CFN Take: Michigan State Eases By Penn State
Posted Nov 29, 2014

Michigan State Spartans 2014 ... Head Coach: Mark Dantonio

Penn State Nittany Lions
2014 Schedule
2014 Record: 6-6

Aug. 30 UCF (in Ire) W 26-24
Sep. 6 Akron W 21-3
Sep. 13 at Rutgers W 13-10
Sep. 20 UMass W 48-7
Sep. 27 Northwestern L 29-6
Oct. 11 at Michigan L 18-13
Oct. 25 Ohio State L 31-24 2OT
Nov. 1 Maryland L 20-19
Nov. 8 at Indiana W 13-7
Nov. 15 Temple W 30-13
Nov. 22 at Illinois L 16-14
Nov. 29 Michigan State L 34-10

Nov. 29 Michigan State 34, at Penn State 10
And You Care Because … Michigan State started things off with a kickoff return for a score from R.J. Shelton, and coasted from there. The offense didn’t really work, but it controlled the game and the clock with Jeremy Langford running for two touchdowns, and Michael Geiger hitting two first quarter field goals. Penn State got on the board with a 41-yard Sam Ficken field goal in the second quarter, but didn’t get into the end zone until late in the third on a three-yard Akeel Lynch run – it was too late. Langford put it well out of reach late in the fourth on his second scoring run.
What Else? Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford ran 30 times for 118 yards and two scores
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 21-of-45 passes for 195 yards and a pick
- Michigan State QB Connor Cook completed 13-of-25 passes for 180 yards and a score with a pick
- Total yards: Michigan State 298 – Penn State 233
Game Rating: C-

Nov. 22 at Illinois 16, Penn State 14
And You Care Because … David Reisner hit a 36-yard field goal with eight seconds to play – a few minutes after missing a 50-yarder – to go along with field goals from 25 and 28 yards away. Penn State scored first on an 18-yard Chris Godwin touchdown catch, and Akeel Lynch came up with a 47-yard scoring run in the fourth for the lead, but Illinois stayed in the game with defense and QB Reilly O’Toole, who steppe din for an ineffective Wes Lunt.
What Else? Total yards: Illinois 283 – Penn State 265
- Illinois QB Reilly O’Toole completed 18-of-25 passes for 157 yards and a score
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 8-of-16 passes for 93 yards and a score
- Penn State RB Akeel Lynch ran 28 times for 137 yards and a score
Game Rating: B-

Nov. 15 at Penn State 30, Temple 13
And You Care Because … Penn State forced five turnovers to overcome a sloppy game of its own, but it took a while to pull away. The game was tied at six in the second half, but Akeel Lynch tore off a 38-yard touchdown run and Bill Belton ran for an eight-yard score to give Penn State a 20-6 lead, but Temple answered right back on a 75-yard Jalen Fitzpatrick touchdown catch. The Nittany Lions scored ten unanswered points on a Grant Haley pick six on Sam Ficken’s third field goal of the game.
What Else? Penn State RB Akeel Lynch ran 18 times for 130 yards and a score
- Temple QB P.J. Walker completed 17-of-38 passes for 187 yards and a score with four picks, and led the team with 32 rushing yards on five carries
- Penalties: Temple 10 for 69 yards – Penn State 5 for 45 yards
- Turnovers: Temple 5 – Penn State 3
Game Rating: C

Nov. 8 Penn State 13, at Indiana 7
And You Care Because … Sam Ficken hit second half field goals from 27 and 28 yards out, and Bill Belton tore off a 92-yard touchdown run as Penn State pushed past Indiana. The Hoosier offense couldn’t get on the board, but the defense scored first with a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown from Mark Murphy, but that was it. The Nittany Lion D controlled the second half.
What Else? Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 12-of-29 passes for 168 yards and two picks
- Indiana RB Tevin Coleman ran 20 times for 71 yards
- Total yards: Penn State 330 – Indiana 221
- Indiana QB Zander Diamont completed 13-of-27 passes for 68 yards and two picks
Game Rating: C-

Nov. 1 Maryland 20, at Penn State 19
And You Care Because … Brad Craddock hit a 43-yard field goal with 51 seconds to play as Maryland stormed back in the fourth quarter for the win. Penn State scored 13 straight points for a 16-7 lead going into the final frame, with two of Sam Ficken’s four field goals on the day and an eight-yard Jesse James touchdown catch, but Maryland put the clamps down in the fourth while getting a one-yard Wes Brown touchdown run to take the lead, and answered Ficken’s 48-yard field goal with the game-winner from Craddock.
What Else? Third down conversions: Penn State 6-of-20 – Maryland 1-of-14
- Maryland rushing: 31 carries for 33 yards and a score – Penn State rushing: 41 carries for 42 yards
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 18-of-42 passes for 177 yards and a score with a pick
- Turnovers: Penn State 4 – Maryland 2
Game Rating: B

Oct. 25 Ohio State 31, at Penn State 24 2 OT
And You Care Because … Joey Bosa sacked Christian Hackenberg on Penn State’s final chance in overtime as Ohio State finally put the game away. The Buckeyes appears to have the game in hand with a 17-0 halftime lead with J.T. Barrett finding Jeff Heuerman for a one-yard score, and Ezekiel Elliott running for a ten-yard touchdown, but Penn State roared back in the second half, starting with an interception return for a touchdown from Anthony Zettel. Hackenberg found Saeed Blacknall for a 24-yard score, and Sam Ficken forced overtime with a 31-yard field goal with nine seconds left. In the first OT, Bill Belton gave Penn State the lead with a one-yard run, but Barrett needed just three plays to get the Buckeyes into the end zone to tie it up. In the second overtime, Barrett ran for a four-yard touchdown, and Penn State couldn’t answer.
What Else? Rushing yards: Ohio State 219 – Penn State 16
- Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett completed 12-of-19 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, and ran 20 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 31-of-49 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions
- Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott ran 26 times for 109 yards and a score
Game Rating: B+

Oct. 11 at Michigan 18, Penn State 13
And You Care Because … Michigan’s defense stuffed Penn State throughout the second half on the way to 11 unanswered points with Matt Wile nailing field goals from 45, 42 and 37 yards away for the win. Devin Gardner threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess, but was knocked out for the game for a while with a leg injury before returning in the second half. Penn State got two Sam Ficken field goals and a ten-yard touchdown catch from DaeSean Hamilton, but the offense managed just 214 yards and couldn’t get on the board over the final 42 minutes.
What Else? Michigan QB Devin Gardner completed 16-of-24 passes for 192 yards and a score with a pick, and ran for 18 yards
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 21-of-32 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown with a pick
- Rushing yards: Michigan 31 carries for 64 yards – Penn State 35 carries for 54 yards
- Total yards: Michigan 256 – Penn State 214
Game Rating: C

Sept. 27 Northwestern 29, at Penn State 6
And You Care Because … Northwestern dominated throughout with Trevor Siemian running for two one-yard touchdowns for a 14-0 first quarter lead and with a defense that only allowed two Sam Ficken field goals from 42 and 36 yards out. The Wildcats scored 15 unanswered points with a pick six from Anthony Walker and a third Siemian one-yard touchdown run – the D took care of the rest pressuring Christian Hackenberg all game long.
What Else? Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian completed 21-of-37 passes for 258 yards and a pick, and ran for three touchdowns
- Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards with an interception
- Penn State finished with 50 rushing yards on 25 carries
- Northwestern RB/FB Dan Vitale caught seven passes for 113 yards
Game Rating: C

Sept. 20 Penn State 48, Massachusetts 7
And You Care Because … For the first time since 2008, Penn State is 4-0, and it didn’t have to sweat a game out for a change. The Nittany Lions got a total team effort, offense, defense and special teams, to coast to their first lopsided victory of 2014. After a slow start, they pulled away with a 28-point second quarter that included two rushing touchdowns apiece from Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton.
What Else? Penn State hammered away at the undersized UMass front wall, rushing for 228 yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries. The fifth touchdown came from Akeel Lynch who led the team in rushing.
- UMass QB Blake Frohnapfel landed some blows through the air against the Penn State secondary, but he got zero support from the running game. The Minutemen could only muster three yards on the ground on 28 carries.
- The Penn State front seven was no match for the UMass offensive line. The Nittany Lions lived in the backfield, 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks.
- The Minutemen will build this season around an underrated corps of receivers. Facing a quality group of Penn State pass defenders, Marken Michel and Tajae Sharpe caught 10 balls between them for 203 yards and a touchdown.
Game Rating: D

Sept. 13 Penn State 13, at Rutgers 10
And You Care Because … Christian Hackenberg and Geno Lewis led the way on a late 80-yard drive finished off with a five-yard Bill Belton touchdown run to give Penn State the win and Rutgers its first loss in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights took a 10-0 lead in the second on a 14-yard Gary Nova scoring run and a 32-yard Kyle Federico field goal, but it was all Penn State in the second half with two Sam Ficken field goals to cap off two long drives. Rutgers’ final drive ended with a pick.
What Else? Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg completed 25-of-44 passes for 309 yards and a pick. Geno Lewis caught six passes for 109 yards and DaeSean Hamilton caught eight passes for 103 yards.
- Rutgers RB Paul James ran six times for 51 yards.
- Rutgers came up with five sacks and eight tackles for loss, and QB Gary Nova completed 14-of-30 passes for 192 yards and five picks.
- Penn State CB Trevor Williams was second on the team with five tackles and two picks.
Game Rating: B-

Sept. 6 at Penn State 21, Akron 3
And You Care Because … Christian Hackenberg threw three touchdown passes including a 44-yarder to Jesse James in the fourth quarter to put away a pesky Akron team. The Zips moved the ball a bit, but couldn’t score when they had their chances. Bill Belton took a pass 22 yard for a score in the first quarter, and tight end James took care of the second two with a 13-yard scoring play in the third before his 44-yarder.
What Else? Christian Hackenberg has to be more consistent, but he’s putting up huge yards. He threw for 319 yards, but he only completed 22-of-36 passes with two picks.
- The Penn State running game continues to sputter a bit, averaging 3.4 yards per carry, but Akeel Lynch averaged 6.4 yards per pop with a team-leading 45 yards on seven carries.
- Penn State LB Mike Hull came up with a game-leading 11 tackles with a sack and a broken up pass, but Akron’s defense came up with a few key stops and nice plays, getting behind the line here and there and pressuring Hackenberg enough to be a problem.
- Akron QB Kyle Pohl completed 24-of-46 passes for 208 yards, but he was under constant pressure. Even so, he spread the ball around well.
Game Rating: C+

Aug. 30 Penn State 26, UCF 24
And You Care Because … Sam Ficken nailed a 36-yard field goal with as time ran out to give Penn State a thrilling win. UCF drove 75 yards in eight place finishing with a six-yard Justin Holman touchdown run for the lead with just 1:13 to play, but Christian Hackenberg was able to drive the Nittany Lions 55 yards to get Ficken – who nailed four field goals on the day - in a position for the win.
What Else? It was a thrilling finish and an excellent start to the first college football Saturday, but Penn State showed how much work there is to do with nine penalties, three turnovers, and horrible clock management on the final drive. A win is a win, and James Franklin is 1-0.
- UCF found its quarterback. Pete DiNovo couldn’t get the offense moving, but Justin Holman came in and was fantastic, completing 9-of-14 passes for 204 yards and a score to go along with two rushing scores. He was poised and effective – he threw the ball like a grizzled veteran.
- Christian Hackenberg looked every bit the 2016 No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick completing 32-of-47 passes for 454 yards and a score. There were two picks, and he needed to hustle a bit more late, but he got the job done.
- Any questions about the Penn State run defense and the replacements needed on D? UCF ran 29 times for 24 yards, but Penn State couldn’t run, either, getting stuffed for 57 yards and a score on 28 carries.
Game Rating: B+

2014 Preview 

Under impossible circumstances, Bill O’Brien did an amazing job.

It didn’t matter than he took off early to the NFL – he did his job. Thrown into the fire, he helped keep the program and school from spiraling out of control, put Penn State football back on track, and found a way to replace a legend all throughout all of the controversy. Even so, it’s better to be the guy after The Guy.

Even if James Franklin doesn’t work out, and even if he doesn’t lead the way to ten-win seasons and Big Ten titles on a regular basis, at least on paper, it works. It’s the pitch-perfect hire at the exact right time.

Penn State couldn’t have found a coach who fits exactly what it needs at almost every level, and it couldn’t have found a guy who’d be better to break things out of their shell.

It takes a serious personality to be able to coach at a place that still worships a former head man as a god, and while O’Brien was able to set the right tone at the right time in one way, Franklin is setting a different attitude in another direction just when the program needed it.

While no one’s denying that emotions still run high at times when the words Penn and State are brought up, the football program is still standing, the school is still in business, and despite all of the negative PR and all the problems, things are moving on.

But there are still logistical issues to deal with that Franklin will have to get by.

The NCAA sanctions have been lessened, but as USC has painfully found out, it still takes a while to rebuild the depth and get a superpower program back to its former self.

Being thrown in the new Big Ten East with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan doesn’t help, and yeah, there will still be problems at times just because the talent isn’t quite there thanks to the NCAA problems. Even so, with bowl eligibility coming next season, and with the addition of Franklin, all things considered, Penn State is coming out of this more than fine on the field.

O’Brien was able to come up with 15 wins over the last two seasons, and while they were irrelevant in terms of the landscape of the respective years, they didn’t matter in one way. They helped bring in Franklin, and they helped in a big way for recruiting.

Franklin has the exact right mindset and the perfect attitude. He didn’t want to hear any excuses at Vanderbilt, and never allowed anyone to use the same old talking points about why the program couldn’t succeed. His demand was to find a way no matter what, and while the Commodores didn’t win the SEC East, and they took care of the weak and the sad – for the most part – they also went 9-4 in each of the last two seasons and went to three straight bowl games.

Franklin isn’t going to listen to any talk about a honeymoon period, and he isn’t going to care that this really is a redshirt year for his coaching staff and his tenure. He has an NFL franchise quarterback in Christian Hackenberg around for two more seasons, he has a possible top five recruiting class coming in, and he has just enough talent among the starting 22 to be competitive.

But if Penn State goes 5-7 this season, that doesn’t mean it’s time to worry in any way. That doesn’t mean that O’Brien was the far better coach, and that doesn’t mean anything to Franklin’s tenure. It doesn’t really matter if Penn State goes 12-0 or 0-12, it’s all about getting Franklin into his groove now so 2015 can rock.

What to watch for on offense: Who will Christian Hackenberg throw to? There’s no question who the franchise star is, and offensive coordinator John Donovan and the rest of the coaching staff will do everything possible to make sure the potential first round NFL draft pick is able to maximize his talents. Step One will be to keep him upright, but that could be tough with just one starter returning up front.

The bigger challenge will be to replace Allen Robinson, who was more than just a security blanket for the true freshman passer catching 97 passes for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns last year – the top returning wide receiver, Geno Lewis, caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores. Hackenberg will make everyone around him better, but there isn’t a veteran Robinson or a Jordan Matthews – Vanderbilt’s all-star under Franklin – on the roster. Expect Donovan to tap into the recruiting class to mix in some true freshmen with a few of the returning veterans.

What to watch for on defense: Lots of different formations to help out the pass defense. The offense got most of the attention under O’Brien, but his defenses – outside of a few midseason problems with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State last year – were solid and did a great job against the run. The secondary struggled despite the help of a decent pass rush, and now expect defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to use more nickel and dime packages to help the cause. The Nittany Lions will continue to roll with the base 4-3 like they did under O’Brien, but Shoop will get creative. There’s enough returning experience at defensive back to hope for an improvement, and the ends and pass rush could turn into a strength early on.

The team will be far better if… the offense can convert a third down chance. It wasn’t an issue in 2012, converting 42.5% of the time. With a great quarterback like Hackenberg and a fantastic offensive coach like O’Brien, you’d think moving the chains wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the offense stalled way, way too often converting just 34% of the time and not going on enough long drives. It didn’t matter early in the season in wins over Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, converting just 2-of-16 chances, but it proved costly in the loss to UCF and was a massive problem in losses to Minnesota and Nebraska, converting just 3-of-23 chances. It was too tempting to take shots down the field to Robinson, but Hackenberg misfired a bit too often – for all his talent, he was a true freshman – and the offense simply failed to click at times.

The Schedule: Will the Nittany Lions be able to kick off the James Franklin era with a revenge win against UCF? If so, they’ll have to do it in Dublin, Ireland, and then they come back for what should be an easy win over Akron. The team isn’t exactly stretching itself with UMass on the slate and the annual win over Temple coming in mid-November.

The Big Ten schedule starts out with a trip to Rutgers in what could seem like a Penn State home game, and Northwestern starts out the official conference home run before getting a week off to prepare for Michigan. The Wolverines and Ohio State might come up back-to-back, but there’s a bye week before facing each team. The problem is that there aren’t any more breaks, playing six straight games to close out the year with Michigan State to finish things up. However, there’s a winnable November stretch of Maryland, at Indiana, Temple and at Illinois.

Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg. He still needs some fine-tuning, and he threw a few too many interceptions, but it’s all there. He might not have been a top 15 pick if available in this year’s draft, but with a few more at-bats he could quickly become the must-have No. 1 overall pick in 2015 with his 6-3, 220-pound size, mobility and next-level arm. Now he has to be the type of star who makes everyone around him better. He showed against Wisconsin in the season finale that he could be truly special against a top team, and even without Robinson to throw to, he’ll come up with several more great performances this year.

Best defensive player: Junior CB Jordan Lucas. Considering the problems with the secondary last year, it’s not a bad thing that two of the best returning players are at corner with Lucas and Adrian Amos two of the team’s leaders. The end tandem of C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes need to rise up and do even more as pass rushers to help out the defensive backs, and linebacker Mike Hull could turn out to be a statistical superstar, but it’s Lucas who returns as one of the Big Ten’s best all-around defensive backs after doing a great job as an open-field tackler and defending 16 passes with three picks.

Key players to a successful season: Junior OT Donovan Smith. The line was one of the keys to the transition to the O’Brien era a few years ago and was one of the team’s biggest strengths last season, but Adam Gress and John Urschel are gone on the right side and center Ty Howle is done. The hope was for veterans on the left side to be anchors to work around, but guard Mile Dieffenbach is gone for the year with a knee injury. That leaves Smith as the lone returning starter, and he’s a good one. Finding the starting five is going to be tough enough, and the lack of depth could be a disaster. Smith has to be an all-star.

The season will be a success if ... the Nittany Lions flirt with nine wins. Seven wins would make for a more realistic goal, but Franklin isn’t about shooting low. Depth issues and offensive line concerns should be a bit too much to overcome, but the program has dealt with bigger problems over the last two years. The schedule just isn’t that bad, and even if Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State turn out to be losses, there’s a chance to be favored in every other game. If there’s an upset win over one of the division’s big three, it could be a special year going into 2015.

Key game: Nov. 11 at Michigan. If everything comes together in a hurry, and all the holes are filled at receiver and on the offensive line right away, the Nittany Lions can reasonably hope to beat UCF, Akron, Rutgers, UMass and Northwestern. Just because Ohio State and Michigan State come to Happy Valley, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll cower, but at least those two showdowns are at home. After losing an overtime heartbreaker to the Wolverines last year, if Penn State can come up with the road victory this season, it could be 6-0 going into the Ohio State game.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third Quarter Scoring: 68 – Fourth Quarter Scoring: 106
- Penalties: Opponents 72 for 638 yards – Penn State 55 for 403 yards
- Fourth Down Conversions: Penn State 13-of-24 (54%) – Opponents 6-of-14 (43%)

- 2014 Penn State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

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