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Four Takeaways From Penn State’s Loss Against Michigan State

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Penn State’s slide continued on Saturday afternoon as they capped off their regular season with a loss in East Lansing, dropping them to 2-5 in their last 7 games

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

More questionable coaching

I’ll be the first to admit that I have been more critical of James Franklin than most. That said, there were undoubtedly some poor coaching decisions in Saturday’s game that impacted the outcome.

Penn State twice punted the ball in the first half on 4th & 1, one of which was 4th and about a foot, from midfield instead of going for it. If they go for it on either of those and convert the game could have had a different outcome as those drives could have resulted in points. One of those punts also led to a 99-yard touchdown drive, who knows what happens if the Nittany Lions just go for it.

On a drive that resulted in a Spartan field goal Penn State had Michigan State facing a 3rd & 8 and the defense looked primed to force a three-and-out. Sparty went tempo not allowing Penn State to make personnel changes. Despite the defensive being confused and out of position, James Franklin did not call a timeout. This led to Michigan State snapping the ball and converting on 3rd & 8. This was one of two or three times on that drive the Nittany Lion defense should have gotten off the field.

Poor tackling, missed opportunities burnt the defense

Throughout the game the Nittany Lion defense struggled to tackle. While some missed tackles were due to Heisman candidate Kenneth Walker and other Spartans running hard, there were also plenty of missed tackles that were on the Nittany Lions.

Too many times Nittany Lion defenders went for arm tackles that were not going to work, or they looked for a big hit instead of wrapping up allow the Spartan ball carrier to pick up extra yards. Effort also seemed to be an issue at times, with one particular instance being Brandon Smith failing to even touch Payton Thorne despite having him dead to rights on a 3rd down which led to a big run by Thorne. Smith also completely whiffed on a 4th quarter tackle that should have been a TFL to force a punt. Instead, the play resulted in a Spartan first down.

The defense also had plenty of opportunities to get off the field and failed to. Michigan State was 9-for-18 on 3rd down and 3-for-4 on 4th down. On of those 4th down conversations came on a 4th & 6 after Penn State stopped Michigan State on 4th & 1 but got a redo due to a false start penalty... and, as we will get to, that wasn’t even the worst 4th down conversion the Nittany Lion defense allowed.

After Walker had a touchdown run called back due to a hold and with the Spartans facing 3rd & goal from the 13, Thorne’s pass fell incomplete only for a defensive pass interference on Joey Porter Jr. to give the Spartans new life. They would score three plays later.

Michigan State’s final touchdown came on a 4th & 15. Thorne heaved one up to the end zone that Reed came down with despite Johnny Dixon seeming to be in position. Time and time again the Nittany Lions failed to get off the field.

Saturday afternoon was probably the worst game Penn State’s defense played all season and it came back to bite them.

Phil Trautwein needs to put on the hot seat... if not fired

To be blunt, Penn State’s offensvie line has been a total and complete disaster this season. Throughout the season Penn State has been unable to run the ball and has struggled in pass protection. These issues continued on Saturday afternoon.

Against the Spartans Penn State averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. Even if you takeaway sack yardage they only averaged 4.0 yards per carry. That is simply not good enough especially in November in the Big Ten.

Also, throughout the game the Michigan State’s pass rush was too much for the Nittany Lion offensive line to handle. This included the Spartans getting home with just a four man rush far too often.

Even though the offensive line was expected to be a strength entering the season it has been, at best, a letdown. In many ways the offensive line has been a complete failure this season. Trautwein should be held accountable.

Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson appreciation time

Today was likely the final regular season game at Penn State for both Sean Clifford and Jahan Dotson. While both could technically return next season, Dotson appears to be a slam dunk to enter the NFL Draft and Clifford appears to be trending in that direction as well. Due to this it remains to be seen if either will play in the bowl game, specifically Dotson.

Those two battled on the field for the Nittany Lions and have been warriors for the program. If this was it they both went out on high notes. Clifford was 23/34 for 314 yards and 3 scores. Dotson hauled 8 passes for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.

If this was it for Clifford and Dotson, or if the bowl game proves to be their swan song, they deserve all the love praise in the world from Nittany Lion fans. These past three seasons those two have gone to war every Saturday that they were healthy for and they deserve appreciation for that.