It was a bend-but-don’t-break attitude for the Penn State defense in the first half Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
In the second half, it was more like don’t give an inch.
While there were spectacular touchdown drives for the offense after halftime, a big debt of gratitude was owed to the defense for keeping Michigan State out of the end zone in the first half of the 45-12 Nittany Lion win.
The Spartans drove to the red zone in each of their four first-half possessions, but were denied and left with field goals every time.
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“If we could change those seven points to three points, it would be a different game,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “Instead of 28-10, it’s 12-10 at the half. That’s big time.”
The Spartan offense had rolled up 256 yards, and one time even got as close as the Penn State 3 yard-line, but never punched the ball into the end zone.
At that point, according to linebacker Jason Cabinda, it was not about the scheme or play-calling.
“The majority of it really doesn’t come down to X’s and O’s,” he said. “It comes down to mentality. It’s playing harder than the guy across from you and wanting it more.”
After halftime, it was a different story.
While the Penn State offense erupted, Michigan State managed just 32 yards in the third quarter and 87 yards in the whole second half.
It did not help the Spartans that running back LJ Scott was out for a while with an injury, though he did return later. He had 43 yards rushing in the first quarter and finished with 59. Michigan State also lost quarterback Damion Terry in the second quarter and he did not return.
But it was yet another major win for the defense.
“I think it was challenging regardless of who was in there,” Cabinda said. “We were able to really control the line of scrimmage in the second half and that was the biggest difference.”
Saquon Barkley turned some heads upside down with his first-half, goal-line touchdown leap, but the sophomore star running back also made more than a few people hold their breath later in the evening.
Barkley limped off the field and was tended to by trainers after a three-yard carry in the third quarter. Trainers were looking at Barkley’s right foot, and he was later ruled out of the game, per ESPN’s broadcast.
So, will Barkley, who was held to 14 rushing yards on 12 carries, be available for Penn State’s Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin next weekend?
“I’m not going to say anything about Saquon,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said when asked for an update. “He’ll have a great week and prepare this week, based on what I know.”
Too much celebrating
The elation may have gotten away from the Nittany Lion sidelines at times, including with Franklin after his team scores a touchdown.
“I literally beat the living hell out of (offensive coordinator) Joe Morehead as much as I possibly can,” Franklin said. “Then (defensive coordinator Brent) Pry took a shot at him and it probably wasn’t a good idea because it broke his headset.”
Then, quarterback Trace McSorely delivered a shot to Franklin’s ribs, and that may have been the breaking point.
“It didn’t feel so good,” the coach said. “I’ve moved on to handshakes now.”
For the record
Mike Gesicki added his name to another spot in the Penn State record book.
One week after setting Penn State’s single-season record for catches by a tight end in a season, Gesicki set the single-season record for receiving yards at his position. He now has 610 receiving yards, passing Mickey Shuler’s mark of 600 in 1977.
“That’s obviously a huge honor and all that kind of stuff,” Gesicki said. “But I just want to thank my teammates, my coaches, everybody that was kind of there for me and gave me the opportunity to be successful this season.”
Gesicki had two catches for 64 yards Saturday.
“My name’s obviously going to go down on the record, but everybody else’s name deserves to be there too because without them, it’s not happening,” Gesicki said.
Kuntz staying close to home
Penn State received a bit of good news before Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
Camp Hill tight end Zack Kuntz verbally committed to the Nittany Lions via Twitter as Penn State picked up its fifth recruit in the class of 2018.
Kuntz, on an unofficial visit this weekend, is a four-star prospect. He’s the No. 1-ranked tight end in the country and No. 50 recruit overall according to 247 Sports.