Michigan State fired up for Penn State

Even though Penn State has more to play for, Michigan State may be more fired up in its last regular-season game under George Perles.

"They're going to come in here with a lot of emotion and play hard," Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins said. "By far it's going to be our toughest game."

The Spartans (5-5, 4-3 Big Ten) will be eligible for a bowl game if they upset No. 2 Penn State (10-0, 7-0) non Saturday. They're also seeking to avenge last year's loss when the Nittany Lions rallied from a 20-point third-quarter deficit to win 38-37 and knock the Spartans out of the Citrus Bowl.

Penn State is headed to the Rose Bowl against Oregon, and the Spartans would love to knock the Nittany Lions out of the national championship race in Perles' last game after 12 years as head coach.

"Everyone coaches his last game sooner or later. I'm glad mine will be against Joe Paterno and Penn State," Perles said. "I always look forward to playing him, and I'll miss that."

Paterno was critical of the way Perles was dismissed, saying the school should have waited until the end of the season. After starting the year 2-5, the Spartans have won three in a row.

"It's ironic that a guy who's coached a team as well as Perles has coached this team is not going to be back," Paterno said. "Most teams, when they get better and better and better -- you attribute that to good coaching, and that's what this team has done."

Penn State certainly has gotten better this season, and Collins points to last year's victory over Michigan State for some of the success this year.

"That was certainly the game that kind of kicked things off as far as realizing the potential of this team," Collins said.

Perles said he has been too concerned with Penn State to dwell on his last game.

"Penn State is an excellent football team," Perles said. "Their offense must have three or four first-team All-Americans and a few more second-teamers. I don't know if anyone else in the country can say that."

Collins and tailback Ki-Jana Carter were selected to the Football News All-America first team. Guard Jeff Hartings and receiver Bobby Engram were on the second team. The American Football Coaches Association named Carter and tight end Kyle Brady first team All-America selections last week.

Penn State has the nation's top-scoring offense, averaging 46.7 points and the nation's top-rated passer in Collins. Still, Collins expects Michigan State to give the Nittany Lions trouble.

"They're the best pass defense in the Big Ten," he said. "They have really talented defensive backs, and they play some tough looks, which I'm sure we're going to see on Saturday."

Penn State's defense has given up 20.1 points a game and has been particularly vulnerable to the run the past few weeks. Northwestern freshman Darnell Autry ran for 171 yards against the Nittany Lions last week.

Injuries have prompted Penn State to juggle its defense all season, and that won't change Saturday. At least four defensive backs and two lineman are out or questionable.

"The cohesion isn't there you'd like, the confidence isn't there you'd like" Paterno said. "People are back there learning, not anticipating and taking some chances."