Not Enough for the Mighty Spartans

Sam McCloskey, Author

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The Spartans, a solidly recruited, expertly coached, well-developed bunch of players, used their experience and relied on their depth to outlast the young and banged up Nittany Lions 34-10 at Beaver Stadium on Sunday.

“We’ve been on sanctions for three years and that’s Michigan State who’s been recruiting and building their program for a long time and done a nice job with it,” Franklin said. “It’s one of the better programs. They have more scholarships than we do. And we’re going to have an opportunity to get that back and work with those things.”

Looking on the bright side for the Nittany Lions, their future includes another game. Penn State will play in a bowl game for the first time in three years in about a month. But it was hard for players to embrace that silver lining fully after dropping a game on Senior day.

After allowing Michigan State return man R.J. Shelton to race 90 yards to the end zone on the opening kickoff, Penn State’s defense came up with two stops to hold the Spartans to field goals on the next two drives. Michael Geiger connected from 36 and 39 yards and Michigan State took a 13-0 lead into the second quarter. The Nittany Lions had a chance to score on their first drive after a nine-play sequence ended where Ficken missed a 51-yard field goal attempt well short.

“It wasn’t the way we wanted to start a football game,” senior defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said. Penn State players would’ve rather capitalized on prime field position in the second quarter, too.

The Nittany Lions started three straight drives in Michigan State territory, but came away with just three points. Penn State was forced to punt after going three-and-out from the Spartans’ 41-yard line but was able to grind out 17 yards from the Michigan State 40 on its next possession to set up a 41-yard field goal by Sam Ficken. Looking to make it a one-possession game, the Nittany Lions drove to Michigan State’s territory right before the half. Christian Hackenberg fired deep to his receiver Chris Godwin. He was in one-on-one coverage with cornerback Trae Waynes. Godwin got a hand on the ball but inadvertently tipped it up in the air where Waynes intercepted it to all but end the half.

The Spartans seized the momentum early in the second half. Penn State gained 26 yards on four plays before Hackenberg was dropped for the second of three sacks by Malik McDowell. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook responded with two big plays on the ensuing drive. He found Keith Mumphery running through Penn State’s zone defense for 25 yards and hooked up with Macgarrett Kings Jr. for 31 yards to set his team up with first-and-goal. Running back Jeremy Langford took it from there and scored his first of two touchdowns from three yards out.

Hackenberg was dropped again on Penn State’s next play, losing the football at his team’s 18-yard line in the process. Taiwan Jones recovered and Cook threw over Jordan Lucas to Tony Lipett for a 10-yard touchdown five plays later. It gave Michigan State a 27-3 lead. Penn State responded with a 10-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown run from Akeel Lynch. “We have a scheme here that we’re starting to believe in more and more each week,” Hackenberg said. “And the coaching staff is starting to believe in each one of us more and more each week and I think it’s just one of those things, it’s going to be a progression.” Michigan State outgained Penn State 298-233. Mike Hull led Penn State with 13 tackles while Zettel contributed a sack and an interception to set up Penn State’s final first-half drive that ended with Waynes’ end zone interception. “We were right in the game especially at halftime,” Hull said. “It would’ve helped to get that field goal before half but it is what it is and we’ve just got to keep plugging away and get ready for this bowl game.”

Penn State will be playing in a small bowl game, but no shame considering the fact they have not been in one in three years. The Lions will not miss on out this great opportunity and it will be determined shortly who they are going to play.

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