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Stats And Storylines: Defense And Special Teams

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Penn State scored plenty of points, but it was the defense and special teams that stood out in East Lansing.

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Penn State will make it into November with a perfect record, 8-0. While the team has yet to play a perfect game, there has been very little to complain about through the first two months of the season.

A road victory in the Big Ten is always appreciated and with a bye coming next week, the team and its fans have some time to savor what has been a very satisfying season thus far. After dropping two in a row to the Spartans, the Land Grant Trophy is back in Happy Valley.

The Penn State offense played well in bad weather, on the road, against a very solid defense. The Lions’ defense showed up as well, playing the game we have come to expect from Brent Pry’s squad. Special teams provided a blocked kick, recovered fumble and could have had a return touchdown as well had it not been called back.

It was an all-around great team effort for the Lions.

First Half Notes

Penn State had two early drives that ended with touchdown catches by Pat Freiermuth. Things were coming pretty easy for the offense until a missed extra point slowed the momentum a little, keeping the score 13-0.

Michigan State didn’t threaten to score very often in the first half but they did have a chance to kick a field goal. Shaka Toney came in clean right up the middle for the block. Toney used his superior jump off the ball to get clear of the blockers and from there, he used his head.

KJ Hamler caught a touchdown with a minute to go in the half and after a 2-point conversion, the score was 21-0 at the break.

  • Noah Cain got the start at running back and touched the ball on 6 of the first 8 plays. Journey Brown came in for the third series. Ricky Slade entered early in the second quarter and Devyn Ford came in after that.
  • C.J. Thorpe got the start at right guard. Mike Miranda entered in the second quarter at right guard and Des Holmes came in at left tackle.
  • Jonathan Sutherland was the first defensive substitution, entering at safety on the second series. Judge Culpepper made his earliest appearance of the season at defensive tackle in the 2nd quarter.
  • Sean Clifford started 7 of 9 with the first two incomplete passes coming on deep balls that could have been caught.
  • Jan Johnson led Penn State with 5 tackles in the opening half.

Second Half

Penn State got near the 50 yard line on its first drive but then chose to punt the ball away on fourth and short. The Spartan offense had not scored for 8 quarters of game time at that point, a streak that went back to October 5. There was no reason to risk giving them a short field.

Instead, after a fumbled punt was recovered by Dan Chisena, Penn State ended up with a very short field. Chisena continues to shine on special teams.

One play later Pat Freiermuth caught his third touchdown of the game to stretch the lead to 28-0 with ten minutes to play in the third quarter. The stadium began to empty at that point and you can’t blame them. It was a rainy, cold day and with the home team down four touchdowns, there wasn’t much reason to stay.

Brandon Smith came in at linebacker and Keaton Ellis came in at corner for the Lions as substitutions began to see the field in larger numbers. Michigan State finally scored, with the aid of a long pass play that set up a 4 yard touchdown run. The soggy fans remaining in the stands were rewarded.

Sean Clifford made a rare poor decision, throwing an interception on the next possession. For people that thought that Michigan State may be poised to score three touchdowns to tie the game, the thought didn’t last long.

Freshman Marquis Wilson, who got some meaningful playing time last week for the first time in his career, returned the favor with his first career interception. After recording his first career tackle against Michigan, the corner back showed that he has ball skills when tested.

Wilson reacted to the errant throw and hauled it in as though it was intended for him. Later in the game he almost got a second interception. The Lions have several young defensive backs that will be ready to step in next year when the team loses some key veterans.

Speaking of future stars, Jayson Oweh sacked Brian Lewerke on the next possession, forcing the ball into the air, and Ellis Brooks grabbed it for another turnover.

Check out Micah Parsons, who led the team in tackles on the day, react to the ball while it was in the air as well. While the Penn State defense is one of the best in the country this season, there is reason to believe, with the talent returning, that there will be little letdown next year.

KJ Hamler had a punt return touchdown negated by a very soft running into the kicker penalty called on Jesse Luketa. It was the second week in a row that Hamler had a return touchdown called back.

Jaquan Brisker added an interception on Michigan State’s final possession.