The past two seasons have followed a similar script.
In 2017, Penn State lost by one point to Ohio State. Penn State’s next game was a three-point loss to Michigan State.
Last year the Nittany Lions blew at double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of another one-point loss to the Buckeyes.
Even after having an extra week to prepare, Penn State laid an egg against the Spartans, only scoring 17 points and surrendering a touchdown with 19 seconds remaining to drop its second straight game at Beaver Stadium.
This season, a showdown against Michigan State will once again take place after an emotional game. Except this time around, the Nittany Lions are eager to put the losses of the past two years behind them and prove that their No. 6 ranking in the most recent AP Poll is not a fluke.
After avenging its loss to Michigan from a season ago last Saturday, Penn State is looking for more retribution against the Spartans.
“I've said it before this season that we're going to be a completely different defense, and a completely different team,” Micah Parsons said after Saturday’s win. “I think it's great that we went 1-0 tonight and we're going to continue this retribution. We're going to finish games strong this season and we made a big point this offseason of talking about finishing games.”
Penn State has shown signs of being a flawed team all season long, but the Nittany Lions have been able to navigate through their schedule regardless.
Wins over Iowa and Michigan in consecutive weeks have done wonders for the team’s College Football Playoff hopes, but a trip to East Lansing is undoubtedly a classic “trap game” for Penn State.
In fact, the Nittany Lions have not won in East Lansing since 2009, as neither Bill O’Brien or James Franklin have been able to leave Spartan Stadium with a victory.
But this year, Penn State refuses to take their opponent lightly.
“They are always a really well-coached, disciplined team, no matter what their record is, that's kind of the approach we have always taken,” cornerback John Reid said. “We expect them to come out and play great defense and really scheme you up on offense.”
This will be the third straight year that Penn State’s defense will face quarterback Brian Lewerke, a quarterback that the Nittany Lions have not yet beaten.
In studying the tape from the last two meetings, the Nittany Lions feel as if they’re more prepared for Lewerke than in year’s past.
“We know he has a good ability to be able to extend plays and I think what's even more important about how he does it is he extends plays, but then he also doesn't make a lot of bad decisions,” Reid said. “That's really a credit to how good of a quarterback he is.”
Penn State’s defense is also one of the top units in the country, ranked third in the nation in scoring defense.
Unlike the last two seasons, Michigan State doesn’t have a bellcow at running back to alleviate the pressure from Lewerke.
Against the Nittany Lions’ stout defensive front, the challenge grows for an inconsistent Michigan State offense, one that Penn State will not overlook.
“You know they have good players to do that, especially with the quarterback being able to extend things for so long, that poses a really hard challenge on any defense,” Reid said. “Just look at the past couple seasons when he's done that and what he's done to improve from it.”
Of course, there’s a bit more at stake this season for Penn State that simply a bit of revenge over a Michigan State team that has won two in a row against the Nittany Lions, and five of the last six meetings in the series.
For the Nittany Lions, it’s about keeping pace with Ohio State in the Big Ten East while keeping alive their shot of reaching the conference championship game and a chance at reaching the College Football Playoff.
“We have rewatched the games [against Michigan State] and know we're the ones on the field, and we just know that we need to finish it out this time,” Reid said. “That's kind of our mentality, being humble and hungry, and then finishing out the game. That's the plan every week. That's how we want it.”