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59 Random Thoughts on Michigan State

Random musings on a tough weekend for Penn State football

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday afternoon, the seventh ranked Penn State Nittany Lions squared off against the unranked Michigan State Spartans in a contest of...

You know what? Let’s dispense with the pleasantries. Sparty 21, Penn State 17. Some thoughts:

  1. I can’t believe it happened again.
  2. I mean that literally. I mean it’s basically the same thing. Again.
  3. Fair warning - I haven’t re-watched this game (or any play from it, for that matter) and I don’t intend to. I haven’t read extensive post-game coverage, and I don’t intend to. Everything I “know,” I’m getting from my own eyes from the upper deck in the south end zone.
  4. One thing I know for sure - you’re never as good as you think you are when you win, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose.
  5. This loss, though, has apparently sent many alums and fans into a tailspin.
  6. Which, look, I get it. Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Penn State was finally on Ohio State’s level. This week, I get to write about...this.
  7. And this was ugly. Penn State’s worst offensive performance in years combined with the (now seemingly traditional) fourth quarter collapse.
  8. It wasn’t all bad, certainly, which is what makes this so strange. Michigan State had the nation’s top rushing defense heading into Saturday. Then Miles Sanders broke off a 78-yard run, then another for 48. In total, 162 yards for the junior, 205 for the squad.
  9. All in a day’s work. That 78-yarder was dedicated to the offensive line, but the 48-yard touchdown was all Miles (with a tip of the hat to Juwan Johnson for some solid downfield blocking)

10. Sanders runs with authority. Everything he does, he does with power. I’m not just talking about bursting through arm tackles. Even his jukes and jump cuts have power.

11. Then there was the defense, which at times looked at the top of its game. Penn State forced MSU to rush for just a shade over 3 yards per carry and fumble the ball on 4 separate occasions. The Nittany Lions prevented Brian Lewerke from completing more than 46 percent of his passes, intercepted him once (more on that later), and knocked down 16 passes. That is remarkable.

12. To put the Spartan’s unbelievable luck into perspective, we once again bring you the mothership’s resident robot, Bill Connelly:

13. Which is, of course, infuriating. PSU converts on any one of these additional opportunities and every single conversation about coaching, talent, and potential 7-5 seasons goes by the wayside.

14. Seriously, if Amani Oruwariye just manages to hang on to an interception with less than one minute to play, the conversation we’re actually having goes something like this:

15. “Wow, I can’t believe they escaped there.”

16. “Yeah, Dantonio’s teams are always tough and give us hell.”

17. “What a miserable jerk that guy is.”

18. “YES! Remember that time he called multiple time outs in 2008 late in a blow out when Penn Staters just wanted to celebrate a Rose Bowl?”

19. “I KNOW! Plus, Michigan State should’ve been 7-5 last year if not for fluke wins against both us and Michigan.”

20. “Yeah. I can’t believe I just defended Michigan’s honor, kind of.”

21. “Oh well. Survive and advance. See you after smashing Indiana. #OurOneTrueRival #PuntWeek.”

22. That’s a way better conversation than seriously arguing over whether James Franklin is too loyal to fire the wide receivers coach.

23. (Really, is this a thing? He fired John Donovan and told Bob Shoop to take a hike when he kept trying to hold Penn State up for more money. Comparatively speaking, I don’t think he’s losing sleep over David Corley)

24. But honestly, have we lost our minds so much that we’re looking at David Corley as the source of Penn State’s problems?

25. Look, by all accounts, the Nittany Lions should have won that game on Saturday. You know that, I know that, S&P+ knows that. But sometimes teams lose games. And that’s what happened on Saturday - this team lost a game to a team that should have never been in the same ballpark.

26. You know who else does that?

27. Exhibit A - Ohio State

28. Exhibit B - Clemson

29. Exhibit C - Alaba...well, not really ‘Bama. Just give ‘em the trophy already, won’t you?

30. Basically everyone else, though. It’s college football. Chaos is a ladder, and that’s what makes the sport great. It’s just the worst thing ever when chaos comes to your city.

31. I’ll say it again until I’m blue in the face. This team had to replace a remarkable level of record-setting, transcendent talent and leadership on both sides of the ball. That comes at a price.

32. In some ways, that price was not recognizable until this week. And most people, including the national media, thought those gaps could be covered by the presence of a great senior quarterback.

33. But here’s where we really are - with the game on the line and Penn State’s postseason dreams at issue, Trace McSorley needed DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki. Instead, he has KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth.

34. Don’t get me wrong, both are good players that show flashes of greatness. One day they will be at that level consistently. But in the clutch, this team needed to depend on two freshmen because it can’t depend on its veteran receivers. That’s a significant problem.

35. That’s why this team had 9-3 written all over it before the beginning of the year. The best players are so young that they can’t be expected to make the biggest plays every time out, and the veteran players are fine, assuming fine means “not expected to seriously challenge for a national title.”

36. If this team wants to be in the pantheon, DeAndre Thompkins cannot go catchless. That just cannot happen.

37. If this team wants to be remembered among the greatest, Juwan Johnson can’t look like Calvin Johnson and play like Ethan Kilmer.

38. Inconsistency broke this team’s back this week. The offense’s veteran presence failed to make plays and just kept asking a young defense to make stop after stop after stop after stop. It’s just unfair to expect that level of play from a defense that lacks sufficient depth and linebacker and defensive tackle.

39. What should give you hope, though, is that it almost worked anyway. That’s a defense that is coming of age before our very eyes. They played well, and some slight luck in the turnover column or safety help over the top on Felton Davis problems locks in a win.

40. Narratives are nonsense. You know that because a change to any single play in this game changes the narrative itself. Calling for scalps at this point is unnecessary and, frankly, it makes the program look unstable and reactionary.

41. At the end of the day, this team is talented but not ready to be consistent. One additional week of “great practice” isn’t going to change that.

42. What will change that are games like this.

43. I’m sorry for Trace McSorley that he doesn’t have the help he needs for his senior year. He deserved greatness, but timing is a cruel mistress. But this happens to legends sometimes - Tim Tebow, after all, finished one year at 9-4 with a loss to Michigan in a second tier bowl game. So it goes.

44. I know it’s easy to blame coaching, but I’d like to know why Lamont Wade backed off during the fake punt.

45. The fake punt that, by the way, my brothers-in-law both called from the stands.

46. Should we have considered a fake on the final offensive drive? Would’ve been a gutsy way to try to seal the deal. Or am I crazy?

47. My wife let me know that Sparty has rolls on his legs like our 13 month old.

48. That comment actually made my day.

49. Shout out to Garrett Taylor, who was a big time recruit who waited his turn and now looks like a mainstay at safety. That kid was everywhere on Saturday, patrolling the field and making game saving play after game saving play. Nice work, man.

50. AO was *this close* to picking off multiple passes, including one that just missed his outstretched fingers on a dive. It’s a game of inches.

51. You can’t see defensive holding from my seat, but I can’t imagine it happened that many times. For those watching on TV, what the heck was going on?

52. Lots of “blame” to go around, including the officials. There were multiple instances in which Penn State got stops, only to have Sparty bailed out by the refs. In one instance, we made a stop on their end of the field, only for a defensive holding penalty to kick start the drive once again that flipped the field.

53. Great work by the defense on that goal line stand that was blunted by a personal foul call against CJ Thorpe that looked.............questionable. That changes the dynamic of the game right there.

54. This was, to put it mildly, a series of unfortunate events. But this is what Penn State is - a 9-3 team. It wasn’t great.

55. It’s going to be so great when this team rips off 5 in a row, including over multiple ranked teams, then loses to Maryland in the season finale.

56. Who should we fire then?

57. Onward and upward.

58. On to Indiana. Welcome to #Puntweek.

59. We are...