PSU vs. MSU Preview
East Lansing, MI - Penn State needs help to earn a share of a second consecutive Big Ten championship, but it may only need to beat Michigan State to find itself with a chance at grabbing an at-large BCS invitation.
Another impressive performance from quarterback Daryll Clark would certainly help.
The most productive game of Clark's career came against the Spartans last season, and the senior will try to bounce back from a pair of uneven performances Saturday and help the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions boost their BCS hopes in East Lansing.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Penn State –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 72% of bets for this game have been placed on Penn State –3.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Clark, a first-team all-Big Ten selection in 2008, led Penn State (9-2, 5-2) to a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl last season, but threw three of his six interceptions in its two defeats.
Clark's two worst games this season also happened in losses. He threw three interceptions in a 21-10 loss to Iowa on Sept. 26, and went 12 for 28 for 125 yards and an interception Nov. 7 as Penn State fell 24-7 to Ohio State.
The senior was unremarkable again Saturday against Indiana, throwing interceptions on the Nittany Lions' first two possessions, part of a four-turnover first half for coach Joe Paterno's team. Clark settled down from there, throwing for 194 yards and a touchdown, and Navorro Bowman's interception return for a score broke a 10-all tie as Penn State won 31-20.
"We had to eliminate all the stupid mistakes that I did at the beginning of the game," Clark said. "There were a lot of things that I was able to do the entire football game, I just had a lot of mistakes. It messed us up a little bit."
The Nittany Lions are 12-0 the past two seasons when Clark doesn't throw an interception.
Penn State needs to win and have Ohio State lose at Michigan to earn a share of the conference title, but its BCS hopes are alive.
Paterno's team is 14th in the BCS standings, the lowest it can finish to be considered for a BCS at-large bid. A fan base that historically packs bowl venues make the Nittany Lions an attractive option to BCS organizers - provided they first beat the Spartans (6-5, 4-3).
Clark threw for 341 yards and set a career high with five touchdowns - four passing - in Penn State's 49-18 rout of Michigan State last year.
Clark is second in passer rating (139.7) in the Big Ten behind the Spartans' Kirk Cousins (149.7), who has done an outstanding job of limiting his mistakes. The sophomore has thrown 10 touchdowns and one pick in his last five games, tossing three TDs Saturday at Purdue in a 40-37 victory that made Michigan State bowl eligible.
"We're 2-0 in the month of November," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We'll try to make it 3-0 when Penn State comes in. And the number seven, for those who are spiritual, means completion. Finishing is something we've made a lot of since the end of last season."
Senior receiver Blair White leads the Big Ten with eight touchdowns and the Spartans lead the conference in total offense (413.7 yards per game), but they'll be facing a Nittany Lions defense ranked fourth among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in points allowed (11.6 ppg) and ninth in total yards (272.0).
Historically, however, Penn State's defenses haven't fared well in East Lansing. Paterno's team has allowed an average of 36.5 points and 448.3 yards in losing four of six at Spartan Stadium since 1997.
Michigan State rallied from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit to win 35-31 on Nov. 17, 2007, Penn State's most recent visit.
Clark won't have backup tailback Brandon Beachum (knee) and likely won't have receiver Chaz Powell (shoulder), but the Nittany Lions' biggest concern may be on special teams, where both players contributed.
Penn State lost two fumbles fielding punts in the first half against the Hoosiers, and special teams problems plagued it in both losses. The Lions are 107th in punt return average (5.2 ypg), 113th in kickoff returns (18.4), and they allow 16.5 yards per punt return - third-worst in the nation.
The Spartans, meanwhile, are seventh nationally in kick return average (26.8 ypg).
Paterno, who ranks third in Brown University's history for punt-return yardage, joked he might take matters into his own hands to fix the special teams' issues.
"I'm going to try to go out there and show those guys how I used to catch punts and run for touchdowns every time I got my hands on the ball," Paterno said. "(We'll) see if we can beat Michigan State on a punt return."
Posted: 11/17/09 6:45PM ET