Heading into this weekend, the task for Penn State's offense seemed monumental. The Michigan State defense allowed only 132 yards against Ohio State seven days ago, and the Lions' offense is, well, less than potent. As it turns out, moving the ball was not Penn State's biggest issue today. Rather, it was avoiding the costly mistakes. At halftime, the Spartans lead 20-10, with 13 points coming off of turnovers, including a 70 yard fumble return from Demetrious Cox.
After the break ... well, it wasn't pretty. The Spartans put up 35 points in the second half, including a tipped, pick-six by a defensive lineman, and a touchdown run from Michigan State's starting center.
Without both starting defensive ends due to injury, Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels, Bob Shoop's defense struggled to get much pressure on MSU QB Connor Cook, who had a big day returning from injury.
Penn State will now await next weekend's championship results to find out where they will be bowling.
Three Key Takeaways
1. When Penn State cannot get pressure on the QB, they struggle on defense. Connor Cook never really felt much heat from the Lions' front 4, allowing his veteran group of receivers time to get open. Credit MSU's stout offensive line, but the Penn State defense clearly missed Nassib and Sickels. The Lions seemed reluctant to bring extra rushers against the senior QB as well.
2. The decision to kick a field goal down 6-0, from the Michigan State 1 early in the game is as maddening as ever. However, the PSU offense was much more aggressive today than they had been most of the season, including converting several fourth downs (including two touchdowns to Godwin). The cynic in me wonders where that was in the season's previous four losses.
3. This has been a long, strange, and rather frustrating season. Seven wins equals last year's total, but the five losses, to the five best teams on the schedule, show the road ahead remains long. This is still a young team, relying on underclassmen at many key spots, but the next steps are the toughest. This will be a big nine months for the Penn State football program.