Friday, January 28, 2022

HALF: Pitt 14, MSU 10: Offensive hiccups put MSU behind

December 30, 2021
<p>A billboard welcomes fans to Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, on Dec. 29, 2021.</p>

A billboard welcomes fans to Atlanta, Georgia, home of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, on Dec. 29, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Michigan State trails Pittsburgh 14-10 at halftime of the Peach Bowl thanks to a last-minute touchdown from the Panthers.

MSU offense struggling to finish drives

Michigan State jumped out to an early lead after starting its first drive inside the Pitt 30-yard line thanks to a good return from junior wide receiver Jayden Reed. Three plays later, Reed hauled in a fade from redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne for a 28-yard touchdown to give MSU a 7-0 lead 1:49 into the game.

Despite the picture-perfect start, it has been anything but pretty for the Michigan State offense since its first possession. The Spartans were able to march the ball down into the red zone on its next two possessions, but only came away with three points total after false starts killed momentum on both drives and graduate student kicker Matt Coghlin missed a 33-yard field goal.

MSU moved the ball into Pitt territory for the fourth time late in the second quarter, but the drive was stopped short by Pitt defensive back Brandon Hill, who intercepted Thorne at the Panthers’ 13 yard-line. Michigan State only managed to score 10 points despite gaining 213 yards and moving the ball into Pitt territory with ease.

A large part of the offensive struggles has been the back-breaking penalties from the MSU offensive line. The Spartans had four penalties for 25 yards in the first half — all from the offensive line — which served as drive killers on multiple occasions.

Nick Patti’s injury could be costly for Pittsburgh despite lead

After Michigan State’s defense forced an immediate three-and-out on Pittsburgh’s first possession — thanks in large part to a Pitt special teams gaffe on the opening kickoff that put the Panthers on their own two yard line — the wheels looked like they were falling off again for an MSU defense that has had more downs than ups in the second half of the season.

Pitt began its second drive out of the shadow of its own goal line and was able to quickly march down the field for a 75-yard touchdown drive. Michigan State chose to sit back and let backup redshirt junior quarterback Nick Patti beat them. Patti took the challenge head-on, scrambling for 54 yards on the drive, including a 16-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven.

The touchdown came at a cost, however, for the Panthers. As Patti dove for the endzone and absorbed a hit, he landed hard on his left shoulder. Patti went to the locker room immediately and returned with a sling on his left arm and no pads on, signaling the end of his second career start.

In his short time under center, Patti looked like he was unfazed by playing on a stage of this magnitude and manufactured a scoring drive with little resistance. His replacement, redshirt sophomore Davis Beville, has not provided the same spark of life for the Panthers’ offense. On the two drives following Patti’s exit, Pitt only had 19 yards of offense.

However, Pitt’s offense found its legs on its last drive and drove 87 yards in six plays to score a touchdown and take the lead going into the half. The drive was powered by a 52-yard connection between Beville and star sophomore receiver Jordan Addison. Beville finished the half 6-9 for 82 yards and one touchdown.

Jalen Nailor is back

Junior wide receiver Jalen Nailor made his much-anticipated return to Michigan State’s starting lineup after missing the final four games of the regular season with a hand/wrist injury. After waiting exactly two months since his last appearance on Oct. 30 against Michigan, Nailor was back in action and provided an immediate impact in the passing game for the Spartans.

Nailor hauled in two catches for 67 yards, including a one-handed catch across his body for a 50-yard gain to put MSU in the red zone. The addition of his quickness has helped open up passing lanes for Thorne, who has thrown for 176 yards and one touchdown in the first 30 minutes.

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