Michigan State lost all hope for a College Football Playoff berth and a Big Ten championship during a non-competitive outing against Ohio State on Saturday.
The Spartans, who tumbled to No. 12 in the CFP rankings, will look to finish the regular season on a high note when they host Penn State this Saturday in East Lansing, Mich.
The Buckeyes cruised to a 56-7 romp over the Spartans (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten). The score could have been worse, considering Ohio State led 49-0 at halftime.
“We accept responsibility for what happened, the coaches and players,” coach Mel Tucker said. “We learned from it and put together a plan to improve and correct things. Then we turned the page to prepare for Penn State.”
With their record, the Spartans are still likely to play in a New Year’s Day bowl. They could enhance their resume with a victory over the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-4), who blanked Rutgers 28-0 last weekend after a narrow loss to Michigan.
“We have a lot to play for on Saturday,” Tucker said. “We have a significant amount of seniors, some of whom have been here six years. We want to make it a special day for them. We have an opportunity to win 10 games and to go undefeated in the Wood Shed (Spartan Stadium) in front of our fans.”
However, Tucker admitted losses to Purdue and Ohio State stung after his team surprised many people by going 8-0.
“We’re not playing with the house’s money, so to speak,” he said. “That’s not our attitude. I get that a lot, so I know the players are hearing that as well. ‘Hey, this has been a great season. No one expected you to do anything.’ That doesn’t register with me and that doesn’t register with our team.”
Kenneth Walker III likely saw his Heisman Trophy dreams dashed in Columbus. The junior running back rushed for just 25 yards on six carries and caught one pass.
Walker sustained an undisclosed injury and his status for Saturday’s game is unknown.
The Spartans might also be missing their top two receivers. Jayden Reed suffered a right foot injury against the Buckeyes, and Jalen Nailor sat out with a hand injury.
This game includes the unique circumstance of pitting two coaches who signed 10-year contract extensions this week — Tucker with the Spartans and James Franklin with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford left the game against the Scarlet Knights early with flu-like symptoms, but freshman replacement Christian Veilleux tossed three touchdown passes. Clifford is expected to play on Saturday.
Franklin is concerned that the Spartans will be an angry bunch after getting pounded last weekend.
“Whether it’s a close loss, that people feel you should have won against a really good opponent, or whether it’s the opposite, it’s challenging,” Franklin said. “Especially teams that have high expectations, high standards.”
The Nittany Lions should be able to exploit Michigan State’s FBS-worst pass defense (339.9 ypg), but Franklin won’t scrap his running game.
“The numbers do matter,” he said. “But you have to play your game plan and you have to stay balanced because if you try to become something on Saturday that you haven’t been throughout the season, then you’re going to get out of whack.”
–Field Level Media