UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Self-inflicted mistakes and lack of execution finally caught up to Penn State as they lost within the final 30 seconds to Michigan State, 21-17, Saturday afternoon. It was the second game in a row the Nittany Lions lost at home and put a huge damper on Homecoming weekend in Happy Valley.
The Spartans came into Saturday afternoon’s contest ranked No. 122 in the country against the pass, and you would have had no idea as the Penn State offense did little to nothing in the passing game.
In fact, they spent a majority of the night attempting to run against a vaunted rush defense, leading to what was a productive night for Miles Sanders — 167 yards rushing and a touchdown.
It took until the fourth quarter for the Nittany Lions to start taking more shots down field and they just weren’t able to execute when they needed to the most.
“I don’t really know why we hadn’t really done that (earlier). We obviously were doing a good job running the ball, we felt Miles was in a groove,” quarterback Trace McSorley said following the game. “Our offensive line was giving him some good holes and we were able to run the ball. We tried to take a couple shots here and there, but overall we just didn’t execute in the passing game like we needed to, like we had been this week.”
The lack of execution was disappointing for an offense known for it’s ability to stretch the field and opposing defenses with the arm of McSorley, who had an uncharacteristically mediocre day against the Spartans.
“We weren’t able to throw the ball well against a team that’d been giving up a bunch of yards all year long,” James Franklin said at his press conference after the game.
McSorley finished the game 19-for-32 passing with 192 yards, but he did manage to set the all-time passing record in the first quarter, a record previously held by former standout quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who threw for 8,457 yards during his career with the Nittany Lions.
“He says he didn’t have a good game but everybody doesn’t have a good game every game,” Sanders said. “That’s where everybody else has to be on point. If one person doesn’t have a good game, somebody else has to step up.”
The inconsistency of the offense forced the Penn State defense to play a lot more than they should have against Michigan State and, ultimately, they paid the price late for their lack of offensive output and inability to put the Spartans away.
“You’re gonna have a hard time winning that way when you don’t put people away and you don’t win the critical stats.” Franklin said.
It was a game where execution was missing for the majority of the game – that falls on both McSorley and Franklin, as well as the team as a whole. Following a bye week, the Nittany Lions just weren’t ready for what Michigan State came after them with and it showed, especially when the game mattered most.
“We weren’t able to protect consistently, and when we needed to run when we needed it most at the end of the game, the four minute offense, we were able to get them to burn their time outs, start out with a good play on first down, but not enough to get a first down and put the game away on our terms.”
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
1. Miles Sanders
Penn State running back
Sanders broke off big runs of 78 and 48 yards before finishing with 162 yards and a touchdown.
2. Felton Davis
Michigan State wide receiver
Felton hauled in eight passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
3. Garrett Taylor
Penn State safety
Taylor had six tackles, five solo, on the night while also forcing a fumble, intercepting a pass and breaking up five others.
Sanders was one of the lone bright spots for a Nittany Lions offense that spit and sputtered its way to only 17 points, after averaging 49.6 points per game entering the afternoon.
“We ran the ball well on offense against a team that hadn’t been giving up more than 30 yards per game,” Franklin said.
Sanders had rushes of 78 yards and 48 yards on a day where he ran for 162 yards against a defense that allowed only 33.8 yards to opponents on the ground prior to the game.
The development of Sanders and the offensive line have largely paid off over the course of this season and will continue to do so as the year rolls on.
How opponents play the Nittany Lions defensively will be based largely on the backfield threats Penn State has in McSorley and Sanders, and when the two of them are playing well it means success for the offense. Saturday though, it was Sanders who was able to play well while McSorley struggled for a majority of the game.
“We’re growing. We’re growing every game,” Sanders said. “O-Line’s getting better every game. This is the best they’ve looked, ever. And I appreciate those guys.”
It’s now the fourth time in five years that Penn State has lost back-to-back games under James Franklin. The Nittany Lions came out flat for nearly the entire game and could not muster up enough offense to win the game at the end.
Penn State had multiple chances to put the game away but couldn’t stay out of their own way, often self-inflicting wounds via costly penalties or lapses in coverage.
The Nittany Lions had an impressive goal line stand with Michigan State having the ball at the one yard line, and didn’t allow the Spartans to gain a yard. However, a personal foul by C.J. Thorpe gave Michigan State new life and they would find the end zone on the next play.
“They only had three (penalties), we had six,” Franklin said. “6-for-41. Obviously the goal line stand was as good good as it gets, then we give it to them.”
Penn State has struggled with mistakes this season and this was really the first game where they haunted them the entire game.
The play of the game goes to Miles Sanders, who shredded a bevy of Michigan State defenders on his 48-yard journey to the end zone.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 13, 2018
The touchdown run gave the Nittany Lions a 14-7 lead in the second quarter and was one of a select few bright spots on an otherwise dull day for an explosive offense.
It was only the second run of 20 or more yards the Spartans had given up this season, the first was a first quarter 78-yard run by Sanders that set up the first touchdown of the day for Penn State.
With a 4th-and-6 and the first quarter nearly over, Michigan State lined up to punt. However, they didn’t punt. Wide receiver Connor Heyward would take the direct snap and run 26 yards for a first down and keep the Spartans drive alive.
The decision at that juncture of the game might not have impacted the momentum terribly or shifted it, but it did announce Michigan State had plenty of tricks up their sleeve.
The call eventually led to a touchdown, following a Heyward double-pass to Cam Chambers that put the Spartans at the one yard line.
THE OTHER SIDE
Michigan State played keep-away for most of the game, but they were also playing like a team who had nothing to lose. They didn’t.
They controlled possession 34:12 to 25:48 over the course of the game and only led for a total of 19 seconds. Of course, those were the last 19 seconds of the game.
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio dialed up a plethora of trick and gadget plays, two of which came on their first scoring drive — the fake punt and a double-pass that put the ball at the one yard line for Michigan State. The gumption to dial up those plays in the first half showed early the Spartans not only wanted the game more, but also they were going to do whatever it took to win the game.
Dantonio also has Penn State’s number: It’s the sixth win he’s notched against the Nittany Lions and four out of their last five meetings.
THE INJURY UPDATE
• KJ Hamler, wide receiver, returned this week after leaving the game against Ohio State with what looked to be a head injury.
• Shane Simmons, defensive end, played in his first game action of the season after being injured over the summer.
Penn State will undoubtedly drop significantly in the rankings, and deservedly so. Life does go on though, and the Nittany Lions will head to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff next Saturday.
Visit our Penn State team page for everything from this game.