Penn State Nittany Lions roar by Michigan State, 45-12, to take Big Ten Eastern crown
State College, Pennsylvania – The No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions overcame four first half Michigan State field goals by Michael Geiger on all four Spartan first-half drives to down MSU, 45-12, to win the Big Ten Eastern Division. It was the case of a bend-but-don’t-break-defense as the Nittany Lions gave up a lot of yards but no touchdowns in the first half to stay within striking distance. QB Trace McSorely threw for four long touchdowns in the second half to devastate the Spartans. The Nittany Lions (10-2,8-1) tallied 35 unanswered points to overcome a 12-10 halftime lead taken by the Spartans (3-9,1-8) on a Geiger field goal right before time expired. They will meet Western champ Wisconsin in Indianapolis next week for the Big Ten title. Collegefootballfan.com saw the Lions win impressively for the second time this season (attended the Ohio State game) and hopes things go right to impress the pollsters next week to vault the surprising Nittany Lions into the CFP Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl that we already plan to attend.
Michigan State QBs Tyler O’Conner and Damion Terry combined for 24 of 45 passes for 219 yards on many short passes to wide open receivers throughout the first half. Geiger converted on field goals of 28 and 36 yards to come away with a six-point lead at the end of the first period.
The Nittany Lions got on the board early in the second on Tyler Davis’s 35-yard FG. Geiger countered right away with another from 33 yards out to keep the Spartans in the lead, 9-3. PSU finally put up seven at the end of a 78-yard drive as Saquon Barkley (14 carries for 16 yards and one TD, left with a leg injury in the third) leaped over the line for one-yard plunge to give the Nittany Lions a 10-9 advantage. But once again Geiger converted with ten seconds left with a 21-yard conversion to give Michigan State the lead at the half.
There was great excitement as the Nittany Lion Faithful roared in the first half when word was passed that Ohio State defeated Michigan in double OT, 30-27. A Michigan loss there and a Penn State win here would give the Lions the division title by virtue of its head to head 24-20 win over Ohio State. Trailing only 12-10 at halftime, the Blue and White Faithful looked forward to the second half. It wouldn’t take long for fans of Happy Valley to roar again.
MSU returned the second half kick out to their own 17. On third down, DE Evan Schwab and DT Curtis Cothran sacked O’Connor for ten yards. It indicated some adjustments were made at intermission and more pressure would finally be applied to the Spartan passing game. Punting from their eight, Michigan State gave the Nittany Lions the ball with room to operate.
QB Trace McSorely got to work starting from his 48. He connected with WR Chris Godwin down the left sideline for a 34-yard TD pass. He followed up on his next series with a 45-yard TD pass to TE Mike Gesicki down the middle in the end zone for a 24-12 lead. MSU started to drive, but O’Connor fumbled and CB Grant Haley recovered on the PSU 38 to put the ball back in McSorely’s hands. He promptly put the ball into the awaiting hands of Godwin (five catches for 135 and two TDs) on the run for a 59-yard score to take a 31-12 lead into the final period. In command now, the Nittany Lions now looked for style points to impress the pollsters. Earlier in the season, Michigan defeated the Spartans 32-23 in East Lansing, and just the week before, Ohio State held them off for a 17-16 win also at the home of Sparty.
In the final period, HC James Franklin stuck with his starters though Barkley was nowhere to be seen. The Lion defense halted MSU on fourth down to take over on the 42. RB Andre Robinson carried the ball in from the six to pump up the lead to 38-12 with 6:33 remaining. Robinson did more damage on a reception from McSorely (17 of 23, 374 yards, 4 TDs) and ran down the middle for a 40-yard touchdown to finalize the score, 45-12. Fans were requested to remain in their seats for a “special presentation”. What could that be?
Associate Big Ten Commissioner Chad Hawley was on hand to present the Eastern Division Championship hardware to the Lions instead on Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney to the disappointment of many PSU fans, but I say win it all when he’s in Indianapolis next weekend. We wondered if it had to be shipped over by helicopter from Columbus this afternoon after OSU defeated U of M. HC James Franklin congratulated his players, his coaches, staff members, and the Penn State fans who supported the Lions of the field so intensively. He urged them to buy their tickets and make their reservations out to Indianapolis. It could be hard for the students coming back from Thanksgiving break and getting ready for finals.
Traditional Penn State Guest Game Analyst and Alum John Massimilla and his son Brian, also a PSU alum, are thinking about it. We talked after the game that like many other PSU fans, we never imagined this happening. I told John that I’m already booked next week as he knew, but if the Nittany Lions go to Tampa, count me in if he can come up with the tickets. We never thought about this during last season’s spring game nor early this season after a 2-2 start.
CFF.com will forgo the trip to Indy (kickoff 8 pm EST). We committed already to attend the American Athletic Championship if Navy would host it in Annapolis. As anticipated, Navy won over SMU (but wow, 75-31!) to take the Western Division, and Temple defeated East Carolina, 37-10, to win the Eastern Division. Temple’s tie-breaker with South Florida, both 7-1 in AAC play, was based on their head to head win we attended on October 20 when the Owls beat the Bulls at The Linc, 46-30. The game will kick off at 12 noon EST, and we will be there with the usual suspects for the first time in Naval Academy football history that the Mids will be playing for a conference championship. So as not to confuse Sir Charles Barkley as depicted in the NCAA basketball commercials two seasons ago, we will be heading to Annapolis this weekend and not Indianapolis. And we say, “Go Navy!”
Extra points: Give HC James Franklin a lot of credit for not only revamping his coaching staff, but for letting them manage the aspects of their game. This year’s two victories we’ve seen are indications that he’s learned to let his coaching staff do what they do best, and that is to let them coach the game. We can see the improvement in that compared to a year ago. John Pry, Associate HC, took over defensive coordinator duties after the departure of Tom Shoops to Tennessee after last season. Joe Moorhead left after a successful stint at Fordham as HC to take over the as offensive coordinator and has put together a very effective, quick hitting offense. QB Trace McSorely is on target to leave behind a few records at QB in State College. New O-Line coach Mike Limegrover seems to have made some headway this year on improving a very-undermanned line. Already, some younger players seemed to be adding some depth to the once beleaguered unit. Tim Banks came in from Illinois and had previously coached with Franklin at Maryland. The secondary continues to look strong with great depth among that group of players. Franklin has kept most of the staff he brought with him from Vanderbilt intact. You know these guys have to know what they’re doing. The last two of three seasons under Franklin at Vanderbilt, they went 9-4 both seasons and won two bowls games. I’m talking about Vanderbilt here. James Franklin’s strength has always been recruiting. If he lets these guys coach their positions the way they are, that will only bolster is recruiting prowess. Over the weekend, they won over a five-star Florida commit who plays for The Hun School in Princeton, NJ. The future is starting to look even brighter now in Happy Valley. And the present looks better than anyone anticipated now, too. Much more sooner than expected. Way to go, James Franklin.