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9 Questions Answered during Michigan State vs Penn State, and Just 1 For the Future

The game was a complete collapse. The questions are still important.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan State David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State collapsed against Penn State. They came in playing for pride, dug in early, then let the game get out of hand.

The offensive futility was on full display as the team recorded its third lowest offensive output in program history and went for negative yards in the second half. The defense played better early on before joining in the collapse.

This game was a mess and generated a few questions. Though the questions coming out of the game can be boiled down to just one. So let’s get into them.

Questions Coming Into the Game:

What is Michigan State playing for against Penn State? (or put it another way, what defines a moral victory for them?)

Players and coaches made it clear this was a game about pride. For Coach Harlon Barnett he seemed to hope it was a last chance to make his case to be named the permanent head coach (spoiler: that will not happen).

Early on the pride looked like it might be a good motivator. The defense dug deep to hold Penn State to three field goal attempts in a row (one missed). The offense also started strong but turned the ball over in their first possession. From there the offense mostly went backwards and the defense succumbed to the weight of the game being put on them.

Pride can only take you so far against a clearly superior team that looked motivated.

The real problem with pride as the central motivator showed up late in the game. When pride is your motivator and you’re being embarrassed it’s hard to do anything but collapse. And at the start of the fourth quarter the offense went backwards for the third straight possession, the special teams gave up a thirty yard punt return and the defense let up a quick score. That was pride leaving the building and the collapse taking control.

How many Spartan fans will travel to Ford Field for this game?

The stadium looked decently attended. It did seem like the fans were much more Spartan focused than Penn State. It didn’t matter as they were quiet for most of the game (minus some notable booing).

Was having this game at a neutral site a blessing in disguise for this year?

Yes. The fans were unhappy with the Spartans and booed more than a few times. Having this game on campus most likely would have had an even smaller fan turnout and potentially more vitriol.

The neutral site meant the fans were not dominated by (drunken) students. Instead it looked like families and alumni. This meant the crowd had a bit more perspective and while frustrated, weren’t as rough on the Spartan players.

Can Maliq Carr show more signs of improvement against a strong defense like Penn State?

On Carr’s first real touch of the game he proved the previous week was no fluke. Late in the second quarter, the powerful tight end took a short pass over the middle and rumbled through three tacklers to get Michigan State deep into Penn State territory.

Carr is a difference maker - if he can get the ball. The offense is either not designed well enough or not executed well enough to get him the ball in space. The power and ability to rumble for yards is clearly there. The ability to be a true weapon that changes the field is still to be seen.

Can Katin Houser limit his turnovers (or his near turnovers)?

The answer to this came early and emphatically: no. On the heels of a few great throws - including his best of the year, a long one off his back foot with a defender in his face - Houser threw an absolutely terrible interception. He stared down his target and still managed to throw way off target and weakly, leaving the ball open for the taking.

Houser faced continual pressure. Still, he forced another throw about halfway through the third quarter that essentially should have been picked off.

How will the Special Teams play? Will it be a quiet semi competent display or another dumpster fire performance?

If the special teams were just the punter, then it would have been a nice performance. Even the coverage teams did well early on. Unfortunately, special teams is more than just a punter.

At the end of the first half they had a false start on a punt. Then opened the second half with two players running into each other while calling for a fair catch on the kick off.

Questions Coming Up During the Game

Who’s to blame for false start penalties in the final game of the year?

Logic would suggest that team’s should know how to avoid pre-snap penalties like false starts by the last game in the season. The problem for Michigan State in this season ender was the loss of center Nick Semac. Losing your starting center this late in the season throws everything off. From the protection call out to the snap rhythm, it can be a lot for team’s to adjust to this late in the season. It showed up too many times early on in the game for the Spartans.

Did the offense quit on themselves or on Katin Houser?

Both? It’s probably unfair to say they quit on Houser. Houser didn’t play particularly badly when he could stand up. He was forced to throw with pressure in his face constantly or scramble and throw off platform.

The offense wasn’t getting much of anywhere when they looked like they were trying. By the fourth quarter (and really most of the second half) the offense looked like they just gave up. The body language coming into the huddle after Penn State went up 35-0 said it all. Houser looked shell shocked, the offensive linemen weren’t looking at him, and everyone looked like they were already cleaning out their lockers.

Who do you blame for the collapse?

Everyone. The players, the coaches, Mel Tucker, everyone involved carries some blame. Despite that, it still almost feels expected. This Spartan team had a raw deal this year. They were most likely headed for a frustrating year with Mel Tucker. The distractions with the Mel Tucker scandal almost give them an excuse.

The last game of the season against an opponent that was clearly so much better was simply too much for this team to hold together during. This coaching staff is on their way out. The players are thinking about the transfer portal and offseason workouts. The fans are dreaming of the soon to be announced new coach. Everyone wanted to be somewhere else, and once the score gave them the excuse to move on from this game they did.

This will linger in the minds of fans. It was that bad. It also shouldn’t. If you wanted to turn the TV off, or leave the stadium early imagine how the players felt. Imagine how Katin Houser felt picking himself up off the turf repeatedly. They own this collapse but don’t need to be reminded about it.

Questions for…the future? (There is mercifully no more games this season)

  • The only question that really matters: Who will be the next head coach?

The questions for after that is announced:

  • What players can the new coach bring in from their current program?
  • What coaches will the new coach bring in (and what players can they bring in)?
  • How many current players will leave in the transfer portal?
  • How many players can the new coach grab from the transfer portal?
  • How will this season linger in the minds of fans?

What are your questions for the future?