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42 Random Thoughts on Michigan State

Random musings on the championship weekend that was in State College

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

On Saturday evening, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Michigan State Spartans engaged in a contest of American football at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. In the midst of the first quarter, the game provided an opportunity for Penn State to win the Big Ten Eastern Division Title. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 45-12. I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below

  1. Never forget.
  2. They sure didn’t.
  3. 45 to 12 is a really strange looking score, don’t you think?
  4. This was an interesting day. If you took a walk around the tailgate lots, the number of eyes glued to televisions and smart phones watching the Big Ten’s final regular season noon kickoff (it’s tradition, dammit) was certainly uncommon.
  5. The number of people supporting Ohio State in the middle of State College, Pennsylvania was unsettling, even if it was in support of the right cause.
  6. Whatever, Go Bucks.
  7. Before that game, I was comfortable in my certainty that Ohio State would beat a reeling Michigan team by double digits. Midway through the second quarter, I expected Penn State to be playing for the right to play in the Cotton Bowl. Such is life for a neurotic Penn Stater.
  8. I know you didn’t ask, but in case you’re silently wondering, Barrett got the first down. It was close, though.
  9. Watching the television broadcast of the game later lent a lot of clarity to what was going on in Columbus and the crowd reactions you saw in Beaver Stadium. I had the game running on Watch ESPN until it decided to freeze on Tyler Durbin’s tying field goal at the end of regulation. Over the next 20 minutes, no one had any idea what was going on at any given moment - service was, to put it mildly, spotty, and the gamecast play-by-play lagged substantially. The only truly functional screens in Beaver Stadium were inside in the club section and the TV that ESPN had left on the sidelines, which no one except the people in front of it knew existed.
  10. At random moments, pockets of the crowd would cheer, and the score of the game in Columbus passed through Beaver Stadium like a game of telephone. It was truly a unique experience.
  11. You have to love the clip of Trace McSorley asking James Franklin why the crowd was cheering. Franklin responds, “Ohio State won,” and McSorley nods and gets back to work. That’s a testament to the day-in and day-out preparedness of this squad, which is directly attributable to the coaching staff.
  12. I see that we’ve reverted back to the slow starts we were concerned with earlier in the year. Not a minute too soon...
  13. This is another moment where the television broadcast provides greater clarity. In Beaver Stadium, as Michigan State started driving down the field and scoring points throughout the quarter, there was a palpable sense of panic. One guy I spoke with in a concession line said, “You know, it’d be a real shame if they couldn’t put it together today. Great season, but man...”
  14. It’s not that Penn Staters wouldn’t be proud of a team that went 9-3. Given the last several years, that’s leaps and bounds better and a real success story. But keep in mind, at this point in the year, the difference between 10-2 and 9-3 is the difference between crossing the finish line of a marathon with your arms raised and collapsing 100 feet short and crawling your way across. It’s a great accomplishment either way, but...
  15. Credit Sparty for looking sharp against the nation’s best from the outset. Against Michigan, they went down the field in 12 plays and put 7 on the board. Against Ohio State, it was the same result in 2 plays. This week, they drove down the field against the nation’s 7th ranked team in 12 plays and got 3 points out of the deal.
  16. Then they did it over and over and over again, and it really got on my nerves.
  17. A few things were apparent on the broadcast once you removed the emotion (read as: panic) out of it. First, Sparty was well-prepared, and came up with an early game plan that was effective. Second, they did some unusual things on offense that they wouldn’t be able to continue to replicate as the game wore on. Third, Damion Terry’s presence under center from the outset was clearly something for which the Penn State defense was not sufficiently prepared, and that caused considerable problems.
  18. Also, why did we elect to play this soft zone stuff this week against Sparty when it was clear that our successful defensive plays were ones in which we were pinning our ears back?
  19. Bend-but-don’t-break worked, I guess. It kept Sparty out of the end zone. But almost any of those drives could have ended with touchdowns, and that would have put us in a legitimate Pitt-sized hole.
  20. Michigan State put on a clinic in the best way to stop Penn State’s explosive offense - stack the middle, don’t give an inch, let your linebackers chase Barkley, and hope that your secondary can play on an island against the Nittany Lion receiving corps.
  21. Unfortunately for Michigan State, like most teams, it had to choose one. It chose to stop Barkley. So we just threw it over their heads.
  22. I mean that in the most literal sense. We literally threw it over their heads. Multiple times. For very large plays.
  23. I don’t care if Trace McSorley has an arm identical to Chad Pennington after two should ersurgeries. If you can put up touchdown passes of 34, 45, and 59 yards consecutively, you’re doing a heck of a lot right.
  24. Those non-touchdown passes to Juwan Johnson (43 yards) and DeAndre Thompkins (25 yards) didn’t hurt either.
  25. Adding an outlet pass to Andre Robinson that turned into a score was a nice bonus to add to the “McSorley Explosive Plays” stat line.
  26. By my count, McSorley receivers dropped 3 passes, including an egregious bobble from Irvin Charles that was another big play touchdown. Those drops probably put McSorley over 400 yards and an 87% completion rate.
  27. All that is to say, this was a historic performance from Trace McSorley that’s barely being discussed because of all the attention being paid to the College Football Playoff.
  28. John Reid running an opposing receiver out of bounds and Christian Campbell making a textbook pass break up is exactly what you want to see out of your secondary. Hats off to Terry Smith for molding these guys into real players.
  29. Marcus Allen just loves to hit people. That hit that dislodged the ball from a Michigan State receiver was some Ray Isom, Penn State ‘86 stuff.
  30. I love watching Saquon Barkley fly around as much as anyone, but I do wish he’d take care of himself a bit more. Those hits add up, and the risk of serious injury is a threat to a career that has “all-time” potential.
  31. His stats weren’t that impressive, but watching Barkley turn a 4-yard loss into no gain is a big contribution that doesn’t show up in box score bingo.
  32. I like getting Barkley involved in the passing game too. Accounting for him in every facet of the game is what opened up the downfield passing game.
  33. Who doesn’t love watching Andre Robinson run? He just rips through arm tackles.
  34. The aforementioned outlet pass to Robinson has been there all season just waiting to be used. I’d like to see us invest a little more in the screen game as well, because weapons like Miles Sanders and Mark Allen could be valuable there.
  35. Listening to Bob Wischusen call a Penn State game is just music to my ears. Particularly when he discusses the nightmares he still has as a Boston College alum about Chris Godwin in the Pinstripe Bowl.
  36. Hearkening back to our early “too many trophies” discussion - I’m all in for a trophy and an end-of-season presentation with an assistant conference commissioner telling us all how great we are. It’s been a long time. Try to enjoy it without being so cynical.
  37. The real question is whether this alone warrants “2016” being placed next to “2012” inside the stadium.
  38. Isn’t it interesting that after decades of trying to work out a deal with all of our old Eastern rivals, Penn State has finally won a B1G East Championship?
  39. This is your daily remember to stop worrying about Penn State “getting screwed” by the playoff committee and just enjoy punching a ticket to Indianapolis. The polls will adjust themselves after the final whistles this weekend. But either way, we’re headed to a New Year’s Six bowl and a chance to face one of the best teams in the country.
  40. On to Indianapolis.
  41. On to Wisconsin (not to be confused with “On Wisconsin”)
  42. We are ...