November 30, 2010

Review: Michigan State 28, Penn State 22

Penn State managed to end the 2010 regular season with a thud, which happens to be exactly how the season as a whole will be viewed by most fans and media.

2010 Penn State vs Michigan State
Penn State's senior class will be remembered for helping lead the team
 to a 47-17 record over their five seasons in Happy Valley. (Photo: Mike/LBU)

It was the first senior day loss since 1999. It also completed the first winning regular season since 1992 in which Penn State failed to reach eight victories. But all that aside, Penn State did manage to prevent the blowout, actually putting quite the scare into the overly-comfortable Spartans late in the game. It was the kind of never-die attitude that could bode very well for the future of this team. But that's all next season. Let's talk about this season, and this depressing loss, in particular.

What to like. What to hate. What to not freak out about. Right now...

Tip of the Hat

2010 Penn State vs Michigan State
Derek Moye (6) and Justin Brown (19)
put on quite a show against Michigan State.
Derek Moye - While Moye didn't have the numbers Justin Brown did (we'll get to him in a sec), he turned in a fourth quarter performance that would have gone down as a signature moment in Penn State history, had the Lions won the game. Moye finished with 5 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, but that wasn't all. He personally saved Penn State from immediate defeat following a Matt McGloin interception in the end zone. With an opportunity to end the game by simply downing himself in the end zone, MSU safety Trenton Robinson got greedy and tried to return the interception. Moye would have none of it, chasing down Robinson and ripping the ball free to give the ball back to Penn State. The icing on the cake, though, was that on the very next play, Moye caught a touchdown to keep Penn State's victory hopes alive.

Justin Brown - Due to Moye's efforts in the second half, Brown's 6-catch, 106-yard performance for the game has been a bit overlooked. Brown has locked himself in as Penn State's No. 2 wide receiver this season. It's amazing that he only has 439 yards and 1 touchdown this year, as it felt like he's done a lot more.

2010 Penn State vs Michigan State
Had it not been for Penn State's early dive
into comeback mode, Evan Royster may have had
a much bigger senior day performance.
Evan Royster - Give the guy credit--he ran hard. It's just too bad that the offensive line hasn't been able to run block worth a damn this season. Royster finished with 85 yards on just 14 carries (6.1 ypc), including a hard-nosed 10-yard touchdown run. Had Penn State not been in comeback mode for most of the second half, Royster would have gotten more carries and much more yardage.

Nate Stupar - Though the linebackers overall didn't look nearly as sharp as they should have, Stupar did come up with a very fine performance (10 tackles) that included what could have been the biggest forced fumble since Sean Lee against Purdue in 2007. It's too bad this defense hasn't been able to do squat forcing turnovers overall this year; but it was very encouraging seeing Stupar come up with a takeaway when the team desperately needed one.

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The Defense - A lot of unjustified blame will be placed on the defense for this loss, but I'm not in that camp. During a critical stretch in the middle of the game--see the red box in the pictured drive chart--Penn State held Michigan State to 45 yards on three drives, including one 3-and-out and a 4-and-out. But did the Penn State offense take any advantage of the tough stands by the defense? Hell no. The offense managed just 84 yards on five drives.

Wag of the Finger

Penalties - This is on the whole team. From McGloin inexcusably taking a delay of game in the red zone, to Quinn Barham suddenly looking like the first-year starter he is, to Devon Still keeping two MSU drives alive, this wasn't just on one player or unit. Penn State, which has hung its hat on playing smart football, played a very sloppy game--eight penalties all together, including 3 false starts, 2 personal fouls, and 1 running into the kicker. We were saying penalties would be the difference in this game, but didn't think it would be Michigan State to benefit from them.

Pre-4th Quarter Offense - See the above section on the defense. Penn State had a golden opportunity served up on a silver platter, as Michigan State's offense was stalling badly in the middle of the game. Had the Penn State offense managed even just one touchdown in that time, the game's outcome may have been very differently. Think of it like the Michigan win, when Penn State's defense only needed a few key stops to win the game, because the offense was moving and scoring to keep the pressure off PSU and on the opponent. That formula was there for Penn State to use against Michigan State.

Pursuit - From what I saw at field level (trust me, it's a terrible place to watch a game), and a bit of the game replay, Penn State's defense once again gave up big plays due to bad pursuit and pursuit angles on the ball carrier. It's usually just one step behind, but that lost step comes from not diagnosing a play early enough. That will come this bowl season and upcoming off-season, and has improved during the last 12 games, just not enough.
2010 Penn State vs Michigan State
One of a few Matt McGloin passes
that should have been intercepted.

Matt McGloin - That was the worst 300-yard passing effort you'll ever see. Before some very good throws late, McGloin looked as bad as Rob Bolden ever did, making bad reads and bad throws for nearly three quarters. At least two sure-interceptions were dropped by Michigan State. For the last five weeks, it's been said that McGloin offers this team leadership and confidence, and that's what was missing from the offense earlier in the season. Well all that "moxie" didn't get this offense moving until it was too late.


The season isn't over yet, with in all likelyhood a very nice bowl bid awaiting the Nittany Lions. But a win over Michigan State would have gotten this team over the hump that had been their enemy all season long. Beating a really good team, "putting it all together," was what this game meant. Penn State actually out-gained Michigan State by about 50 yards, and was plus-1 in turnovers. But in the end, it was just another oh-so-close performance, marred by youthful mistakes and mediocre upperclass leadership.

Joe Paterno said in his post-game press conference that he thought this team was just one game away from what many had anticipated pre-season (about 8-4), pointing to but without naming the Illinois loss as the one game.

I'm terribly excited for the bowl game, even moreso for 2011. Penn State gets 15 extra bowl practices, and you can bet Joe Paterno knows how to use them. He hasn't won more bowl games (24, including two over SEC foes the last five seasons) than any other coach for no reason. One PSU blogger pointed out how much worse it could be than 7-5. Just look at Texas (5-7), Florida (7-5), Georgia (6-6) or USC (7-5). All those teams have had recruiting classes in the stratosphere the last 8 years, yet are either the same or worse off than Penn State this year. So just keep that in mind before you start freaking out about the state of the program right now.

All Photos by Mike/LBU
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  1. So when McGloin was struggling bad, and I mean bad (like completing less than 50%) where was Bolden's chance? I'm not a McGloin hater I like both QB's but if your gonna pull one guy when he has a bad day (read: fumble) then you better do the same for the other guy.

  2. [smh] Galen, Galen, Galen... You just don't get it. McGloin has IT. McGloin has MOXIE. McGloin WANTS to be the starting quarterback.

    /slams head on computer desk

  3. the facts stare everybody dead in the eye---only at psu could a walk-on start or an inexperienced "athlete" be the go to guy---our recruiting smells and the manpower planning remains childish, at best. despite their best efforts, these young men were 10 and 29 against ranked teams.

  4. I don't see all the McGloin fans on the board now. He played terrible against Michigan State but McGloins fans will say we only last by 6. They would be right but the game was over at 28-10.