Five Things We Learned: Michigan State
The Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the visiting Michigan State Spartans Saturday by a final of 45-12, punching their ticket to the Big Ten Championship.
After falling behind in the first half 12-10, Penn State turned on the jets and never looked back.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley found junior wide receiver Chris Godwin for a 34-yard touchdown to swing momentum in their favor.
Later in the third, McSorley heaved the deep ball again to junior tight end Mike Gesicki who leaped over two Spartan defenders to put Penn State up 24-12.
For the second game in a row, Penn State lost sophomore running back Saquon Barkley to injury. Barkley, who only posted 14 rushing yards, suffered an ankle injury and was ruled out for the rest of the game in the second half.
Sophomore running back Andre Robinson filled in nicely scoring a rushing and a receiving touchdown to bury an chance of a Michigan State comeback.
The Nittany Lions tallied 35 unanswered points in the second half behind McSorley and the defense. The Virginia native threw for 376 yards and four touchdown passes, while the defense recorded four sacks.
As the Nittany Lions prepare for the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Indiana, here are five things we learned from the Michigan State game.
1. When the running game was not there, the Nittany Lions passing attack was just as effective.
Penn State’s running back was underwhelming against the Spartans, as the team finished with a total of 77 yards on the ground. As a result, the passing game opened up significantly and McSorley turned in a career day. McSorley completed 74 percent of his passes and was hitting his targets on all types of passes. It was most impressive to see McSorley’s accuracy on his deep passes and his receivers ability to create seperation from the Spartan secondary, or jump up and snag the ball out of the air. Penn State showed that they were more than just a read option team with Barkley logging all the yards. The offense can hurt teams multiple ways, and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead called a great game to overcome the loss of the rushing attack.
2. Penn State is a Cinderella team heading into the Big Ten Championship and the bowl season.
Just after week four of Penn State’s season, football analysts far and wide were calling for the end of James Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley, and fans were booing the head coach in Beaver Stadium during pregame introductions. The tune changed quickly after Franklin upset Ohio State and won eight games in a row since the embarrassing Michigan loss. Very few, if anyone, had Penn State winning seven games or more in the regular season. The 2016 Nittany Lions have defied all expectations and then some with their outstanding performance. Their success can be attested to Franklin’s recruiting, the coaching changes and implementing the head coach’s desired schemes. Penn State overcame a very stout Big Ten East to win a division title for the first time since the conference split.
3. The run defense must step against Wisconsin the Big Ten Championship.
In the first half, Michigan State owned Penn State in the ground game behind sophomore running back L.J. Scott. The defense as a whole came to life in the second half, holding the Spartans to 343 total yards and 109 yards rushing. It is slightly worrisome because the Spartans were not expected to run with such ease. Michigan State has dealt with injuries to every position imaginable and the offensive line has seen dozens of combinations before their season finale. The Wisconsin Badgers pride themselves on their ground and pound rush attack with senior running back Corey Clement leading the way. The Badgers average 201 rushing yards per game behind their massive offensive line. Size has been a weakness of Penn State’s, and it showed against teams like Michigan and Pittsburgh, who are big up front. Franklin and his staff will have to develop a plan to stop a scheme that was their kryptonite for their two losses on the season.
4. Even if Penn State wins the Big Ten Championship, they still might not make the College Football Playoffs.
As bewildering as it reads and sounds, there is a possibility that Penn State could be snubbed from the top four by the end of the regular season. It all comes down to how Penn State is evaluated based on their loss to Michigan and their potential Big Ten Championship victory. It is difficult to assess because Michigan and Penn State have the same overall record, but Michigan trounced Penn State in week four. In my opinion, Penn State is a top four team with a win over Wisconsin next Saturday, but it will come down to the playoff committee’s judgment of Penn State and the Wolverines.
5. Penn State needs to sign Franklin to a new long-term contract, immediately.
Regardless of what happens in the Big Ten Championship and their impending bowl game, Penn State must sign Franklin to a brand new deal in the offseason as soon as possible. Franklin posted his first career 10 win season at Penn State and made it fun to be a football fan again in Happy Valley. Not only are the Nittany Lions winning now, but also they are prepared to be competitive for years to come with their top tier recruiting classes. Before securing their win over Michigan State, Penn State landed coveted tight end recruit Zack Kuntz over schools like Alabama and Ohio State. While Bill O’Brien was a good stop gap after the sanctions were levied, Franklin was the man Penn State needed to be led the out of the dark tunnel and into the light.
Zach Seyko is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communication arts & sciences. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.