. The Lions have shown that they can beat most of the other mediocre teams in the Big Ten and weaker non-conference opponents. They also showed that they can’t beat the top teams in their conference. What remains to be seen, and what the Penn State hopes to earn with a win Saturday is a chance to show that they can compete with a strong team from another conference come bowl time.