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Football Five Factors: A Perfect 10

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Delving into the 34-10 win at Penn State

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Is it possible for a win at Happy Valley to be totally expected and mostly boring? (Big box).

[The kneeldowns to end the first and second halves have been removed.]

Because ABC was busy showing the bitter end of UM-tOSU, I (and many of you) missed the opening kick return touchdown. That was unfortunate because it was the most exciting play in a not-very-exciting game; the Trae Waynes breakup-and-pick in the end zone is pretty much the only other one that comes to mind.

The defensive performance was straight out of 2013. It was impressive that the defense yielded just 3 points in the second quarter considering that Penn State's three drives started at the MSU 41, 40 and 36 respectively. With the offense struggling in that quarter (two 3-and-outs and an interception) the stands made by the defense stopped this game from being particularly competitive.

I was also impressed with Penn State's defense as the game wore on. Jeremy Langford had some running room early but even with the kneeldowns and sacks removed from the equation, MSU managed just 3.5 yards per carry, the lowest on the season. "Salty" is the adjective I've heard thrown around about this Penn State defense and that seems spot on.

Again, I thought Connor Cook was passable. Puns aside, he made some nice throws, was largely error-free, and the offense put up 27 points on a defense that gave up just 24 to Ohio State (in overtime).

The Damion Terry episode was weird for so many reasons. It just feels strange to me to script a QB switch in the middle of the second quarter on the road in that environment. Let's say it's not just for the Pennsylvania connection but also for the opportunity to "build depth" as Dantonio has used to explain QB switches in the past. If that's the case, why was Connor Cook still playing in the Rutgers game up 35-3 in the fourth quarter? Why didn't Terry see more time in this game once the outcome was no longer in doubt?

If there's no other explanation than the Pennsylvania connection, then it seems like a particularly cocky move. The game outcome was still  in doubt, even though nothing disastrous happened near the goal line. And I'm also surprised we didn't see Paul Andrie against Indiana; he's from Indiana, after all.

One of my only complaints about the Dantonio era is the way they divvy QB playing time. In the 2009 competition between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, the message was that there needed to be quarterback depth, which is why both were playing. Which is a fine message, except for when Andrew Maxwell got virtually zero play in 2010 or 2011. I also don't totally understand the Cook-for-Maxwell switch in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl or for that matter, the Maxwell-for-Cook substitution at the end of Notre Dame 2013.

These things have largely worked, with the progressions of both Cousins and Cook. It just seems they could have been handled more gracefully.

Anyways, I digress. I also put together a B1G-season specific Five Factors table:

Impressive, right? This was a dominant team in all areas except field position, which is a reflection of some mediocre special teams play. There was just one team more dominant. Le sigh.

MSU got the benefit of 0.8 turnovers per game in luck (adjusted turnovers minus actual). The thing is, that turnover luck didn't matter because there was only one game decided by single digits, and sure enough I said this about Nebraska: "The +6.1 points of value from turnovers may have been the difference in the game." I'll take it, anyways.

It's hard to sneeze at 10-2(7-1) especially when outscoring Nebraska, Michigan, and Penn State by a combined 96-43. In a different year, this team would be in the B1G title game and likely in one of the former BCS bowls. Be proud.