MSU's defense neutralizes Barkley, 'swarms' in shocking win
The hype train known as Saquon Barkley finally made its stop in East Lansing.
Murmurs of a Heisman Trophy were abundant among the passengers, otherwise known as the Penn State faithful. The conductor, James Franklin, guided the Nittany Lions to a 7-1 record in their reigning Big Ten Champion campaign.
There was a slight blip in the radar the week prior to Ohio State in a one-point loss. But no matter.
Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley and a cast of talented receivers visited Spartan Stadium looking to bounce back from that first loss of the season.
They certainly had their moments, too. McSorley threw for 381 yards passing, completing 26 for 47 of his attempts. Wideouts DeAndre Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton both had over 100 yards receiving, also combining for 11 receptions between the duo.
Thompkins 70-yard reception to end the third quarter hushed the crowd real quick.
However, after a soaked, rainy game and seven hours after kickoff, the Spartans stood victorious. Kicker Matt Coghlin’s 34-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired split the uprights as Penn State’s 24 points proved lacking.
“Unbelievable football game,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Took seven hours to get our seventh win so there were some great, great performances out there.”
The defense — a group that has prided itself on stopping the run all year — did exactly just that. Barkley only ran for 63 yards on 14 attempts. At halftime, he had six rushes for no positive yards.
He ripped off a 36-yard run in the second half, but otherwise, the MSU defense was stout. Penn State as a team had 65 yards total, McSorley contributing the other two yards rushing on seven attempts.
“That was our first goal, stop Saquon, stop the run,” linebacker Andrew Dowell said. “Great, talented running back. We were able to shut him down.”
And after a number of missed tackles against Northwestern in a loss, the Spartans emphasized a key point of their tackling game — swarming. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said MSU had too many missed tackles, so ganging up on the ball handler was treated as a priority.
While the Spartans did still miss tackles, including an ugly play for Penn State’s second touchdown, they stood strong. As MSU was able to stop the run, it allowed the Spartans to hone in on McSorley’s aerial attack, according to Dantonio.
As McSorley finished with 381 yards passing, he did still throw three interceptions. Two went to safety David Dowell, who tied a career-high with his pair of picks.
“There wasn’t really big game plan changes to stop the run,” Tressel said. “And that’s what we do. We just knew that the passing happened and we needed to slow down a little bit and make some big plays in the passing game even if they were gaining yards.”
The Spartans finished with a positive turnover margin, a stat Dantonio has harped on throughout the entire season. MSU had three takeaways compared to Penn State’s meager one.
MSU now enters its game against Ohio State with a 5-1 Big Ten record, the exact same mark as the Buckeyes. The winner of that game will control its destiny for the rest of November toward the Big Ten Championship game.
“We know what’s on the line,” Andrew Dowell said. “We know we have all of our dreams and goals that we want to accomplish this year in front of us.”