Penn State’s trip to East Lansing provided one of the weirdest games in recent memory, complete with a downpour for much of the game and a nearly 3.5-hour lightning delay in the second quarter. It was certainly not an ideal way for the team to follow-up its heartbreaking loss in Columbus the week before, and the Nittany Lions never really seemed to get it going, losing on a walk-off field goal. It was a devastating loss for their season, as it cost them another head-to-head tiebreaker with a divisional opponent. More alarmingly, for the second straight week, a stout defensive front eliminated Saquon Barkley from the game, whose Heisman hopes now look very bleak. He has rushed for 100 yards only once since the Iowa game, and that was largely due to a 69-yard run against Michigan. This was a total team loss, despite the lousy conditions, and the grades reflect that.
The defense couldn’t get to QB Brian Lewerke, and they couldn’t cover the receivers, leading to a 400-yard passer and a 181-yard game by WR Felton Davis. It felt like this game was lost on third down, when the defense consistently could not get off the field. The Spartans were 10 for 18 on third down, and many of those were not medium- to long-distance-to-gain situations. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and his staff clearly saw something in the Ohio State film from the week before and exploited it well all game long. They did not allow much rushing yardage, but when you can throw the ball wherever and whenever you want, there’s no need to run. S Marcus Allen made the worst play for Penn State since the late interception in the Rose Bowl. He roughed the passer after MSU did not convert the third down at Penn State’s 37. It was the same penalty called against the Spartans five minutes before when Trace McSorley was hit low. MSU likely takes a penalty and punts, sending the game to overtime. That penalty can NOT be committed at that time of the game. It was a crushing lapse in judgment by a team captain.
Defensive Game Ball: CB Amani Oruwariye
Oruwariye gave the ball back to the offense with an acrobatic interception at his own 7-yard line and prevented more Michigan State points with the game tied at 24.
The special teams had a pedestrian day, not surrendering but not registering any splash plays. Tyler Davis was perfect on extra points and his one field goal, but the coaches admittedly didn’t gamble with a field goal unless it was a sure thing. Blake Gillikin had an average day punting, but was matched in average yardage by his counterpart Jake Hartbarger from Michigan State. KR Saquon Barkley was even held in check on kickoff returns, which is more than Ohio State can say.
Special Teams Game Ball: K Tyler Davis
On a day full of team mistakes, Davis was perfect. He’s had a tough year, but did all that was asked of him in a lousy day for field goal kickers.
It seems strange to push the offensive grade to a D on a day where Penn State had a 381-yard passer, two hundred yard receivers and a 70-yard touchdown pass. But the eye test and rushing yardage tell the story of this game for the offense. While Michigan State repeated caught off-the-mark passes, Penn State’s receivers dropped far too many balls. QB Trace McSorley had his usual overthrows early in the game and had three interceptions. He was easily the best player on Penn State’s team during the game, but 3 interceptions is not good enough. He underthrew what should have been another long touchdown to WR Saeed Blackall late in the game. The offensive line was again abysmal. They could not block anyone, especially on the right side of the line. RB Saquon Barkley, to his credit, kept pushing, picking up blitzers in the backfield and contributing 33 yards to the receiving total. It has to be frustrating to him when the offensive line is regressing to 2015 ineptitude due to injuries and inexperience.
Offensive Game Ball: WR DaeSean Hamilton
Hamilton led the team in receptions and yards and scored a nice 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first half.
There are many reasons that the scale was tilted in Michigan State’s favor. The emotional loss the week before in a huge national game against Ohio State, the weather which affects the more talented and faster team the most, the long delay. But, the team lacked focus and urgency from the outset, and seemed to act like because they “allowed Ohio State to outscore them”, this game should be no problem. With the lack of focus came a lack of preparation. The seemed to plan to get Barkley the ball by pitching it wide on their first offensive series, which worked. But they got away from it soon after and never established a running game. An offensive line that is struggling will never allow your QB to get repeated, adequate protection to survey the field; this was a flaw in the in-game adjustments. For the first time, James Franklin took his eye off the ball against a good team. He hasn’t been coaching with these expectations very long at all, and this game will hopefully (and assuredly) be a learning experience for him.
In our season preview, I though Penn State would pull this game out after a tough loss in Columbus. Truthfully, if this game were played in dry conditions and/or didn’t have a 3.5 hour delay, the Nittany Lions likely win. They should be undefeated and ranked #2 in the CFP. However, the danger of expectations is that they usually lead to disappointment. Good teams find ways to exploit weaknesses and advantages, especially at home. Rather than play the game hung over from a tough loss the prior week themselves, Michigan State played inspired football and slayed the dragon after 7 hours. The season can still be a successful one, and Saquon Barkley has three chances to get his Heisman train back on track. We need to enjoy watching this elite talent as a Nittany Lion while we can, and the coaches need to figure out how to turn him loose again.
About the Author:
Adam Kimmel is the founder and Principal at ASK Consulting Solutions, a technical writing firm specializing in engineering content writing. A 2003 graduate and avid fan of Penn State, Adam has followed Penn State football for over 25 years, attending nearly 50 games and researching historical players and teams. He is also a Manager of R&D, and can be found on LinkedIn