Thursday, May 23, 2024

Spartans crumble in third quarter

November 26, 2001
Penn State freshman quarterback Zack Mills rolls over MSU defenders to score a touchdown in the 3rd quarter of the game at Spartan Stadium on Saturday. The Spartans lost to the Nittany Lions 42-37.

The MSU football team scored on every possession in the first half, except its last when sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker took a knee.

Then it put up a doughnut in the third quarter.

Even though Penn State allowed the most points in a half Saturday since MSU scored 35 in the second half in 1997, MSU turned complacent in the third quarter, sophomore linebacker Mike Labinjo said.

“We came out in the third quarter and a different team showed up,” Labinjo said. “We kind of sat back and watched.”

The Spartans (5-5, 3-5 Big Ten) looked on as the Nittany Lions put up 21 points - the most points they have scored in a quarter since posting 28 against MSU in last year’s 42-23 blowout.

MSU’s dark side first reared its head with 7:38 left in the third quarter. PSU quarterback Zack Mills hit wide receiver R.J. Luke on a 64-yard touchdown pass that cut MSU’s lead to 31-28.

“We changed the (pass) coverage up a little bit,” head coach Bobby Williams said. “We got away from the man principle and went to more zone concepts. They still hit a couple long passes against us in the third quarter in zone coverage.”

Six minutes later, PSU took a 35-31 lead they wouldn’t relinquish on a 2-yard touchdown run by tailback Eric McCoo.

And just when the horrific quarter seemed over, Penn State (5-5, 4-4) iced the cake with 1:48 left.

Senior tight end Chris Baker caught a pass from Smoker, but cornerback Bruce Branch forced the ball loose and defensive tackle Anthony Adams recovered it at MSU’s 21-yard line. Five plays later Mills scored PSU’s final touchdown on a 1-yard run to go up 42-31.

“The game was in our hands,” senior linebacker Josh Thornhill said. “We controlled the outcome of the game the whole time. They had some big plays on us. They took advantage of our mistakes.

“That’s the bottom line, it wasn’t necessarily anything they did, we gave it to them.”

But the Nittany Lions didn’t do anything different in the second half, head coach Joe Paterno said.

“We just made some plays,” Paterno said. “We’ve become a pretty good offensive football team. We did pretty much what we planned to do, we moved the ball in the first half.”

MSU’s game plan didn’t change at the half either, senior wide receiver Herb Haygood said.

“We just couldn’t get anything done,” Haygood said. “Coach called the same plays he called in the first half, they just got to us.”

The difference can be attributed to mental lapses, Labinjo said.

“It seems like at times we had mental breakdowns, and in this league you can’t do that because every team we play out there will make you pay for your mistakes,” Labinjo said.

“I think some guys thought we had this game, but Penn State has been hot lately, and every game we’ve seen they’ve been down at some point and kept battling and battling. I think we might of forgot that, and they showed their true spirit for that.”

While MSU’s 5-5 record suggests mediocrity, Labinjo said the fact they have controlled the tempo in every game proves they are better than their record implies.

“It seems every game we control the outcome whether we win or lose,” he said.

But that fact, or any other moral victory, isn’t enough to soothe the pain of under achievement, Haygood said.

“It hurts,” he said. “I thought we were going to blow them out, and then to only come out and score six points in the second half, it sucks.”

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