Penn State’s Strong Second-Half Defense Key In Win Over Michigan State

Penn State football played a dominant second half of football that propelled it to a 39-24 win over Michigan State Saturday afternoon.

It was an all-around half of football for the Nittany Lions, but the biggest impact may have come on the defensive side of the ball.

Penn State’s defense was, simply put, torched in the first half by Payton Thorne and the Spartans’ offense. Michigan State totaled 242 yards, 21 points, and broke off four plays of 20 or more yards in the first 30 minutes of action.

Thorne, who made his first career start Saturday, completed 85% of his passes and tossed three touchdowns in the first half, two of them coming on big chunk plays. Head coach James Franklin explained that much of the defensive struggles in the first half were due to plays on early downs.

“The problem in the first half defensively, they were just getting way too many yards on first and second down,” Franklin said. “They were always ahead of the sticks early in the game.”

In the second half, Penn State held the Spartans to 147 total yards, three points, and allowed them to convert just one third down on eight tries. Additionally, Michigan State mustered just 3.7 yards per play in what was a nightmare of a half for the Spartans.

Franklin said the difference in the second half came down to some minor adjustments, however, they were adjustments that made a big difference.

“We were able to get them calmed down and made some subtle adjustments and just play better defensive football,” Franklin said. “Gap sound, gap accountable, which was big.”

Safety Jaquan Brisker played one of the better games of his Penn State career Saturday afternoon. He totaled nine tackles, 1.5 for a loss, two quarterback hits, and one interception in the stellar performance.

Brisker put 100% of the blame on the secondary for the first half breakdowns, saying that they were doing “things we don’t do,” such as allowing receivers to get behind them. However, he thinks the group did a better job in the second half and corrected those mistakes.

“We had to fix [the mistakes], play as a team, create that energy, and that’s what we did,” Brisker said.

A pivotal point in the second half was late in the third quarter when Michigan State had the ball deep in Penn State’s territory. With the Spartans leading 21-18 at the time, Brent Pry’s defense came up with a huge stop to hold Michigan State to only three points.

Following that sequence, Penn State scored 21 unanswered points and won the game, which may not have happened if the Spartans were able to punch the ball into the end zone there.

“I think that was a huge, that was a huge drive right there,” Franklin said. “Holding them to a field goal, I think they were first and goal, and holding them to a field goal and then the offense being able to do some things. I think the game could have been different if they score right there.”

Senior defensive end Shaka Toney totaled five tackles, one for a loss, in possibly his final game at Beaver Stadium. Toney spoke about that crucial drive Franklin referred to.

“Keeping people from scoring is always big,” Toney said “You can bend, but you cannot break.”

Toney continued, saying that holding offenses to field goals presents a mental challenge for the opposition. It makes the offense question what they’re doing and why they can’t punch the ball into the end zone.

Senior safety Lamont Wade, like Toney, made sure to mention the bend but don’t break mentality that the defense had when holding the Spartans to that field goal.

One of the catalysts on the defensive side of the ball came from an unlikely source. Senior defensive end Shane Simmons got the start today in place of Jayson Oweh, who was out with an injury. Simmons totaled seven tackles, two for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and one pass breakup in his first start of the season.

Toney, who arrived in Happy Valley with Simmons back in 2016, praised his teammate after the game.

“Shane has been working hard all year, so nothing new,” Toney said. “He’s a hard worker his whole life. That’s my brother.”

“He didn’t get the starting job and he didn’t sulk,” Toney added. “He didn’t complain. He just kept coming into practice every day, mentoring young guys, and just made sure he contributed and maximized his role.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

After a four-year career with Onward State, Gabe is now a college graduate and off to the real world. He shockingly served as the blog’s managing editor during the 2022-23 school year and covered football for much of his Onward State tenure, including trips to the Outback Bowl and Rose Bowl. For any professional inquiries, please email Gabe at [email protected]. You can still see his bad sports takes on Twitter at @gabeangieri.

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