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Penn State Headed To Big Ten Title Game Following 45-12 Win Over Michigan State

by on November 26, 2016 10:00 PM

Penn State used a 35-point second half to blow past Michigan State on Saturday night as the Nittany Lions finished the regular season at 10-2, winning a share of the Big Ten East Division Title and a berth to the Big Ten Championship game.

The Nittany Lions hardly had it in the bag early though as Michigan State dominated the run of play in the first quarter. Spartans' running back LJ Scott rushed for 37-yards while Damion Terry managed 63-yards through the air. Conversely, Penn State's opening two drives yielded negative eight yards and a bend-but-don't-break defense was seemingly all that stood between an eventual 6-0 second quarter deficit and a much larger hole.

All told Michigan State would score on its first four drives of the game, all field goals, and all from 36-yards or closer. As the clock continued to wind down on the half it became increasingly clear that Penn State was fortunate to only be down 9-3 as the Spartans drove the ball at will and as the Nittany Lions' often explosive offense still looked for the fuse.

Fortunately for Penn State, it didn't take too long to find it as Trace McSorley connected on a pair of 16-yard passes midway through the second quarter and 25-yard reception by DeAndre Thompkins to spark that same drive. Saquon Barkley finished the job cashing in from a yard out, putting Penn State ahead 10-9 deep into the second frame. It was a methodical 10-play, 78-yard drive that chewed up 4:57 off the clock and gave the 9-2 Nittany Lions all the momentum.

True to form, Michigan State responded with its own methodical campaign going 72-yards in 14-plays before a 21-yard field goal gave the visitors a 12-10 halftime lead.

That was the last time Michigan State really had a chance.

"We have done a great job making adjustments at halftime," James Franklin said after the game. "We have got to make adjustments a little bit earlier. I think part of it has to do with having a young team. I think the number of lineman we traveled was 13 to the hotel. Of those 13 lineman, I think nine of them were freshmen."

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Whatever the reason might be, the halftime changes worked and Penn State came out firing, Michigan State's first drive went backwards for nine yards, only adding to the energy in the stands.

And five plays later Trace McSorley found Chris Godwin down the left sideline for a 34-yard score to push Penn State out to a 17-12 lead. With Beaver Stadium rocking, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Nittany Lions' potent offense struck again.

In fact it only took 10 plays. Michigan State going five-and-out on its ensuing drive, and McSorley completing a 45-yard pass to Mike Gesicki to put Penn State out ahead 24-12. A five-play, 69-yard strike that took just 1:51 off the clock and displayed all of the assets that have made the Nittany Lions a threat at any moment to score.

To its credit, Michigan State mounted a response, marching down the field and threatening to pull closer, but a fumbled snap by quarterback Tyler O'Conner -in for the injured Terry- was scooped up by Penn State's Troy Apke.

Two plays later it was 31-12, a 59-yard reception by Godwin that left little doubt that Penn State would be playing in Indiana for the third time this season. A 21-point third quarter a dominant display of football and a statement that in fact Penn State might just be as good as its No. 7 ranking. By the time the quarter ended McSorley had thrown for 268 yards while completing 13-of-15 passes.

"Trace has got a really good feel in the pocket stepping up, knowing when he needs to run and knowing when he has a little bit more time to keep his eyes down the field to make big plays," Franklin said. "It’s been fun to watch those guys make plays and it’s been fun to watch Trace grow up in front of our eyes."

The fourth quarter, it was a celebration. Penn State would add a 14-yard run by Andre Robinson early in the frame to make it 38-12, Robinson in for Saquon Barkley who suffered what appeared to be an ankle sprain. Robinson would strike again with 3:40 to go from 40-yards out. McSorley finished the night 17-of-23 for 376 yards and four scores.

On the defensive side of the ball it was Brandon Bell leading a unit that held Michigan State to just 87 yards of offense in the second half. Bell racking up 18 tackles on the night while Michigan State converted 9-of-20 on third down and just three in the final two quarters of play.

"They were big,' Franklin said of the defense. "We didn’t play the way we wanted to play in the first half and got behind the sticks. They had too much success on first and second downs, especially at the beginning of drives but we never really got ahead of the sticks the whole first half. But what we did was we did a great job in the red zone and held them to field goals and showed we have the opportunity to be explosive on offense. They kept us in the game but then in the second half, getting a start where we were able to get some negative yardage plays and sacks to get them off schedule kind of went from there."

And so, Penn State turns its focus to a meeting with Wisconsin next Saturday in Indianapolis. 60 minutes to decide a Big Ten champion and for the Nittany Lions, an outside shot at the College Football playoffs.

Who would have ever imagined this.

"The regular season is over and we have an opportunity to keep this family together for a few more weeks and see where it takes us," Franklin said. "We’ll enjoy this win for about an hour and then we’ll get started on Wisconsin."



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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