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Michigan State takes division with rout of Penn State

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Michigan State wrapped up a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a 55-16 victory over Penn State on Saturday.

Looking to sabotage Michigan State’s hopes of appearing in the Big Ten Football Championship Game and the College Football Playoff, Penn State traveled to East Lansing, Mich., Saturday.

The game started on a good note, as the opening kickoff bounced out of bounds to give the Nittany Lions excellent starting field position.  After mounting a drive into enemy territory, Christian Hackenberg made an ill-advised throw into the endzone that was intercepted by Arjen Colquhoun.

Back from a shoulder injury which kept him out of the game last week against Ohio State, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook promptly led the team on an nine-play, 80-yard drive, resulting in a 29-yard touchdown pass to R.J. Shelton with 9:35 remaining in the first quarter. Michael Geiger missed the extra point, however, making it a 6-0 lead.

The team traded three-and-outs before PSU’s offense threatened to potentially take the lead in deep in the first quarter. A Brandon Polk 25-yard run put the team inside the Michigan State 40, and from there the Nittany Lions clawed their way down to the MSU 1. Instead of taking the lead, the team continued its red zone struggles by failing on all three of its attempts.

Rather than go for it, head coach James Franklin instead opted for a 19-yard field goal with 14:18 remaining in the half.

After PSU punted from its own 5-yard line, the Spartans set up shop just inside the 50. Michigan State did not squander its advantageous field position, as it took six plays to put the ball in the endzone. Gerald Holmes proved to be the catalyst, carrying the ball four straight times for 23 yards and the score, making the score 13-3 with 7:12 left.

Hopes of a retaliatory strike on the subsequent drive were promptly dashed when Kyle Carter caught a pass from Hackenberg and fumbled, resulting in a 77-yard scoring return by Demetrious Cox to put the Spartans up 17 with 2:36 remaining.

Down three scores with the clock running out, PSU’s offense once again took the field hoping to cut the deficit down before halftime. 

A 10-play, 67-yard drive that took approximately just two minutes ensued, which was buoyed by some key throws by Hackenberg and a big run by Saquon Barkley. On third-and-goal from the 8, Hackenberg lobbed the ball up to a wide open Chris Godwin to bring the Nittany Lions back within 10 with 35 seconds remaining. The score gave Hackenberg 47 career touchdown passes, setting a school record.

MSU and Cook came out primed and ready to start the third quarter, slicing through Penn State’s secondary. The highlight of the drive came on the eighth play of the drive when Aaron Burbridge got pushed out of bounds only to reestablish himself, catch the ball, spin away twice from defenders and sprint into the endzone to put MSU back up 17 with 11:40 left in the quarter.

After forcing a PSU three-and-out, the Spartans orchestrated a methodical, time-consuming scoring drive which put the game out of reach. Nine rushing plays helped the team suck more than seven minutes off the clock, and a double play-action fake gave Cook an easy touchdown pass to Josiah Price to put MSU up 34-10 with 3:35 remaining.

In desperate need of some type of answer, PSU put itself in prime position to do so when Hackenberg hit a quick slant to Saeed Blacknall for 59 yards. It once again came down to third-and-goal, but a pass interference call gave PSU a new lease on life.

The second play of the fourth quarter brought a score, as Hackenberg connected with Godwin on a quick pass to make 34-16 with 14:51 remaining. PSU attempted a two-point conversion, but Hackenberg rifled a pass wide of an open receiver.

The Spartans squashed any hope of a comeback, as they recovered the onside kick attempt and bulled their way down the field once again. A 6-yard touchdown run from L.J. Scott pushed the lead to 25 with 11:18 left in regulation.

The lead increased further on the two ensuing possessions, as an attempted throwaway by Hackenberg bounced off a defender’s helmet and into the waiting arms of Malik McDowell, who ran into the endzone untouched to make it 48-16. After PSU fumbled the kickoff, MSU lined up inside the 20 in the shotgun with senior offensive lineman Jack Allen alongside Cook in the backfield. Cook proceeded to handle Allen the ball, who rumbled into the end zone to increase the lead to 39 with less than 10 minutes to go.

At that point, Hackenberg was pulled from the contest in favor of Trace McSorley.  Hackenberg finished 22 of 39 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Cook, who was also pulled, finished 19 of 26 for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

After the Nittany Lions failed to convert on fourth down, Michigan State allowed some seniors to see some field time as it whittled away the clock. Penn State recovered a fumble with less than two minutes remaining and subsequently ran the clock down to double zeros.

The victory gives Michigan State a 10-1 record and a berth in the Big Ten title game, which will be played next Saturday in Indianapolis against undefeated Iowa.

Conversely, PSU finishes the season with a 7-5 record. It will await the announcement of its  assigned bowl game.

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