Even though Michigan State and Penn State had to follow up the biggest game of the Big Ten schedule this season, Senior Day at Spartan Stadium provided plenty of entertainment. The snow may have prevented viewers from seeing the first down marker, but it didn’t hinder the game plan of either offense. MSU sent out a kicker with zero career attempts to kick an extra point and Payton Thorne threw his first ever pick six.
However, in a more normal fashion Kenneth Walker lll ran for over 100 yards and Jayden Reed made clutch receptions. In the end, Mel Tucker and his team close the regular season with a double digit win total, to cap off a week that featured him putting pen to paper on a new contract. The Michigan State athletic department will hope he can will this football team to victories like the one they had today, for years to come.
Passing Defense Saved By The Pass Rush
Usually when snow is in the forecast for a football game, it calls for a heavy dose of the ground game. Kenneth Walker lll did end up carrying the ball thirty times, but both Sean Clifford and Payton Thorne were slinging the rock like it was spring ball on Saturday. Penn States senior quarterback became yet another passer to go over 300 yards against Michigan State. Spartan fans were also introduced to Jahan Dotson as he hauled in two touchdowns, both coming after burning a defender. Darius Snow did not live up to his name as he failed to cover him one-on-one on the score that helped the Nittany Lions tie the game at 14 in the second quarter.
Heading into halftime, Mel Tucker told ESPN’s Molly McGrath that his team would call on its pass rush to help their inability to defend the aerial attack. It was only right that edge rushers Drew Beesley and Jacub Panasiuk would answer the call in their last home game. Beesley had his best showing of the year, bringing down Clifford twice, with Panasiuk adding a sack of his own. As a result, Penn State was only able to efficiently throw the ball on their final drive of the game. Other defensive lineman, such as Jeff Pietrowski and Jacob Slade, should be given shoutouts as well for contributing to a solid defensive effort in the second half.
Play Of The Season?
With just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Mel Tucker had a decision to make. After calling a timeout with his offense facing a fourth and fifteen from the twenty yard line, Michigan State had to come up with a play due to kicker Matt Coghlin being hobbled earlier in the game. While dropping back to pass, Payton Thorne eyed his favorite target running a simple fly route. A huge storyline for MSU football all year has been the chemistry Jayden Reed has shared with his quarterback, and fittingly, they connected for the game winning score.
That play was the capper of a game that embodied the definition of what the Spartans have echoed ever since their coach stepped on campus last year; ‘Keep Choppin.’ Even after losing a handful of starters to the flu and having to play through blizzard-like conditions, Mel Tucker got his team to grind out a win. Their hopes of the College Football Playoff were washed away a week ago, but you wouldn’t have been able to know based on the effort that was given.
In the grand scheme of things, Michigan State had a very successful 2021 campaign. They doubled the win total that was set by Las Vegas in the preseason all while having the worst passing defense in the country and not knowing who their starting quarterback was going to be until week 1. Kenneth Walker lll will represent the Spartans in New York at the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and being assigned to a New Years Six bowl game is in the realm of possibility. But what MSU fans far and wide should be most proud of, is the fact that they have their coach of the future.