<
>

Keys to the game: Michigan State-Penn State

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be wrapped up with Michigan-Ohio State for much of Saturday, so I wanted to take a closer look at the Big Ten's biggest matchup, No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Here are three keys for each team as they pursue a share of the Big Ten title and a potential trip to the Rose Bowl.

THREE KEYS FOR PENN STATE Stack the box and make Brian Hoyer beat you: Running back Javon Ringer has an insatiable appetite for carries, and Michigan State will feed him the rock until someone decides to stop him. Penn State's defensive front seven has been strong for most of the season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see eight or even nine men in the box Saturday. The Lions will look for big things from linebacker Navorro Bowman. Hoyer has performed well against Penn State, but the Lions need to challenge the Spartans senior quarterback.

Follow the script in the first quarter: Like most teams, Penn State scripts its first 10-12 plays, but the offense has struggled to stay on cue in the first quarter recently. Michigan State hasn't lost a game in which it scores first this season, so it's imperative for Daryll Clark and the Lions to execute well on the first two or three possessions.

Get the ball to Derrick Williams: The how really doesn't matter here. Williams is playing his best football in the final games of his career, and Penn State needs to do whatever possible to get the ball in his hands. Whether it's the Wildcat formation, end-arounds, designed runs or attacking the Michigan State secondary through the passing game, Williams needs to get at least 10 touches.

THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN STATE Put pressure on Daryll Clark: Penn State's quarterback said this week that his swagger is coming back, but he admits he's had some confidence issues after sustaining a concussion Oct. 25 at Ohio State. If Trevor Anderson and his fellow Spartans defenders register an early sack or two, Clark could get rattled. Both Anderson and fellow end Brandon Long need big games against the Big Ten's best offensive line.

Claim the time-of-possession edge: The Spartans need to keep Penn State's offense off the field, and they've been good at putting together methodical, clock-eating drives behind Ringer. Michigan State ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 31st nationally in average time of posssession (31:17). It's vital to get good yards on first down and avoid obvious passing situations where Penn State's Aaron Maybin can digest Hoyer.

Don't get burned in special teams: In other words, keep Derrick Williams out of the end zone. Michigan State boasts all-conference-caliber specialists in kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates, but it ranks 79th nationally in kickoff coverage and 61st in punt coverage. For the Spartans to hang around Saturday, they need to win the field-position battle and prevent any explosion plays from the Lions.