It took seven long hours but the Big Ten East altered course significantly on Saturday afternoon.
In fact, it went from Happy Valley to Columbus to East Lansing on a chaos-filled weekend that was finished off by a game-winning Matt Coghlin field goal to give No. 24 Michigan State an improbable 27-24 win over a rain-soaked crowd at Spartan Stadium.
Mark Dantonio’s team navigated a nearly three-and-a-half hour weather delay in the first half to rally in the second, pitching a fourth quarter shutout and doing just enough on offense to eek out a shocking win that puts them in the division’s driving seat. Quarterback Brian Lewerke had a career day, throwing for 400 yards on 56 (!!) attempts with two touchdowns and an interception. The normally conservative Spartans went full Air Raid in a game where conditions called for anything but, rushing for only 74 yards but improbably throwing for 12.1 per completion.
Key to the win was also a mistake by the Nittany Lions, who committed a roughing the passer penalty that helped extend the game-winning drive 15 yards. Coghlin eventually booted through the 34-yarder right down the uprights for the victory.
The effort was also a vintage performance by Dantonio’s defense. While MSU gave up 466 yards to the high-powered Penn State offense, they recorded three turnovers and three sacks while also keeping the Nittany Lions out of the end zone. Most impressively, they bottled up Heisman front-runner Saquon Barkley to just 63 yards rushing on 14 carries. That put a lot of pressure on QB Trace McSorley, who managed to throw for 381 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed a trio of bad interceptions.
The end result of all that chaos, including No. 6 Ohio State’s terrible loss on the road at Iowa a few minutes prior, means Sparty is suddenly in control of their Big Ten destiny. They can all but secure the division title with a win next week in Columbus and might be in line to make a New Year’s Six bowl if they keep winning at the very least. Given where the program was last year and over the offseason, Saturday’s result at home to upset a top 10 team was quite the sign of progress in East Lansing.