As we expected, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) were defeated by the #10 Michigan State Spartans (11-1, 7-1) in Beaver Stadium in Saturday’s season finale. This was Moo U’s first win on PSU home turf since 1965, and to the victors (no pun intended) go the spoils: the vaunted Land Grant Trophy will remain in East Lansing for at least the next three years, as these teams won’t play each other in 2011 and 2012. No one at Penn State expressed any great sadness over getting rid of the trophy, at least on aesthetic grounds.
“We’ve got to learn to play a full game. Today we came out flat, and we ended up playing well.” —Matt McGloin
Although this Turkey predicted a Penn State win, I didn’t really expect it to happen. I was being magnanimous in supporting my team for the final game of the season. My original, beginning of season prognostication counted this game as a loss, and I’ve felt that way all along. Michigan State had the goods to get double digit wins and actually finish a season on the upswing. They get a piece of the Big Ten Championship, although considering the tie breakers, they’ll probably wind up in a non-BCS bowl while Wisconsin and Ohio State get the major pay-outs. Nevertheless, this is the first time since 1990 that Sparty has even gotten within sniffing distance of the Big Ten Championship.
Meanwhile, by losing this game, the Nittany Lions have rung up the most losses in a season since 2004, the last of the dreaded “Dark Years.” They’re barely bowl eligible, but they tied with Illinois and Iowa for fourth place in the Big Ten. I don’t know how they managed to do this, but I know people who before the season even started predicted that Penn State would go to the Gator Bowl. That appears to be the most likely spot at the moment. Illinois and Iowa both beat PSU head to head, so theoretically they should get better bowls, even though Iowa lost to miserable Minnesota at season’s end. Most likely, Iowa will go to the Outback Bowl and Illinois will go to the Texas Bowl. The most likely bowl opponent for Penn State would seem at the moment to be the Florida Gators. If the Lions do, in fact, wind up in the Outback Bowl, they would probably face South Carolina. However, that’s all the bowl speculation I’ll get into at this point.
As we frequently note here, noon starts are anathema to the Nittany Lions. They hit the field sleepwalking and show few signs of enthusiasm or desire. Therefore, is it any wonder that they dragged their sorry tails back into the locker room at halftime down 14-3?
In the first series of the third quarter, they lost considerable momentum when the great Penn State coaching brain trust apparently thought they should throw a little razzle-dazzle at the Moosters. It didn’t work. After Penn State received the deferred kickoff and returned it to the 24, McGloin hooked up with Justin Brown for a 26 yard gain to the 50. Then, two Sphincter Mode Royster runs brought up a third and one. No problem there. Better than third and long. So what’s the call? A stupid, slow developing reverse to Devon Smith! With one lousy yard to go, they’re out there running gimmick plays! If I hadn’t been half crocked on wine at Mike’s Garage at the time, I would have been extremely pissed off. The play ended predictably, with Smith crashing into MSU defensive end Colin Neely, who nobody bothered to block. Smith is listed at 5-7, 153 and Neely is listed at 6-1, 258. What do you think happened? Yeah, well, Smith is still alive, but he took a nine yard loss on the play, giving back those hard earned Royster Sphincter yards. WTF??? The Lions had to punt. What might have happened if they called something more “normal” on third-and-one, we’ll never know.
In fact, they didn’t come to life again until the fourth quarter, down 21-3, when they scored 19 points. PSU defense being what it has been, however, they let Moo U score another touchdown, which was the score that would eventually put the game out of reach for the extinct Pennsylvania mountain lions. An onside kick with one minute left on the game clock would have given Penn State life–they would have needed a touchdown to tie or win–but it fell into the hands of a Michigan State defender. It wouldn’t have gone 10 yards anyway. I guess with Fera having handled kickoff duties most of the season, Wagner didn’t get much onside kick practice, or something. That was all she wrote.
Matt McGloin wound up with another excellent day, completing 23 of 43 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Combined with his 315 yard effort in the Indiana game, this represents the first time in Penn State history that a quarterback has had back-to-back 300 yard games. The running game was primarily Evan Royster, who had 85 yards on 14 carries with one touchdown. Freshman sensation Silas Redd could not get his game on track. Michigan State shut him down quickly, and he had only 7 yards on three carries. Did you notice that he was used on kickoff returns in this game? He didn’t do much there, either, with two returns for 39 yards.
Derek Moye was undoubtedly the player of the game, at least from this Turkey’s perspective. With five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, he would have merely had a good day, but he played his fumble-forcing ball-snatching trick again and cemented his heroism in my mind. Graham Zug had his best receiving day of the year with five catches for 55 yards. Justin Brown had six receptions for 106 yards, including a long one of 45 yards.
For the Spartans, Edwin Baker had 118 yards and a touchdown against the Penn State defense, which saw the return of Mike Mauti. Keyshawn Martin added 41 yards on the ground. It appeared as if Mark D’Antonio felt that he could run on PSU, so he did. Good strategy, as it turned out. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins had a near perfect day in the pocket, completing 17 of 22 for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The Penn State pass defense is no great shakes, either, it seems. They were unable to pressure Cousins and didn’t record a single damn sack.
Nate Stupar was the kick-ass defender this week, with 10 tackles and a forced fumble that kept Penn State in the game late.
As MSU coach Mark D’Antonio said, his guys played well most of the game and let up in the fourth quarter. Penn State didn’t play particularly well until late in the third quarter, but the Spartans escaped with a win on the scoreboard and that’s all that counts.
The normally disciplined Nittany Lions were penalized for 67 yards. Devon Still really took the prize with his two roughing calls. Was he taking out a whole season’s frustration on a quarterback and a punter? The Lions had been the least penalized team in Division I-A.
The crowd was pitiful, at least in terms of seats filled. The official attendance was 102,649, but the student section was damn near empty. Perhaps the cold weather, the snow flurries, and the fact that Thanksgiving break was in progress conspired against having a full house, but they could have done better than that!
This year the Lions lost on both Homecoming Day and Senior Day, so they made both the alums and the seniors unhappy.
We thank the Seniors for the thrills and chills they’ve given us for the past several years and we wish them the greatest of good fortune in life!