University Park, Pa. — These are the kinds of moves that when they work, a coach looks like a genius; and when they don't, well, he's going to have some explaining to do.
On the third offensive possession of the game, with the ball on the Michigan State 2, coach Mark Dantonio decided to give redshirt freshman quarterback Damion Terry a series.
"That was scripted," Dantonio said, after a 34-10 win Saturday over Penn State. "I wanted him to play; I wanted our guys from Pennsylvania to play and have that opportunity to play here."
Terry and sophomore running back Delton Williams, who was also inserted into the game at that time, are both from Erie, Pa. Dantonio has recruited extremely well in the state of Pennsylvania and he wanted to reward the two young players, as well as showcase them to other prospective area recruits.
But the game was still on the line. It was 13-3 at the start of the second quarter. The first-team offense had moved the ball well in their two previous possessions, getting a pair of field goals. Dantonio admits, with the ball backed up to his own goal line, he had second thoughts about sending out the freshman.
"Yeah, as we put him out there I thought, 'Kind of a tough situation to put him in there,'" he said. "But I asked everybody, 'Are we all right? Are we going to do this?' And they said, 'Yeah, let's do it.'"
The offense went three plays and out, with Terry's only pass attempt missing the mark. Making the matter worse, the stop seemed to energize the Nittany Lions defense.
When starting quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford returned, they couldn't find any rhythm for the rest of the first half. The game could have been a lot different were it not for some stingy play by the Spartans defense.
"We were relentless on defense," Dantonio said.
Near the end of the half, Cook was hit by defensive end C.J. Olaniyan as he tried to throw, and the pass was picked off by defensive tackle Anthony Zettel.
The Lions had it at the Spartans 36. But on second down from the 23, Christian Hackenberg's pass was deflected and picked off in the end zone by Trae Waynes.
The half ended with MSU leading 13-3. The Spartans managed just 122 total yards, their lowest first-half output of the season. Still, Dantonio had no regrets.
"It just gives you an indication that we have confidence in all our quarterbacks," he said. "I thought it was important for him to play in that environment. I wanted to give him that opportunity."