The News' Matt Charboneau breaks down MSU's win at Penn State The Detroit News
State College, Pa. — The trick plays and the big catches were the highlights for Michigan State on Saturday at Penn State, but it was once again its defense that was at its best.
The Spartans pulled off another upset of the Nittany Lions, 21-17, when Felton Davis caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke with 19 seconds to play during a game that included a fake punt, a fake field goal and a halfback pass.
But Michigan State holding the top-scoring offense in the Big Ten to a season-low 17 points and its second-lowest total yards this season at 397 was as impressive as anything.
“We knew it was going to be a fight coming in here,” Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie said. “You talk about throwing punches back and forth. They had that big play and we responded.”
The big play — the first punch — was a 78-run by Penn State’s Miles Sanders that set up the Nittany Lions' first touchdown. Later in the first half, Sanders scored on a 48-yard touchdown run.
But that was about it for Penn State, which had scored more than 50 points in three games this season.
“Overall, we’re very happy,” Bachie said. “We stayed in the fight the whole game and came out the end and gave the offense a chance to win.”
They did so by limiting Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley to 192 yards passing and 37 yards on the ground. Take out the two big runs by Sanders, and the Nittany Lions gained 79 yards on the ground. It was far from Michigan State’s average of less than 34 a game, but still good against a team that was averaging 261 rushing yards a game.
Michigan State players Joe Bachie, Khari Willis, Connor Heyward and Brian Lewerke talk about the stunning victory over Penn State on Saturday. The Detroit News
But it was the pass defense that was most impressive. Michigan State entered the game 122nd in the nation in pass defense and made McSorley look ordinary.
“I think the issue isn't necessarily the running with Trace today, because this team again they only gave up 33 yards per game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “The issue was that we weren't able to throw the ball against a team that people were having a lot of success throwing the ball. That was the issue.”
The numbers, though, hardly mattered to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio at the end. He knew what the Spartans defense was facing and was happy to get the win.
“I think our defense played very well,” Dantonio said. “We gave up a couple big runs. Miles hit us. We were out of a gap and he made it all in the one run, you know, making five guys miss, six guys miss. So, they've got a good football team, they've got good players, and take that to the bank. They are well-coached, and at the same time we just snuck by, which is all we needed to do.”
Michigan State was without running back LJ Scott for the fourth straight game as he did not make the trip because of an ankle injury. He went through warm-ups the previous three games, but did not travel to Happy Valley.
Junior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. was also out after playing sparingly last week with an ankle problem. He was hurt two weeks before at Indiana and missed the Central Michigan game. Freshman wide receiver Jalen Nailor missed his third straight game with an undisclosed injury while sophomore guard Kevin Jarvis (ankle) missed his third consecutive game.
During the game, sophomore wide receiver Cam Chambers injured his right thumb in the first half but returned while sophomore receiver Laress Nelson appeared to hurt his leg on the final drive of the game.
… Freshman tight end Trenton Gillison saw his first playing time of the season.