Beating Michigan State was the most satisfying road win of all the away games this season. Especially the way we did it. We didn’t just squeak by and steal a win on the road. We beat them resoundingly. In a very solid second half performance. I wasn’t even bothered by the slow first half start because of the way the game was played.
The first half was primarily a defensive battle and a game of field position. It was played in the trenches, with the defense of each team stopping and containing each offense. We had expected a tight game, so a score of 7-7 at the half was not too bothersome.
About the only play that bothered us was Collin Wagner’s missed 38-yard field goal with 5:54 remaining. We were concerned that special teams might turn out to be the difference in this game. But our defense held Michigan State to a 3-and-out, and on our next possession we scored a touchdown, with 2:10 left in the half. Michigan State’s two-minute drill worked perfectly – an 8 play, 87-yard drive that resulted in their first touchdown. That drive reminded us that Michigan State has a potent offense. But it also confirmed to us the excellent job our defense had done of containing Michigan State’s offense to 7 points during the first half.
So as the team went into the half-time period with a tie score, we felt relatively okay, although certainly not comfortable. Penn State had made no major mistakes. It was simply a hard-fought game on both sides. This game was going to go to the team that made the best second-half adjustments, and we were hopeful that Penn State would succeed in that regard.
We were also in a very good mood. How could we not be? We were sitting in the nosebleed section of the stands – 7 long steep ramps to get up there – in light fleece jackets on November 21 in East Lansing. Our winter jackets were under our seats, and we would need them once the sun set, but it had been a delightfully mild and sunny day. There was no wind-chill to lower the 55-degree temperature. It was a perfect fall football day, and the Michigan State tailgating atmosphere was at its absolute best. It was certainly the best weather we had ever experienced at Michigan State. And the Michigan State fans were downright friendly toward us. We even crashed one of their tailgates when we observed the “Big Uglies” there doing the same. We were positively welcomed, and the good sportsmanship of Michigan State fans at that tailgate and elsewhere was truly appreciated.
The third quarter, of course, defined this football game. With Penn State scoring 28 points, the game turned into a rout. Clark’s trick pass play to Curtis Drake who then completed a touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless was a pleasure to watch! Two of the touchdowns were a result of interceptions by Nick Sukay and Sean Lee, leaving Penn State with a short field in both cases. Both the offense and the defense poured it on. Darryl Clark was perfect in passing during the second half. The rushing game also helped open up the passing. Evan Royster achieved yet another 100+ yards rushing (114 total). Overall Penn State rushed for 188 yards. Darryl Clark completed 19 of 27 attempts for 324 yards. We also had a chance to see the future. Kevin Newsome received some playing time, showing his exceptional running ability on the last touchdown drive.
Special teams turned out to not be a factor in the game. Except for this: the special teams did what they had to do. Due to the excellent directional punting of Jeremy Boone and a couple of Collin Wagner kicks that resulted in touchbacks, Michigan State’s dangerous punt and kick returner Keshawn Martin was neutralized. Martin’s longest kick return was 25 yards, on the opening kick of the game. His longest punt return was 1 yard! Michigan State’s longest kick return was 34 yards, by A.J. Zimmerman. Penn State’s speedy Stephon Green returned two kickoffs by Michigan State: one for 26 yards, and the other for 37 yards. So that was a tremendous improvement.
The travel this year has been always satisfying in the end. Why? We won every game on the road. When was the last time we did that? 1994! The last time we had an undefeated season. And because of those road wins, we’re 6-2 in the Big Ten, and 10-2 overall.
Many kudos to the Penn State road warriors who made this happen! It’s tough to win on the road in a Big Ten venue, and you did it in grand style each time. You came home bearing your shields. It’s so much better than coming home on your shields. Made all those layovers at Detroit airport worthwhile!
Congratulations on a great 10-2 season!