PSU vs. MSU: FOS Game Breakdown

The good, the bad and the ugly from Penn State’s regular-season-ending loss to the Spartans at Beaver Stadium.

To have a chance to upset No. 11 Michigan State at Beaver Stadium Saturday, Penn State needed a strong effort from its defense, no huge special teams mistakes and a turnover-free game from its struggling offense.

The Nittany Lions got the first, as the defense allowed one touchdown drive of longer than 20 yards. But the special teams were a disaster, while the offense failed again and again to capitalize on great field position before the inevitable turnover allowed MSU to effectively ice the game midway through the third quarter.

The final was 34-10, making it the most lopsided loss of the year for bowl-eligible Penn State (6-6, 2-6). The Spartans improved to 10-2 and 7-1.

“The game really comes down to, we had the opportunity to make some plays and weren't able to do that, and had some critical mistakes,” PSU coach James Franklin said.

Here how things looked from our angle.


Michigan native and DT Anthony Zettel (shown above) came through with an impressive performance against his home-state team. Three of his five tackles were behind the line, and that included a sack. He also had another interception. He's got to be in the running for first-team All-Conference honors. More on his turnover later.


LB Mike Hull, forced to play outside for the first time all season due to injuries to other 'backers, had a game-high 13 tackles, 1.5 stops behind the line and a broken up pass. He must be an All-Big Ten lock, right?


WR DaeSean Hamilton shook loose for six catches for 55 yards and did some nice work running after the catch.


Zettel's third pick of the season gave the Lions great field position (the MSU 36) late in the first half. Trailing 13-3, PSU had a chance to take momentum into the locker room with possession to start the second half. Instead, QB Christian Hackenberg eventually threw a deep pass for WR Chris Godwin that was intercepted by DB Trae Waynes in the end zone. Godwin had a chance to make the catch (or at least prevent the INT). All momentum was lost for the Lions. And this pick definitely was not on the QB.


Cook threw only 12 passes in the second half, when MSU was comfortably ahead. He completed nine of them. By taking the air out of the ball, the Spartans were able to run clock and ended up with a 34:55-25:05 advantage in time of possession.


Penn State held MSU's high-powered offense to 215 yards on 48 plays through three quarters. Yet the Lions still trailed 27-10. They had only 206 yards on 51 plays to that point.


LB Nyeem Wartman continued to play well, with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and several big hits. More on this later.


P Danny Pasquariello put three of his five punts inside the 20. That included a career-long 63 yarder.


• Penn State's weekly special teams woes continuing. K Sam Ficken hit the opening kickoff fat, allowing R.J. Shelton to field it at the 10 long before any coverage got close. Shelton took it to the house. It was even more troubling that Ficken was the only Lion with a shot of tackling him (and missed).

• Ficken, who has been terrific most of the season, not even getting close on a 51-yard field-goal try in the first quarter. Hindsight is 20/20, but given the cold weather and the fact that he flubbed the opening kick, a punt would have been a better decision there.

• The Penn State defense not wrapping up well, especially early in the game. That played a big part in MSU TB Jeremy Langford rushing for 118 yards and two TDs on 30 carries.

• PSU relying so heavily on the wideout screen. Everyone in the house sees it coming, and one of them nearly led to a Spartan pick six.

• The Lions punting on fourth-and-3 from their own 34 while trailing 27-10 with nine minutes to go in the game but then going for it on fourth-and-20 from their own 20 four minutes later.


Cook was scrambling for yards in the first quarter and apparently did not see Wartman closing from the left. Wartman flattened the QB near the sideline.


The Beaver Stadium grounds crew did a terrific job keeping the field playable after the mid-week snow storm that rendered the grass parking lots outside the stadium unusable.


• TE Kyle Carter had another early drop. But he redeemed himself by making three catches for 28 yards, including a leaping snag of a 16-yarder.

• DE C.J. Olaniyan, another Michigan native, had a hit on Cook that led to Zettel's interception.


• LBs Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda were both out with unspecified injuries.

• That led to Gary Wooten starting at MLB, Hull moving to the weak side and Wartman handling the field side. Wooten had only three tackles in his first career start. In fairness, though, he was replaced by an extra DB whenever PSU went to its Star package.

• CB Jordan Lucas wore No. 23 and RB Bill Belton wore No. 28 in honor of injured senior teammates Ryan Keiser and Zach Zwinak, respectively.

• WR Matt Zanellato was out again with an unspecified injury.


Can this offense hit the reset button during its 15 bowl practices?


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