Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Penn State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State safety David Dowell intercepts a pass intended for Penn State wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins during the second half.

Here are five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State’s 27-24 victory over Penn State on Saturday.

Lewerke keeps rolling

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke set a school single-game record in last week’s game against Northwestern with 445 yards passing in a losing effort. On Saturday the sophomore matched the number for the second-most yards in MSU history with 400 in the victory over Penn State. Lewerke was 33-for-56 and had a pair of touchdowns as the passing game continues to be the Spartans’ most effective method of moving the ball. The weather didn’t bother Lewerke as the rain fell throughout the game but the Spartans moved the ball easily through the air. It’s taken some time and Lewerke has had his share of growing pains in his first full season as a starter, but it’s becoming clear that the Spartans’ offense has a new leader under center and he’s one that could carry this team back to the top of the Big Ten.

Wealth of receivers

While Lewerke has been busy putting up big numbers the last two weeks, he can’t do it without having weapons on the receiving end of his passes. After record-setting numbers last week from freshman Cody White and sophomore Darrell Stewart, it was junior Felton Davis’ turn to establish new marks in the win over Penn State. He had 12 catches for 181 yards, both career highs, while catching a 33-yard touchdown. And he wasn’t the only one making plays in the receiving corps. Stewart had five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown while White had five for 51, including a one-handed grab to keep a drive alive. Freshman Hunter Rison also had two big catches in the third quarter that kept a drive alive that ended in a touchdown. With Lewerke and a stable of budding stars at receiver, the MSU passing attack is just getting started.

Taking it away

The defense gave up its share of yards and big plays against Penn State as the Nittany Lions had 466 yards of total offense and scored their final touchdown on a 70-yard pass. But Michigan State forced three Trace McSorley interceptions, two by David Dowell, who now has four interceptions this season. The Spartans were plus-2 in the turnover battle, which proved to be vital to earning the victory. And while it gave up chunks in the passing game, the defense continued to stuff the run, holding Penn State to 65 yards on the ground while limiting Saquon Barkley to 63 yards on 14 carries and just 33 yards on three catches. The Spartans only allowed the Nittany Lions to convert 4-of-12 third-down conversions and got a fourth-down stop to set up the winning drive.

More: Detroit News Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 11

Special teams bonus

The Spartans have had their issues in various areas of special teams this season, but in the win over Penn State that unit was as solid as any for the Spartans. It held Barkley to just 15 yards on two kickoff returns with three touchbacks and punter Jake Hartbarger downed two kicks inside the 20. But the star of the game was redshirt freshman kicker Matt Coghlin. He entered the game 7-for-11 this season on field goals and was coming off a game where he missed twice in a triple-overtime loss. But his 32-yard field goal tied the game early in the fourth quarter and his 34-yarder as time expired won the game. If it’s a sign of things to come, the Spartans know, at the least, they have a kicker who is confident he can get it done.

November contenders

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has talked over and over to his team about all of its goals still being attainable as the season’s final month is underway. It’s not exactly where most thought Michigan State would be before the season, but with three games to play, the Spartans continue to control their fate in the Big Ten East with a trip to Ohio State coming next week. It’s familiar territory for Michigan State, which has played in three Big Ten title games, and a win next week would put the Spartans in good position to play in a fourth. The odds will be long against the Buckeyes, who also control their fate, as well. But considering Michigan State’s track record in the month of November, it’s hard to count them out when a championship is on the line.