Penn State’s Post-Michigan State Report Card
No. 18 Penn State football dropped its second consecutive game on Saturday, falling 21-17 to No. 24 Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions didn’t trail in the game until Felton Davis III scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but fell to 4-2 on the season.
How did some of Penn State’s players perform coming off of the bye week?
Trace McSorley didn’t have a bad game per se, but he certainly wasn’t his usual self during Saturday’s Homecoming game.
McSorley finished the game 19-for-32 passing with 190 yards — his third-lowest total of the season — and a touchdown. He couldn’t get much going on the ground, rushing for just 37 yards on 13 carries against the Spartans’ elite rush defense, and lost a fumble after taking a big hit on Penn State’s first drive of the game.
That fumble was just his third turnover of the season, and he took care of the ball relatively well other than that play. McSorley couldn’t punish Michigan State’s dismal secondary much throughout the game, but this may not be entirely his fault.
Penn State’s playcalling was conservative, to say the least. McSorley’s longest completion of the game was a 25-yard dot to Pat Freiermuth, and he only took two deep shots throughout the game. The Nittany Lions seemed to be content with throwing underneath and taking a few yards instead of going for big plays.
Backs & Receivers: B-
Miles Sanders was probably Penn State’s best offensive player on Saturday, as he torched the Spartans’ previously-top ranked rush defense for 162 yards on 17 carries.
Sanders broke free for 78 yards early in the game, gaining more than double the amount of rushing yards that Michigan State allowed entering the contest (33.8). He then found the back of the end zone with a 48-yard score in the second quarter. The Spartans adjusted in the second half and limited the junior to just 17 yards on nine carries through the third and fourth quarters.
At receiver, KJ Hamler continued to do KJ Hamler things and scored a touchdown for the third consecutive game and fifth time in six games this year. He led the Nittany Lions in receiving with five catches for 66 yards. Juwan Johnson was only targeted three times, but he came up with two catches for 19 yards and, more importantly, didn’t drop any passes.
Pat Freiermuth had another solid game, catching three passes for the second straight game and totaling 32 yards. Nick Bowers also made three grabs, while Mac Hippenhammer and Brandon Polk combined on five receptions for 50 yards.
As a group, the receivers and tight ends didn’t play
Offensive Line: C+
The offensive line had an overall solid game against the Spartans’ deadly front seven, allowing only one sack.
Michigan State mustered two tackles-for-loss and got torched for a total of more than 200 rushing yards. Most of those rushing yards came in the first half, however, as the Spartan defense adjusted and put together a huge second half.
The group only took one penalty throughout the game, when right guard Connor McGovern was flagged for holding early in the second quarter. As a group, the line’s flaw was its inability to keep up its strong first half effort throughout the second half.
Michigan State’s defense was dominant in the third and fourth quarters, allowing just 159 yards and three points in the final 30 minutes of the game. The game truly was a tale of two halves, and this was especially true for the offensive line.
Front Seven: C
Penn State’s front seven struggled to consistently get pressure on Brian Lewerke in the passing game, but finished the game with three sacks and seven tackles-for-loss.
Up front, Yetur Gross-Matos had his best game of the season, finishing with 2.5 tackles for loss and split a sack with Robert Windsor. Shareef Miller posted two tackles for loss and a sack, but didn’t make a single stop outside of those two plays. Kevin Givens also made just two stops, but one of them was a solo sack in the second quarter.
Shane Simmons made two stops in his first game back from injury and played a very limited role on defense as James Franklin eases him back into the regular rotation.
Meanwhile, the linebackers couldn’t build on their best game of the season against Ohio State. Koa Farmer continued his stretch of great games by leading Penn State with six tackles as Jan Johnson and Cam Brown combined for nine stops. Micah Parsons had a bounce-back game with five total tackles after making just one stop against Ohio State.
This group’s inability to put pressure on Brian Lewerke late in the game was a big part of why he had so much room to make the passes he wanted. It could have feasted on Michigan State’s offensive line, which is much weaker than some of the others Penn State has taken on this season.
Garrett Taylor had a whale of a game at safety for the Nittany Lions. He broke up a career-high five passes, forced a fumble, and intercepted a pass for the second time in as many games. This was probably his best game as a Nittany Lion, building off his strong Ohio State performance.
Amani Oruwariye also played well; he broke up four passes and made four tackles, but got beat by an underthrown deep ball on Michigan State’s game-winning score with 19 seconds left. Passes like that are nearly impossible for corners to stop, but Oruwariye was perhaps overly critical of his effort following the conclusion of the game.
Nick Scott had a solid game as well, and backups Donovan Johnson, Lamont Wade, and Jonathan Sutherland all contributed at least three tackles. However, the group’s grade takes such a hit because it couldn’t capitalize on opportunities to ice the game.
As well as they played, both Oruwariye and Taylor dropped potential back-breaking interceptions late in the second half, and these missed catches gave Lewerke and the Spartans the opportunity to win the game.
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