Penn State Dominated By Michigan State 34-10 on Senior Day
Emotions were running high today with the seniors stepping foot onto the field at Beaver Stadium one final time. Despite the student section, and the entire stadium for that matter, filling in way below capacity, the Nittany Lions came out to roaring cheers from those in attendance.
Any motivation that Senior Day might have brought didn’t make a difference, however, as Penn State fell 34-10 against the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans, ending the regular season with a loss and an even 6-6 record. All six of those losses came in conference play.
Sam Ficken’s final opening kickoff in Happy Valley did not go as planned, as a pseudo-squib trickled to the ten, and R.J. Shelton took it to the house thanks to a wide open running lane. The Nittany Lions responded with an impressive drive, led by a much more confident-looking Christian Hackenberg. A few incompletions forced Penn State to take a 51-yard field goal try that never had a chance as it was poorly struck by Ficken.
Jeremy Langford diced the Nittany Lion front seven with a slew of big gains, getting Michigan State right back into scoring position. The Spartans’ star running back finished with 118 yards on 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Three consecutive incompletions by Connor Cook forced Michigan State to settle with a field goal, which was kicked right down the middle.
The two teams traded punts as the first half carried on, with Penn State failing to capitalize on its solid field position. The biggest missed opportunity for Penn State came after Christian Hackenberg was sacked for a big loss by Michigan State’s Marcus Rush and Riley Bullough, pushing the Lions out of field goal range.
The scoring stalemate lasted until about the six minute mark, as Jesse Della Valle took the Spartans’ punt to the opposing 40-yard line. Helped by a timely defensive holding call, the Nittany Lions were able to get onto the board, as Ficken made up for his previous miss with a 41-yarder, making the score 13-3.
Anthony Zettel kept the Spartans from scoring before halftime with a momentum-gaining interception, which he took to the Michigan State 36-yard line. Christian Hackenberg tested the secondary with a bomb to Chris Godwin in the corner of the endzone. Godwin was unable to maintain possession, bobbling the ball, which resulted in an interception by Trae Waynes. A kneel-down by Cook brought the game to halftime.
Penn State needed to make a second half statement with the team getting the ball to begin the third quarter. That was not the case, as the team was stalled by a sack, coupled with a delay of game penalty. The drive ended in a punt, and the Spartans increased the lead to 17, after Langford scored on a three yard run.
Things continued to get worse for the Nittany Lions, as Hackenberg fumbled the ball after being hit on a pass attempt, giving Michigan State possession deep in Nittany Lion territory. Connor Cook widened the lead with a touchdown strike to Tony Lippett, making it a 27-3 ballgame.
Big completions to Geno Lewis and Mike Gesicki helped give Penn State needed momentum, as an impressive drive resulted in a three yard touchdown by Akeel Lynch, giving the Lions a glimmer of hope, with the score now 27-10. Connor Cook was sharp as a razor down the stretch, converting crucial first downs when the Spartans needed them most.
Penn State’s final break came as Michigan State’s Michael Geiger missed a 44-yard attempt, only to see the Nittany Lions go three and out, eliminating any real chance of a comeback.
With just under five minutes remaining, Jeremy Langford poured salt in the already painful wound, scoring a touchdown to extend the Spartans’ lead to 34-10.
Surprisingly, Christian Hackenberg led in the passing department, going 21-45 for 195 yards and one interception. Connor Cook had a much more efficient passing day, completing 13 of 25 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Jeremy Langford had a phenomenal day, rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, while also extending his streak of 100 yard games to 15. Penn State’s running game was not nearly as effective, as the Nittany Lions were held to 38 yards rushing, a number that is skewed by Christian Hackenberg’s -17 yards on the ground. Akeel Lynch led the Lions with 51 yards and one touchdown, while Bill Belton was held to a mere three yards in his Beaver Stadium finale.
On the receiving end, DaeSean Hamilton capped off an impressive regular season with a six catch, 55 yard performance, leading a slew of other Nittany Lion receivers. On the Spartans’ end, two way star Tony Lippett led Michigan State with four catches for 53 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, Mike Hull had a stellar performance, notching 13 tackles, one and a half for a loss, and a pass breakup. Anthony Zettel turned in an equally impressive showing, making five tackles, three for a loss, one sack, and a highlight reel interception at the end of the first half, which earned him my game MVP honor.
It was an emotional day, and an emotional season for a team that has been through so much turmoil. Though the regular season ended on a disappointing note, there is still much to be excited for. The team is going to a bowl game, and with that comes valuable practices for James Franklin and his coaching staff. Also, despite being dealt a terrible hand in regards to sanctions and lack of scholarships, this team can proudly boast one of the nations best defenses, and accomplished more than anybody could’ve imagine given the circumstances. The future is bright, and there will be better days to come.