Kyle Carter

Michigan State one half away from Indy

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Needing a win to clinch the Big Ten East Division and face Iowa with a likely spot in the College Football Playoff on the line next week in Indianapolis, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is giving all he can to give the Spartans a chance to celebrate a division title in East Lansing today against Penn State. So far, so good enough. Michigan State leads the Nittany Lions 20-10 at halftime.

Penn State has managed to move the ball on the Spartans and even have more offensive yards than Michigan State, but Penn State also has two turnovers that have led to 14 points for the men in green, including one defensive touchdown. Penn State did, however, manage to put together a late half touchdown drive, capped with a touchdown reception by Chris Godwin. Michigan State’s Cook has attempted just 15 pass attempts so far, and he has completed 10 of them for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Any time Penn State has presented any sense of a threat against the Spartans, disaster seems to strike. Penn State opted to kick a field goal from the Michigan State one-yard line in the second quarter. The game’s opening drive ended with Christian Hackenberg throwing deep into the end zone from the 31-yard line, only to be intercepted by Arjen Colquhoun. Late in the first quarter, Penn State once again had a promising drive working, thanks in large part to freshman running back Saquon Barkley saving Penn State on a 22-yard run on 3rd and 23 followed by a short gain on fourth down around midfield. The drive again imploded when Hackenberg completed a pass to tight end Kyle Carter, but Carter lost the football immediately and Demetrious Cox picked up the loose ball and found blockers to allow him to return the fumble 77 yards for a touchdown and a 20-3 lead.

It might as well be game, set and match for Michigan State the way this one is going, which surely is a bit deflating for Ohio State fans. After roughing up Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State needs Penn State to win this game in order to represent the Big Ten East in Indianapolis as the Big Ten East champion. A Michigan State win clinches the division for the Spartans.

Penn State TE Jesse James entering 2015 NFL Draft

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Penn State is already starting to have a few more roster spots to fill in 2015 than James Franklin may have initially expected. Tight end Jesse James, a three-year starter, has announced he will forgo his final year of eligibility at Penn State and enter the 2015 NFL Draft.

“After serious consideration and much discussion with my family, teammates and coaches, I have opted to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft,” James said in a statement released by Penn State Monday afternoon. “Competing on Sundays has always been my dream and I believe the time to pursue this dream is now. This was an extremely difficult decision to make–my time at Penn State has been amazing and unforgettable.”

“We want to thank Jesse for all he’s done at Penn State and wish him all the best in the NFL,” Franklin said. “Jesse has been a big contributor for the program on and off the field and we’re looking forward to watching him at the next level.”

James was Penn State’s third-leading receiver in 2014 with 396 yards and three touchdowns. James blossomed in his role as tight end under former head coach Bill O’Brien and he continued to be one of the more reliable targets for Christian Hackenberg in 2014, although there were some setbacks at times this season with the instability of the offensive line.

Where James goes in the draft remains unknown of course. Fortunately for Penn State the position of tight end appears to be decently stocked in spite of roster restrictions under NCAA sanctions the past couple of seasons. Penn State returns Kyle Carter, Mike Gesicki and Brent Wilkerson in 2015, and the Nittany Lions anticipate having Adam Breneman healthy in the fall.

Penn State recently announced defensive end Deion Barnes and offensive tackle Donovan Smith will also be entering the NFL Draft one year early.

Hackenberg leads Penn State to overtime win over Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl

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It’s only fitting that a bowl game in Yankee Stadium ended with a walk-off in extra innings. Christian Hackenberg engineered a fourth-quarter comeback, his third this season and the fifth of his career, to lead Penn State past Boston College 31-30 in overtime in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

In a game that saw each team’s quarterbacks trade punches down the stretch, the deciding play came down to a missed extra point. Boston College accepted the ball to open overtime and scored in three plays after Tyler Murphy found David Dudek for a 21-yard touchdown pass – his first catch of the game – but kicker Mike Knoll pushed the extra point wide right. Knowing a touchdown and an extra point wins the game and a field goal does them no good, Hackenberg threw on five of Penn State’s six overtime plays, including a key 17-yard completion to Jesse James on 3rd and 15. He hit Kyle Carter for a 10-yard score to tie the game, and Sam Ficken‘s extra point won it.

Penn State opened the scoring with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Hackenberg to Chris Godwin, but Boston College seized control over the next two quarters and change with a string of three touchdowns. The first came two plays after Penn State’s score on a 49-yard run by Jon Hillman to knot the score at 7-7. The Eagles opened the third quarter with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ate nearly half the frame and was punctuated by a pretty 19-yard pass from Murphy to Shakim Phillips. Murphy then ripped off a 40-yard touchdown dash on Boston College’s ensuing possession to push the Eagles’ lead to 21-7 with 2:12 to go in the third quarter.

Then Penn State responded. The Nittany Lions immediately raced 63 yards in six plays, and Hackenberg found Geno Lewis for a seven-yard score on the final play of the frame. Hackenberg tied the game again with his third touchdown pass of the day, a 16-yarder to DaeSean Hamilton (which came on second-and-goal after a personal foul flag).

Boston College moved 69 yards to set Knoll up for a 20-yard field goal, giving Boston College the lead again at 24-21 with 2:10 remaining. Hackenberg held serve again, rushing or passing on seven of the Nittany Lions’ eight plays in a 49-yard drive to set Ficken up with a game-tying 45-yard field goal with 20 seconds left on the clock.

Hackenberg earned MVP honors by completing 34-of-50 throws for 371 yards with four touchdowns and no picks, while Akeel Lynch carved out 75 yards on 14 carries. For the nation’s 120th-ranked rushing offense, 75 yards is an outstanding day. The three other Nittany Lions to tote the ball were credited with seven yards on 12 carries.

Murphy led the way for Boston College, hitting 11-of-19 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 11 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Hillman added 25 carries for 148 yards and a score.

Penn State lost two fumbles while gaining no takeaways of their own, committed two more penalties and got out-rushed 285-82, but managed to string more drives together (24-16 first downs edge) by being better on third down, converting 9-of-17 tries compared to BC’s 5-of-16.

The result squares both teams at 7-6 records to finish the season – though each team will spend the next nine months with opposite feelings of how they got there. With Hackenberg set to return next season and a scholarship reinforcements on the way – James Franklin said the Nittany Lions entered Saturday’s game with 41 scholarship players – Penn State can use its Bronx comeback as a springboard into 2015.

Penn State TE Breneman out indefinitely with injury

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One of the top talented players brought in by Penn State’s Class of 2013, tight end Adam Breneman, has been sidelined in fall camp with an undisclosed injury.

Penn State head coach James Franklin confirmed Monday morning through a released statement Breneman is out indefinitely, sparking some concern for a player who came to Penn State coming off an ACL injury and was a bit banged up in the spring. Franklin asked for privacy for the Breneman family and public support, which only helps to raise the caution flag on the injury status for the sophomore tight end.

Breneman was a four-star talent out of high school and one of the nation’s top tight end recruits and one of the top recruits from Pennsylvania in 2013 according to Rivals. His recruitment and commitment to Penn State fresh into the NCAA sanctions was considered key for Bill O’Brien and the coaching staff. Having Breneman on board helped to keep quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the mix as well.

Though full of potential, Penn State is fortunate to be relatively deep at tight end in 2014 compared to other positions. The Nittany Lions return Jesse James for his junior season after finishing second behind Allen Robinson in receiving last fall. Penn State also brings back Kyle Carter, another junior.

For now, there is no timetable on any potential return to action for Breneman, but it will be something worth watching moving forward in State College.

Nation’s top tight ends named to Mackey Award watch list

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A grand total of 38 tight ends from around the country have been named to the John Mackey Award watch list. This is a refreshing total to lay eyes on when most watch lists seem to include about half of the nation’s players at a certain position by default.

The John Mackey Award is presented annually to the nation’s top tight end. It is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who played his college football at Syracuse. Semifinalists for the award will be announced on November 17 and finalists will be announced on November 24. The Mackey Award will be awarded on December 10 in Baltimore.

The Mackey Award was first awarded in 2000. In the 14 years the award has existed, no school has had more than one Mackey Award winner. Last year’s Mackey Award winner was Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Florida State’s Nick O’Leary was a finalist for the award last season and is listed on the watch list this season.

Here is this year’s Mackey Award Watch List:

Rory Anderson, Sr, South Carolina
Kennard Backman, Sr, UAB
Blake Bell, Sr, Oklahoma
EJ Bibbs, Sr, Iowa State
Pharof Brown, Jr, Oregon
Kyle Carter, Jr, Penn State
Kivon Cartwright, Sr, Colorado State
Gerald Christian, Sr, Louisville
Braxton Deaver, Sr, Duke
Thomas Duarte, So, UCLA
Luke Eakes, Sr, Northern Illinois
Evan Engram, So, Ole Miss
Billy Freeman, So, San Jose State
Darion Griswold, Jr, Arkansas State
Connor Hamlett, Sr, Oregon State
Hunter Henry, So, Arkansas
Mitchell Henry, Sr, Western Kentucky
Jeff Heuerman, Sr, Ohio State
Wyatt Houston, So, Utah State
OJ Howard, So, Alabama
Jesse James, Jr, Penn State
Malcolm Johnson, Sr, Mississippi State
Ben Koyack, Sr, Notre Dame
Tyler Kroft, Jr, Rutgers
Devin Mahina, Sr, BYU
Taylor McNamara, So, Oklahoma
Jimmy Mundine, Sr, Kansas
Johnny Mundt, So, Oregon
De’Marieya Nelson, Sr, Arizona State
Nick O’Leary, Sr, Florida State
Casey Pierce, Sr, Kent State
Sean Price, Jr, USF
Jay Rome, Jr, Georgia
Tyreese Russell, Sr, Eastern Michigan
Wes Saxton, Sr, South Alabama
Randall Telfer, Sr, USC
Eric Tomlinson, Sr, UTEP
CJ Uzomah, Sr, Auburn

The Rimington Trophy watch list (best center) was also released today. On Monday the watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Bednarik Award and Hornung Award were released.