Michigan State Spoils Senior Day in Regular Season Finale

Story posted November 29, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by Tyler Zulli

It didn’t take long for the Michigan State Spartans (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) to come into Beaver Stadium and ruin senior day for Penn State (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten).

In fact, the Nittany Lions trailed for all but 14 seconds in this matchup against the Spartans, as just moments after the 17 Penn State seniors were recognized for their contributions to the program, Michigan State return man R.J. Shelton broke three tackles and took the opening kick 90 yards for a touchdown. It was the first opening kickoff returned for a touchdown against Penn State since Dorien Bryant did it for Purdue back in 2007.

On the ensuing drive, Christian Hackenberg marched the Penn State offense down the field enough to set up a long Sam Ficken field goal attempt. The kick, however, never made it to the uprights, as Ficken errantly planted his foot, and shanked the kick, getting neither distance nor accuracy on it.

It was yet another drive in which Hackenberg was able to lead his Nittany Lion offense down the field, but were unable to come away with any points. Head coach James Franklin understands that the offense isn’t moving well, and Christian Hackenberg is getting upset. 

“He's frustrated. He's a competitor. He wants to go out and win every single week and use his part of the team that he's responsible for, the offense, to have a big factor in that. I don't think there's any doubt he's frustrated moving forward in what he wants to do,” said Franklin.

From there, back and forth went the two offenses, with little success. Both defensive units clamped down mightily for the remainder of the first quarter and into the second quarter.

Despite two added Spartan field goals from kicker Michael Geiger, from 36 and 39 yards respectively, the Penn State defense was terrific in keeping Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford in check for a majority of the first half. Langford had just 69 yards on 13 carries and Cook was knocked out of the game for a series. Cook would return, but was sporadic with his throws upon returning. 

After a defensive stand by Penn State, the Nittany Lion offense marched down the field before settling for a 41-yard Sam Ficken field goal to cut the lead to 13-3. The made attempt was Ficken’s 23rd on the season, breaking the school’s single season record for most field goals made.

Ficken, however, is not concerned about any kind of record except for his football team’s final record.

“Personal gains do not outweigh the overall outcome of the game. I’d give it all back to have won the game,” said Ficken.

On the next drive, Connor Cook, still appearing to be somewhat banged up from the hit delivered by Nyeem Wartman earlier in the game, had a pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Anthony Zettel. The interception was his third of the season, the most by a Penn State defensive tackle since 1982.

The Penn State offense marched once again, but this time, weren’t able to even attempt a field goal. Christian Hackenberg threw an errant pass behind his intended receiver, Chris Godwin, and Trea Waynes intercepted the ball in the end zone. Hackenberg was also sacked once on the drive, and has now taken 40 sacks on the season, the most by any quarterback in a single season in Big Ten history.

The Spartans went right down the field on the first drive of the second half, picking up 25 and 31-yard receptions on back-to-back plays, before Jeremy Langford finally punched it in from three yards out to stretch the Michigan State lead to 20-3.

Just two plays later, Christian Hackenberg was sacked once again, this time losing the football in the process. The Spartans recovered the fumble, and just a few plays later, Tony Lippitt caught a ten-yard strike from Connor Cook, running the score to 27-3 in favor of the Spartans.

The Nittany Lion offense finally came somewhat alive on the ensuing drive, as they were able to march down the field with a multitude of quick slant patterns by the Nittany Lion receivers. Akeel Lynch capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run of his own, drawing the Nittany Lions seven points closer. 

That however, would be the closest the Nittany Lions would get, as the offense was completely shut down by the Michigan State defense from that point on.

The Spartans added insult to injury, as late in the fourth quarter Jeremy Langford punched one in on the ground from six yards out, stretching the Spartan lead to 34-10. During the scoring series, Langford picked up his 100th yard on the ground for the day. The run gave the senior back 100 yards for the 15th consecutive Big Ten game and ninth consecutive game overall.

Senior linebacker Mike Hull, playing in his last regular season game as a Nittany Lion, had high praise for the Spartan running back.

“He’s a pretty good back. He’s patient. He waits for his blocks to develop, and runs behind those guys really well,” said Hull.

With the loss, the Nittany Lions have now dropped two straight and finish the season 6-6 overall. Despite the loss, the team will head to a bowl game in December for the first time since 2011, when they matched up against Houston in the Ticket City Bowl.

The win for the Spartans gives the team a final record of 10-2 on the year. Michigan State has now won at least ten games in four of its last five season. Despite the ten win campaign, the Spartans will not compete for the Big Ten Championship this season, as Ohio State won the east division by a game margin.

(Photo credit: AP Photo/York Daily Record, Chris Dunn)

Tyler Zulli is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email Tzull34@gmail.com.