Five Things We Learned: Michigan State
No. 7 Penn State fell 27-24 to No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions lost in heartbreaking fashion as Matt Coghlin nailed a 34-yard field goal as time expired. Penn State (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) is now vanquished from the CFP race, and is a longshot to win the Big Ten East. Here are five things we learned on Saturday:
1. The Big Ten has figured out how to stop Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley was bottled up on Saturday for only 63 rushing yards on 14 carries, and three receptions for 33 yards. He did not have a touchdown for the first time in over a year. In the last two weeks, both defenses seemed content to put seven players in the box and force McSorley to throw and beat them. With a lackluster showing in two consecutive big games, Barkley is now on the outside looking in for the Heisman Trophy, as Baker Mayfield now seems to be the frontrunner with a dominant performance against Oklahoma State on Saturday.
2. James Franklin does not know how to close out road games when leading
On both sides of the ball, Penn State had a chance to make plays in the fourth quarter and pull out a win. Amani Oruwariye’s interception gave Penn State possession with under seven minutes to play and a chance for McSorley to drive down the field and win the game. Penn State would get all the way to the Michigan State 38-yard line before a costly sack, intentional grounding penalty, and dropped pass by DeAndre Thompkins gave the ball back to the Spartans. Franklin mismanaged his timeouts on the ensuing Michigan State drive, not even giving his offense a chance to come back on the field. He made decisions that have been soundly questioned since the end of the game.
3. The injuries to Ryan Bates and Ryan Buchholz have really hurt Penn State
Both injuries have greatly hurt Penn State’s offensive and defensive lines respectively. The loss of Bates at the start of the Ohio State contest has seen the Nittany Lions running game take a huge hit. Trace McSorley noticeably does not have the same time to throw that he did in the first seven games of the season. On the defensive side, the loss of Buchholz has forced Brent Pry to try different blitz schemes, none of which were able to rattle Brian Lewerke on Saturday. Penn State’s pass rush has been absolutely abysmal in the last two weeks, and certainly part of the blame for back-to-back to losses.
4. When defenses force McSorley to win a game, he can’t
Trace McSorley may throw a great “home-run pass”, but he struggled mightily on Saturday, throwing three interceptions. He also threw for three touchdowns, but the junior did not make smart decisions when it counted. His costly intentional grounding penalty on Penn State’s final drive kept Penn State out of possible field goal range, and he missed open receivers on numerous occasions throughout the game. While Trace can make big plays when it counts, he also is prone to big mistakes, a trait that has helped cost Penn State two weeks in a row.
5. Penn State is no longer in the Playoff hunt, long-shot to win Big Ten East
Penn State fans will forever be left to wonder what could have been with the 2017 team. Ohio State’s loss to Iowa on Saturday opened the door for the Nittany Lions to close the gap on the Buckeyes and still have a shot at winning the division. Now, Michigan State is the team that controls their own destiny, as they travel to Columbus next week. Penn State fans can really only hope for a New Year’s Six bowl as the best possible remaining outcome for 2017.
Zach Kaplan is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.