December 7, 2021

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Fit And Go Forward

Know the foe | Penn State football sticking to game plan against Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State | Penn State Football News

Following a tumultuous week filled with injuries and sickness, Penn State fielded a team full of youngsters on Senior Day and defeated Rutgers in shutout fashion.

Numerous Nittany Lions returned to the practice field healthy this week ahead of their last regular season game at Michigan State.

Considered an underdog by most in the college football world, the Spartans quickly flipped the narrative of their season with wins over ranked teams in Miami and Michigan.

Michigan State has appeared in every installment of the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings, most recently checking in at No. 12, following a crushing 56-7 loss at No. 2 Ohio State.

Second-year coach Mel Tucker’s team ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing offense, and it’s led by the conference’s leading rusher in Kenneth Walker III.

The junior running back boasts 136.2 rushing yards per game and has scored 17 touchdowns in 2021, accumulating 1,498 yards in the ground.

Penn State continues to figure out ways to defend the run without PJ Mustipher, and it’ll be put to the test yet again in East Lansing, but the defense believes it’ll find success against Walker III by playing the way it does against every other opponent.

“As far as our preparation, we continue to take the same approach each week no matter who we’re playing,” safety Jonathan Sutherland said. “We acknowledge his talent — he’s a great football player, but we’ve just got to play our game, stick to the game plan and we’ll like the results.”

James Franklin said his team is preparing to defend an offense built around Walker III, but there’s more to the Spartans’ game than just feeding the Arlington, Texas, native.

“Everybody’s so focused on stopping the running back that they hurt you with play-action pass,” Franklin said. “They do a nice job complementing Kenneth Walker, maybe the best running back in the country, with all these complementary play schemes and pieces.”

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Flea flickers, reverses, fly sweeps and designed quarterback runs are just a few of the added dimensions Michigan State uses to avoid being predictable when it possesses the ball.

Franklin said wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor, as well as quarterback Payton Thorne, “jump out” on film as players to watch for the Spartans.

Reed, who Franklin described as “dangerous,” also serves as Michigan State’s kickoff and punt returner and averages 77.91 receiving yards per game.

Although the Spartans hold a run-first mentality, Franklin stressed the importance of preparing for multiple play-action sets where the ball could end up in the hands of Walker III, Reed or Thorne.

The same goes for when the Nittany Lions have the ball.

While the Spartans’ pass defense ranks last in the Big Ten, Franklin said his team can’t be one-dimensional through the air.

Noting the talent of safety Xavier Henderson and cornerback Ronald Williams, Franklin said statistics can’t completely shape the game plan against Michigan State or any opponent.

“The numbers do matter, but you have to play your game plan and stay balanced because I think if you try to become something on Saturday that you haven’t been throughout the season, then I think you’re going to get out of whack,” Franklin said. “Your players aren’t going to play with the same confidence.

“I think there’s an awareness, and your game plan should be impacted by that a little bit, but you just don’t want to skew too far in one direction.”

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