Michigan State clinches spot in B1G Championship with rout of Penn State
Final: No. 5 Michigan State 55, Penn State 16
Key play: Demetrious Cox 77-yard fumble return for touchdown
Penn State was driving in MSU territory in the second quarter down 13-3. But Riley Bullough forced a Kyle Carter fumble, which was scooped up by Cox and returned for a touchdown. Instead of potentially making it a one-possession game, MSU got the game-changing play it needed. The Lions aren’t built to come back, and falling behind 17 points in the second quarter made it an uphill battle that was too much to overcome.
Telling stat: Michigan State converts 8-of-11 third downs
The key to third down conversions is balance. Michigan State had that in spades on Saturday. Gerald Holmes did the damage early and L.J. Scott was effective for the Spartans in the second half. Even center Jack Allen got into the end zone. Michigan State put itself in third-and-manageable situations, which opened up the playbook for Connor Cook. The Spartans haven’t looked like the 2014 offense that set a school record because they’ve lacked balance. On Saturday, MSU went back to the 2014 formula, and looked awfully good doing it.
–Cook looked plenty healthy
There wasn’t a guarantee that Cook would start. A true game-time decision he was, but it didn’t show on Saturday. Cook looked exactly like the program’s all-time winningest quarterback. He delivered short, intermediate and deep throws successfully. More impressive was the fact that Cook didn’t have any hesitancy in the pocket. He’s obviously not 100 percent, so protecting his shoulder was a priority. But MSU ran play-action passes and Cook hung in there to deliver some big throws. His only limitation was when Tyler O’Connor came in at the end of the first half to attempt a Hail Mary. Mark Dantonio wasn’t about to not only force Cook to heave a deep ball when MSU had a two-possession lead. Other than that, it was business as usual.
-Carl Nassib still sidelined
Apparently Nassib was not just out with an arm injury. He had a hamstring injury, which prevented him from playing for the second straight week. It’s a shame that the sack king couldn’t be on the field for two B1G showdowns to end the season. Without Nassib, Penn State couldn’t stop Northwestern on the final drive. The Lions couldn’t slow down Michigan last week, and they didn’t have an answer for MSU on Saturday. It’s hard to take a player as important as Nassib out of the lineup this late in the season. It might have been the same result for Penn State, but surely it would’ve put up a better defensive fight.
What it means: Michigan State fans are happy, Ohio State fans are not
The nerves had to be there. As a Michigan State fan, how could they not be? After last week’s win at Columbus, MSU had the eight-foot putt to win the tournament, or in this case, clinch the B1G East. Sure, it had made that putt a million times, but you never know what can happen with everything on the line. All Michigan State did was come out and deliver its most complete game of the year. Important is the fact that MSU played its two best games of 2015 in the final two weeks against the regular season. Iowa will be no slouch, but if the Spartans can win the College Football Playoff play-in game, they would be as scary as any in the final four.