STATE COLLEGE — Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke’s 25-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left in regulation last year secured a 21-17 win against Penn State. It also gave the Spartans their fourth consecutive win in State College.

On Saturday in East Lansing, No. 6 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) will attempt to avenge last year’s stumble and keep its undefeated season intact. Despite Michigan State’s 4-3 record, winning in Spartan Stadium is no easy task. Penn State's dropped its last two visits to the venue and is seeking its first win there since 2009.

“(It’s) probably one of the teams that is returning the most starters up there in our conference, in terms of the number of starters coming back, nine on offense, eight on defense and two on special teams,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “Obviously going on the road, tough place to play and looking forward to the opportunity.”

Michigan State opened the season ranked No. 18 in the AP Top 25 poll and boasted one of the country’s more talented defenses with players such as defensive end Kenny Willekes and linebacker Joe Bachie. The Spartans’ lofty season expectations were slowed after a Week 3 loss at Arizona State. They rebounded with back-to-back wins against Northwestern and Indiana in the following weeks, but they enter Saturday on a two-game losing streak. Michigan State is 2-2 in Big Ten contests. 

Current No. 3-ranked Ohio State defeated Michigan State 34-10, while then-No. 8 Wisconsin handed the Spartans a 38-0 loss. Penn State will be the third consecutive top 10-ranked opponent Michigan State has faced. The Spartans were idle last week.

“I believe it's the third time we're playing, maybe I guess ever in the history of Michigan State football,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said during his weekly press conference. “I understand that we've played three top-10 teams in a row. I believe we're the only team in the country to have done that. Obviously, be another great challenge for us.”

The Spartans in each of their three losses have scored 10 or fewer points. They’re averaging 23.9 points per game, which ranks 96th nationally and 12th in the Big Ten. Lewerke, a senior, is one of the Big Ten’s most seasoned passers. The third-year starter, however, enters Saturday with a pedestrian 57.5 completion percentage this year. He’s thrown for 1,596 yards and 11 touchdowns against three interceptions.

In two career games against Penn State, Lewerke’s passed for 659 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.

“I think the thing we have to do against this team is make it difficult on their quarterback,” Franklin said. "Their quarterback's had good games against us, and we've got to make him a little bit uncomfortable."

Spartans running back Elijah Collins has rushed for 492 yards and three touchdowns, while Darrell Stewart Jr. (683 yards and four touchdowns) and Cody White (333 yards and two touchdowns) pace the receiving corps.

The Spartans offense will contend against one of the nation’s stiffest defenses. Penn State ranks third in FBS in scoring defense (10 points per game) and the unit has allowed 282.1 yards per game to opposing offenses (12th in FBS). Running backs have only earned 66.3 yards per game against the unit, which is good enough to rank fourth in FBS.

For all of Penn State’s success on defense, the Nittany Lions offense is still seeking consistency. Penn State jumped to a 21-0, second-quarter lead last week against Michigan before punting on five consecutive drives.

“We’ve missed some opportunities; it’s explosive plays,” Franklin said. “But we played a defense this past week; that’s who they are. If you look over the last, I don’t know how many years, that’s who they are. It’s big plays against them. And if you’re able to hit your big plays, you’re going to have success.”

Bachie and Willekes spearhead a Michigan State defensive effort that is limiting opposing running backs to 117.7 yards per game and 3.36 yards per rush. Bachie has recorded a team-leading 65 tackles, while Willekes has collected 46.

Penn State brings the nation’s 10th-best scoring offense to Spartan Stadium. The Nittany Lions are averaging 40 points per game and 38 points per game in road Big Ten contests.

Penn State wide receiver and Detroit native KJ Hamler is ranked first in the Big Ten with seven touchdown receptions. Hamler owns a 20-game reception streak.

Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford will start just his third conference road game. The first-year starter had a slow start at Iowa but finished with a 50-percent completion percentage and one touchdown. Against Maryland in his first road start, Clifford passed for 398 yards and tallied four touchdowns in just over two quarters.

Penn State has listed Journey Brown (Meadville High) atop the depth chart at running back, but as has been the theme all season, all four Penn State backs (Ricky Slade, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford) should receive playing time.

Cain leads the group with 334 yards and five touchdowns. Penn State turned to the freshman against Iowa, feeding him 15 carries in the fourth quarter. Cain finished that contest with 102 yards rushing and one touchdown on 22 carries.

“We have four backs that we really like, and we’ll continue to play those guys,” Franklin said. “We’re very pleased with Noah. … He’s been great. He’s been really good. We’re as pleased with him as you guys are, and we’re as pleased with him as the fans are, as well, but we also have a lot of confidence in those three other guys, as well.”

Penn State at Michigan State

When: 3:30 p.m. today

Where: Spartan Stadium

Last year/series history: Michigan State defeated Penn State, 21-17/Michigan State leads series 17-15-1

TV/radio/: ABC; WKOK 1070AM

No. 6 PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten)

OFFENSE

No.      Player                         Pos.    Ht.      Wt.      Yr.

6          Justin Shorter           WR     6-4      235      R-Fr.

87        Pat Freiermuth         TE       6-5      256      So.

53        Rasheed Walker      LT        6-6      324      So.

74        Steven Gonzalez     LG       6-4      341     Sr.

62        Michal Menet            C         6-4      313     R-Jr.

73        Mike Miranda            RG      6-3      295     R-So.

71        Will Fries                   RT       6-6      313     R-Jr.

1          KJ Hamler                 WR     5-9      176     R-So. 

5          Jahan Dotson           WR     5-11    175     So.

14        Sean Clifford            QB      6-2      216     R-So.

4          Journey Brown         RB      5-11    206     R-So

92        Jake Pinegar            K         6-2      195     So.

99        Blake Gillikin            P         6-2      196     Sr.

DEFENSE

No.      Player                         Pos.    Ht.      Wt.      Yr.

18        Shaka Toney            DE      6-3      243     R-Jr.

54        Robert Windsor        DT       6-4      285     Sr.

55        Antonio Shelton       DT       6-2      311     R-Jr.

99        Yetur Gross-Matos   DE      6-5      264     Jr.

6          Cam Brown               OLB    6-5      233     Sr.

36        Jan Johnson            MLB    6-2      231     Sr.

11        Micah Parsons         OLB    6-3      245     So.

5          Tariq Castro-Fields  CB      6-0      197     Jr.

17        Garrett Taylor            S         6-0      198     Sr.

38        Lamont Wade           S         5-9      199     Jr.

29        John Reid                 CB      5-10    181     Sr.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (4-3, 2-2 BIG TEN)

OFFENSE

No.      Player                         Pos.    Ht.      Wt.      Yr.

7          Cody White              WR       6-3      215     Jr.

70        Tyler Higby                 LT       6-5      300     Sr.

62        Luke Campbell         LG       6-5      305     Jr.

64        Matt Allen                    C        6-3      303     Jr.

56        Matt Carrick              RG       6-4     332     So.

55        Jordan Reid              RT       6-4      305     Jr.

89        Matt Dotson               TE        6-5      252     Jr.

25        Darrell Stewart Jr.    WR      6-2       216     Jr.

4          C.J. Hayes                 WR      6-1       206     So.

14        Brian Lewerke         QB       6-3      216      Sr.

24        Elijah Collins            RB       6-0      217      R-Fr.

4          Matt Coghlin             K         5-9      187      Jr.

5          Jake Hartbarger        P         6-4      194     Sr.

DEFENSE

No.      Player                         Pos.    Ht.      Wt.      Yr.

96        Jacub Panasiuk          DE      6-3     245     Jr.

99        Raequan Williams      DT      6-4     303     Sr.

72        Mike Panasiuk           DT       6-4     293     Sr.

48        Kenny Willekes          DE       6-4     260     Sr.

34        Antjuan Simmons      LB        6-0     216     Jr.

35        Joe Bachie                 LB        6-2     231    Sr.

17        Tyriq Thompson         LB        6-1     228     Sr.

22        Josiah Scott               CB        5-10   171     Jr.

6          David Dowell             FS         6-1     209     Sr.

3          Xavier Henderson     SS         6-1     203     So.

19        Josh Butler                CB         6-0     182     Sr.

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