The conditions were sloppy and slippery — but Michigan State handled it better than Penn State.
The No. 7 Nittany Lions lost to No. 24 Michigan State 27-24 on Saturday evening at Spartan Stadium. Matt Coghlin hit a 34-yard field goal as time expired, following a roughing-the-passer penalty on safety Marcus Allen, to give the Spartans the victory.
Heading into the game, Penn State needed help to get back in the Big Ten East title picture. Iowa did its part, throttling No. 6 Ohio State at home. Ultimately, though, the Nittany Lions had to help themselves and win on the road — and they couldn’t do it.
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Brian Lewerke: Michigan State’s quarterback lit up the Nittany Lions’ secondary and made it look way too easy.
Way, way too easy.
Lewerke finished with 400 passing yards and two touchdowns, completing 33 of 56 passes. The redshirt sophomore signal-caller didn’t have an impact with his legs — at least on the stat sheet. He kept plays alive when he needed but, for the most part, aired it out with Penn State’s defensive backs from the pocket.
His touchdown passes — a well-placed seven-yard fade to Darrell Stewart, a 33-yarder to Felton Davis — were dimes. But it was Lewerke’s work on third down that guided Michigan State to a win.
On Sparty’s first drive, he converted on third-and-11 and third-and-19, and he wasn’t finished. In the second quarter, Lewerke hooked up with Stewart for 25 yards on a third-and-10. In the third, he fired a 36-yard first-down laser to Davis on third-and-18.
Lewerke is a promising quarterback — and he terrorized Penn State’s defense.
Roughing: Penn State stopped Michigan State on third-and-4 on the Spartans’ 37-yard line with a minute left in regulation — but Marcus Allen extended the eventual game-winning drive.
The hard-hitting safety blitzed and drove into Lewerke a little too late. A yellow flag was thrown for roughing the passer, giving Michigan State 15 free yards and a first down. The Spartans were set up beautifully on Penn State’s 22-yard line.
At that point, Penn State had only two timeouts. All Michigan State had to do was run the clock down and kick a field goal — which it did.
Spartans placekicker Matt Coghlin lined up for a 43-yard field goal with four seconds left, and he drilled it. Game over.
Felton Davis: Whether or not the Spartans won, this guy deserved recognition.
Davis, Michigan State’s go-to junior target, was Lewerke’s man on Saturday with 12 catches for 181 receiving yards and a touchdown. That’s a 15.1 yards-per-catch average.
Davis had a nice outing against Iowa earlier in the year with nine catches, but Saturday was something else.
Barkley toss: With the 203-minute weather delay and all, it’d be easy to forget about Barkley’s second completion of the 2017 season. His first one — a 16-yard, fourth-quarter scoring throw to Hamilton on Sept. 30 against Indiana — resulted in six points.
But one could argue, because of what it opens up in the future, that Barkley’s 20-yard toss to Mike Gesicki was the better highlight.
We all saw Penn State’s direct-snap, zone-read wrinkle a few weeks ago against Michigan. Barkley scored on the opening drive after shifting over to handle the snap and housing it 69 yards.
In East Lansing, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead rolled out an extension of the wrinkle — the option for Barkley to throw it.
The actual pass was a bit wobbly, but it found Gesicki over the middle for a first down. The Nittany Lions had a little momentum, and two plays later, they scored the game’s first touchdown.
Reporters saw this play practiced on Wednesday at Holuba Hall, and it seemed like an intriguing trick.
Some might think that’s the extent of what this direct snap package can do. But don’t be so sure of that. Barkley’s completion could open up more extensions in the future — different pass play, a pass fake. At the very least, now that defensive coordinators know Barkley can throw, it’ll give pause to linebackers when defending the direct snap.
Plus, it’s always cool to see a non-quarterback throw a pass and complete it, no less.
Returning home: Penn State played its final game against a ranked opponent on Saturday. Now, it’s time for Rutgers.
Penn State hosts the Scarlet Knights on Homecoming weekend, and it could be ugly. Rutgers lost to Ohio State and Michigan by a combined score of 70-14 this season.
This matchup — a noon kick — is the penultimate home game of the season. Penn State hosts Nebraska the following week before going to Maryland for the season finale.