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Déjà vu all over again for No. 8 Penn State as Michigan State stuns Nittany Lions with late score

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Michigan State did it again. For the second year in a row, the Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) stunned No. 8 Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) with a fourth-quarter rally and late go-ahead score to hand the Nittany Lions a bitter loss in the first game Penn State played after losing to Ohio State by one point.

Brian Lewerke underthrew a pass to Felton Davis on a third-and-two, but Davis was ready for it, broke a tackle and then broke the hearts of Penn State fans gathering in Beaver Stadium for homecoming. Davis’ touchdown grab came with 19 seconds to play, giving Michigan State a stunning 21-17 lead on the Nittany Lions. All that was left was for the Michigan State special teams unit to prevent KJ Hamler from a big kickoff return (they did) and for the defense to hold on for the final 13 seconds of the game. They did.

Penn State didn’t play their best game of the year, and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio going into his bag of tricks caught the Nittany Lions off guard a few times. But a fourth-quarter decision to attempt a fake field goal came up empty for the Spartans and their hopes of celebrating a big win in Big Ten East play. Brian Lewerke‘s pass over the middle to Raequan Williams appeared to be there for the taking, but the pass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.

Earlier in the game, Michigan State had successfully executed a fake punt and followed it up with a running back pass to lead to a touchdown. A few trick plays were needed to light a spark for the Spartans, who were a bit short-handed on offense. Penn State’s offense was not much better. The Nittany Lions struggled on third-down conversions and had a missed field goal and Penn State was flagged for six penalties for 41 yards. Outside of a couple of big runs by Miles Sanders, the Spartans defense fared well enough to keep the pressure on Penn State all afternoon.

Trace McSorley and Lewerke each had a rough game in terms of completing passes. McSorley, in particular, did not look like himself after a career game against the Buckeyes, from the ball slipping out of his hand on a pass to making an odd decision to run out of bounds late in the fourth quarter to stop the clock without forcing Michigan State to use a timeout. That inability for Penn State to kill off more than 11 seconds on their last offensive possession with the lead proved to be critical, as was a missed field goal earlier.  Michigan State’s game-winning drive started at their 24-yard line with 1:10 to play, and the Spartans scored with fewer than 20 seconds remaining.

The win helps keep Michigan State in the discussion for the Big Ten championship with games still to play against Michigan (next week) and Ohio State down the line. The loss knocks Penn State out of the running for the Big Ten East once again, and the fight just to get back to a New Years Six bowl game may have taken a tough blow as well, although that could still be a possibility if Penn State can turn things around.

Penn State will take to the road for the second time in Big Ten play next week when they visit Indiana. Michigan State will return home next week for a big game against in-state rival Michigan.

Big runs by Miles Sanders help give Penn State halftime lead on Michigan State

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With Saquon Barkley on the sidelines as Penn State celebrates homecoming, Miles Sanders has been showing he is not a bad running back either. Sanders has rushed for 145 yards and one remarkable touchdown to help Penn State take a 14-7 lead on Michigan State into halftime in Happy Valley.

Sanders ripped off a 78-yard run in the first quarter to setup a five-yard touchdown run by KJ Hamler to put Penn State in front in the first quarter. The one run alone nearly doubled the total rushing yards by Sanders two weeks ago against Ohio State, which he actually did later in the second quarter.

Michigan State tied the game early in the second quarter after lighting a spark with some trick plays that caught Penn State off guard. A fake punt run by Connor Heyward for a 36-yard gain on 4th-and-6 was later followed by Heyward completing a 36-yard pass to Cam Chambers to take the Spartans down to the one-yard line. From there it was a struggle, but the drive ended with La’Darius Jefferson pushing forward for a touchdown.

Penn State regained the lead when Sanders took a handoff from Trace McSorley on a draw and broke tackles and found room to work on his way to a 48-yard run. It was a run that looked like one that might have been ripped off by Barkley.

More importantly, Sanders gave Penn State a lead that it must now protect in the second half. Penn State has enjoyed plenty of success in the second half this season. Michigan State rallied in the second half to hand the Nittany Lions a tough loss in East Lansing last year. Can they do it again?

Penn State scores 63 points in back-to-back games for first time since 1917

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For roughly 35 minutes, it appeared as though No. 10 Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) was going to be in for a struggle until the final whistle in a Friday night Big Ten opener at Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten). But the final score showed just how explosive Penn State is capable of being at any given moment. Penn State pulled scored 42 unanswered points in a 63-24 victory over Illinois, improving to 4-0 overall and setting half of the stage of a big game next week in Happy Valley against Ohio State.

A week after putting up 63 points against Kent State, the Nittany Lions accomplished something the program has not done in over a century. For just the second time in school history, Penn State scored 63 points in consecutive games. The last time that happened was in 1917. The last time it happened, the Nittany Lions took advantage of a couple of non-major programs in the most lopsided of fashions.

  • October 6, 1917: Penn State 80, Gettysburg 0
  • October 13, 1917: Penn State 99, St. Bonaventure 0

According to College Football Reference, Penn State lost the next game, 7-0, at Washington & Jefferson. Guess they should have saved some of those points, huh?

Adding to the somewhat historical start Penn State is on, this marks the first time in program history the Nittany Lions have scored at least 50 points in three consecutive games.

Trace McSorley completed 12 of 19 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the Penn State win. The quarterback also rushed for 92 yards. Running back Miles Sanders was the star of the game with 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Penn State out-scored Illinois 35-0 in the fourth quarter.

Next week, Penn State hosts Ohio State in primetime. As Friday night showed, Penn State will have to tighten up the run defense against the Buckeyes if they are going to avoid their first loss of the year.

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The Big Ten

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For the first time in the brief history of the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten found itself without a playoff representative last season. But in 2018, the conference appears to be stocked with teams worthy of being on the playoff radar as the season begins and there are a handful of programs in the early stages of turning things around and growing with fresh new leadership over the past couple of seasons. Whoever comes out on top of the Big Ten will certainly have earned it given the road any school will have to travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game, but will it end up being enough to justify waving the Big Ten flag in the College Football Playoff?

Ohio State has made the most trips to the playoff among Big Ten programs, including winning the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship, but the season begins with a dark cloud flying above Ohio Stadium with head coach Urban Meyer serving a three-game suspension. Fortunately, Ohio State should be in good position to weather the storm thanks to young offensive stars like J.K. Dobbins running the ball and Dwayne Haskins anointed as the starting quarterback. But it will be the defense, led by Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones on the defensive line, that carries Ohio State early on, including a road trip to Arlington to play TCU. Ohio State’s playoff bubble could hinge on the September schedule with the TCU game and a road trip to Penn State at the end of September.

Penn State was maddeningly close to making the playoff last year, but losing two games by a combined four points in back-to-back weeks leaves the football program hungry for more. And with Ohio State and Michigan State each coming to Happy Valley early in Big Ten play, James Franklin‘s Nittany Lions have a chance to make some noise early on despite a significant amount of turnover on defense and key losses on the offense. Despite the changes, having the Big Ten’s top quarterback in Trace McSorley should allow for some smooth transition while the rest of the pieces come together. Miles Sanders will not be Saquon Barkley, but he may not have to be running the football. Penn State’s best offensive line depth in years should be noticeable and a home schedule that also brings Wisconsin to Beaver Stadium puts Penn State in position to make a playoff case of their own.

Elsewhere in a stacked East Division is, of course, Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Harbaugh may have the Big Ten’s top defense with players like Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich on the ends of the line and Lavert Hill playing corner. and the hope is transfer quarterback Shea Patterson will be a dramatic improvement for the entire offense. An early trip to Notre Dame should be a good litmus test for what the Wolverines will do this season. Meanwhile, Michigan State will continue to chug along and be a factor in the East race with 19 starters back from last year’s team.

Wisconsin has become the easy pick in the West Division, and they are a popular pick once again this season as the most reliable program in the West. But they are not without some potential hurdles as well. A challenging road schedule (Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State… Purdue?) and just three returning starters on defense to go with questionable quarterback consistency from Alex Hornibrook is a lot to counter-balance the expected strong running game led by a monster offensive line paving the way for sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor, a popular preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. The West is littered with programs in rebuilding modes like Minnesota, Purdue and now Nebraska with Scott Frost, but Northwestern is always ready to pull an upset or two and this could just be one of those years where Iowa makes a run.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

BIG TEN EAST DIVISION

  1. Penn State
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan State
  4. Michigan
  5. Maryland
  6. Rutgers
  7. Indiana

BIG TEN WEST DIVISION

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Iowa
  3. Northwestern
  4. Minnesota
  5. Nebraska
  6. Purdue
  7. Illinois

IN SHORT:

Big Ten releases list of preseason honors

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As the Big Ten gets set to begin their media day fun in Chicago, the conference assembled a panel of media members to come up with a list of 10 players to receive preseason recognition. Five players from each division were named to this year’s mini-watch list of Big Ten players, with Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley the lone player designated as a unanimous selection.

Ohio State is represented on the list by two players in the East Division with sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins and junior defensive end Nick Bosa each being recognized by the panel. Bosa was last year’s defensive lineman of the year in the Big Ten despite not being a full-time starter. Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary and Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke were also honored in addition to McSorley of Penn State.

The West Division representatives is highlighted by last season’s freshman of the year in the Big Ten, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers also are represented by linebacker T.J. Edwards. Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fischer, Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. and Iowa tight end Noah Fant also made up the West Division representatives.

Some names that stand out as possible omissions include Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson, but it may be difficult to argue against the names appearing on this preseason list.