Game Grades: Michigan State
The Nittany Lions gained 466 total yards to Michigan State’s 474, but 401 of those yards were through the air. Penn State struggled establishing the traditional run game until the second half, when Saquon Barkley broke off a 36-yard run. Barkley’s usage in the game was questionable: he had only 14 carries for 63 yards and only caught three passes for 33 yards. While the play where Barkley took a direct snap and completed a 20-yard pass was equal parts creative and exciting, it was disappointing that Penn State did not make more of an effort to find additional ways to get the ball in his hands. The fact that the run game wasn’t more of a factor for either team was a surprise considering the wet, cold weather that caused the game to be delayed by several hours. Trace McSorley had to step up in this game, but his performance overall was uneven. He passed for three Touchdowns, including a beautiful 70-yard pass that gave Penn State the lead late in the third quarter. He also missed open receivers on several key plays and was intercepted three times. A trend in big games, especially ones against the ranked teams on the road, seems to be developing with McSorley. McSorley needs to start buckling down in crunch time of tough road games.
Penn State was strong against the ground game in this one, holding L.J. Scott to 43 yards on 14 carries and a goal line Touchdown. In terms of the passing game, they were not very strong. Spartans Quarterback Brian Lewerke had a field day with the Nittany Lions secondary, passing for 400 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. At points throughout the game, Michigan State receivers were wide open in soft zone coverage. MSU receiver Felton Davis III caught 12 passes for 181 yards and a 33-yard TD, frequently burning his man. Overall, the Nittany Lions struggled to keep an unheralded Michigan State receiving corps under control and it costed them big in this game, as well as in the Ohio State loss.
Special Teams: B
Saquon Barkley was held in check in the Kick Return game, returning two kicks for just 15 yards. Michigan State did a good job forcing Barkley to down the ball in the end zone and when he had a chance to return it, the kick coverage was strong and prevented any big returns. Kicker Tyler Davis made his only field goal attempt, a 26-yarder. Punter Brian Gillikin averaged 39 yards on four punts, including a 52-yarder.
While the offensive playcalling in this game was more effective and grew stronger as the game went on, the secondary did not come ready to play after being picked apart by J.T. Barrett last week. While last week’s loss at Ohio State could be largely blamed on overly conservative offensive play calling, it is hard to blame any one mistake in the coaching for this latest defeat. Coach James Franklin will need his team mentally ready for Rutgers next week. That will be a game in which they will want to come out early and pound their opponent. Meanwhile, his 0-10 record against ranked teams on the road still looms over his other achievements at Penn State.
Jeremy Ganes is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.