MSU: Game Breakdown

The good, the bad and the extremely ugly from Penn State's crazy loss to Michigan State in East Lansing Saturday.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — At a team meeting earlier this week, Penn State coach Joe Paterno rationalized his team's three losses to that point of the season.

He said falling at Michigan was on the officials, who he felt made several bad balls. He said falling at Illinois was on the Nittany Lions, who did not make plays they needed to make. He said falling to Ohio State at home was on him, as he underestimated the Buckeye wideouts, who hurt PSU in the game.

It will be interesting to see who he blames for loss No. 4, a disaster at Michigan State Saturday in which — for the first time in Paterno's long career — Penn State blew a 17-point lead to lose.

Up 24-7 early in the third quarter, the Lions came roaring from ahead to fall, 35-31, before a largely disinterested crowd at Spartan Stadium. They finished the regular season 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten, and — for all intents and purposes — eliminated themselves from New Year's Day bowl contention.

What follows is the good, the bad and the pathetically ugly from the debacle that was the Michigan State game.

MAN OF THE HOUR: Tailback Rodney Kinlaw carried 28 times for 125 yards and two scores. But he was bumped up late in the game and missed most of Penn State's final sustained drive that came up 24 yards short of paydirt.

CLOSE SECOND: Amazing that MSU was able to ravage the Penn State defense with two players — receiver Devin Thomas (7 catches for 139 yards and 3 TDs) and tight end Kellen Davis (4 catches for 106 yards). How did Tom Bradley's crew NOT adjust to at least slow them down?

TURNING POINT: Midway through, the fourth quarter, Penn State led 31-28 and seemed to have forced Michigan State to punt for the first time in the second half. But on fourth-and-5 from their own 25, the Spartans went with a direct snap to up man Jehuu Caulcrick, who broke a tackle (Cedric Jeffries) and then broke contain around left end for the first down. MSU used the trick play to fuel what would be its game-winning drive, as Caulcrick scored from the PSU 1-yard line with 4:08 left.

SOLID STRATEGY: The Spartans were wise to keep going to Thomas and Davis. The PSU defense — particularly the secondary — had no answer for the duo.

NUMBERS GAME: Michigan State did everything it could to hand this game to Penn State. QB Brian Hoyer threw two interceptions and the Spartans also lost a fumble. The turnovers led to 17 Lion points. MSU linebacker Eric Gordon also dropped what appeared to be a sure pick for a score.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee had 13 and 10 tackles, respectively, in the game. Safety Anthony Scirrotto also had 10 stops, and a DB making that many tackles is never a good sign.

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Kelly took a direct snap off fake field goal and scooted in for a 5-yard touchdown to give PSU a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter. It was PSU's first fake field goal for a score since holder Joe Nastasi did it against Michigan in 1995. Kelly also pooched a punt out of a field-goal formation, and it was downed at the MSU 1.

WHAT'S UP WITH?

• Penn State going back to the old two-quarterback formation, with Darryl Clark going under center and Anthony Morelli flanking out wide. This was a bad idea with Michael Robinson and Zack Mills. It is a horrible idea with Clark and Morelli, as the latter is not athletic enough to shift to wideout. On the three plays the Lions ran out of the set in the first half, the netted minus-5 yards.

• Penn State going away from the run late on its final meaningful drive. Even with deep reserve Brent Carter taking over for Kinlaw, the Lions were ripping of long runs (he averaged 7.7 yards per tote on three carries). Once PSU got to the 24-yard-line, though, Morelli threw on four straight downs, with none coming remotely close to being complete. From this angle, it sure looked like the offensive staff panicked, despite have all kinds of time left.

• The lousy tackle by the Penn State defense. The Lions did a good job on the MSU running backs. But the slippery wideout — particularly Thomas — gave them fits.

HIT SQUAD: Backup linebacker Bani Gbadyu had several good sticks when the Lions went to their short-yardage defense.

HIDDEN HERO: Another group award for the offensive line. This unit has quietly become PSU's best offensive front since the mid-1990s. Can't put this loss anywhere near the hosses.

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: MSU's offensive line played well, too, giving up only one sack. PSU's defensive ends, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines, were non-factors with three tackles (none for loss) between them.

DID YOU NOTICE?

• Penn State's kickoff return coverage team reached a new comic low in the fourth quarter. After going up 31-21 on a Kinlaw run, Kelly popped up a short kick that was fielded by FULLBACK Andrew Hawken. Hawken returned it 30 yards, to the PSU 40. Hoyer threw a 26-yard TD pass to Thomas three plays later.

• At least a third of the crowd left after Penn State took a 24-7 lead in the third quarter.

• As late-arriving crowds go, the group that showed up to watch Michigan State play host to Penn State at Spartan Stadium Saturday must rank among the all-time greats. Forty minutes before kickoff, the facility was maybe 10 percent full. It was as if the entire college football world — including this corner of it — was focused on a game elsewhere in the state.

• Paterno took a header coming off the field after the game when he tripped over a cable. He appeared to be fine, though.

UNANSWERED QUESTION: How tough will it be for the Lions to chew on this for the Thanksgiving break?

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