Takeaways from MSU's win: O-line stands tall
What went right
Michigan State's offensive line followed last week's dominating performance at Ohio State with another beauty in the victory over Penn State. Michigan State didn't run the ball quite as well, gaining 188 yards, but it was outstanding in pass protection against a Penn State team that came into the game leading the nation with 44 sacks.
It was vital they protected quarterback Connor Cook, considering it was his first game back after missing the Ohio State game with a shoulder injury. He was hardly touched and proved his shoulder is in good shape, completing 19 of 26 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns. He made all the necessary throws — putting touch on some, while zipping others into tight coverage — and is feeling confident heading into the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa.
The Spartans also continue to build momentum defensively. They gave up their share of yards to the Nittany Lions, allowing 418, but they stiffened in the second half and, more importantly, forced four turnovers. One, an interception by defensive tackle Malik McDowell, was returned for a touchdown while safety Demetrious Cox returned a fumble 77 yards for a score. Arjen Colquhoun's interception came in the end zone, ending a scoring threat for Penn State, while the final fumble recovery led to a touchdown on the next play.
What went wrong
Not much to put in this category for the second straight week. Offensively, the numbers for the Spartans were fairly impressive and it was hard to find something they didn't do well. There were four penalties, but none were especially critical. The defense wasn't as sound tackling in space this week and Penn State rolled up 269 yards of total offense in the first half as Christian Hackenberg threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns while running back Saquon Barkley gained 103 yards with a long run of 22 yards.
It's nit-picking, but after consistently getting touchbacks last week, Kevin Cronin struggled on kickoffs, the first of the game going out of bounds and just four of nine resulting in touchbacks.
The biggest development offensively is the fact Cook eliminated any worry about his condition moving forward. He hasn't taken a big hit, but the offense will not be limited as he proved his shoulder is healthy. The defense continues to be solid as McDowell is dominating the interior of the defensive line while the secondary, the object of much concern early in the season, has quietly become a solid unit behind the improved play of safety Montae Nicholson and cornerback Darian Hicks.
Most telling quotes
Mark Dantonio: "We're playing our best football down the stretch. If you compare us with last year's Big Ten champion (Ohio State), that's what they were able to do. We were in control of the situation. Even though we had lost to Nebraska, we knew we still were in control and we knew we had to win it. If we were going to win it, it wasn't going to be given to us. We had to play this football game and take it as opposed to playing cautious and standing back and saying, 'I just hope we don't lose.' We had to play this game to win, and I think that's the mentality our guys went out with."
Cook: "Resting (the shoulder) for the entire week against Ohio State there was no zip. I had no strength and there was some pain when I threw. So if I went out there, I would've been useless in the pass game. When I first hurt it they said it was a two- to three-week deal, I came back in two weeks, and it felt good out there today. A whole another week of treatment and a little bit of rest should be great."
MSU tight end Josiah Price: "It feels amazing. It's an amazing feeling to win championships. This is what we work for year round. We got step one done, but the job's not finished. We can't get too happy. We just won in the East, but we've got bigger goals ahead of us."
MSU safety Demetrious Cox: "From earlier in the season until now it's crazy to see how far (Nicholson has) come, mentally. He has taken his game to another level. A lot of guys have been doing that. Darian Hicks has been playing really well."
MSU wide receiver R.J. Shelton: "Right now we are actually playing our best football. You have to play your best ball in November and leading into December and then on after that. We are just playing with a chip on our shoulder like we always do and playing Spartan football."
Michigan State will take on Iowa as it makes its third trip to the Big Ten Championship game in five seasons, splitting its first two appearances with a loss to Wisconsin in 2011 and a victory over Ohio State in 2013. The winner between the Spartans and Hawkeyes likely earns a spot in the College Football Playoff, making this matchup even bigger. The teams did not meet during the regular season, so there could be plenty of surprises Saturday in Indianapolis.