Penn State-Michigan State grades: Spartans' O-line shines in win
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Michigan State’s 55-16 win over Penn State on Saturday.
Penn State Nittany Lions
— Quarterback Christian Hackenberg (-5.9) started the game poorly with an interception on the team’s opening drive, and from there it only got worse against the formidable Michigan State defense. Hackenberg completed just one pass that travelled more than 10 yards in the air while struggling when the Spartan rush got to him — he finished the game with a 23.8 passer rating and -5.0 grade when pressured.
— One of the few bright spots for Penn State was the performance of running back Saquon Barkley (+3.1 rushing), who continues to grade among the top backs in the FBS. He gained 75 percent of his yards after contact (six missed tackles) and still averaged more than six yards per carry, including better than 10 yards through the A- and B-gaps.
— As evidenced by the scoreline, the Penn State defense didn’t put up much of a fight and no player struggled as much as safety Marcus Allen. Allen had trouble shedding blocks on both screens and runs, while his blunders in coverage resulted in two Michigan State touchdowns. First, he let wide receiver R.J Shelton behind him on MSU’s first drive for a 29-yard touchdown, while his missed tackle at 11:49 of the third allowed WR Aaron Burbidge to turn what should have been just a moderate gain into six points.
RB Saquon Barkley (+2.1)
WR Chris Godwin (+1.9)
WR DaeSean Hamilton (+1.6)
LG Derek Dowrey (+1.2)
OL Brendan Mahon (+1.0)
Michigan State Spartans
— Michigan State’s offensive line once again had an outstanding game, both on the ground and in pass protection after limiting pressure to just 23 percent of Connor Cook’s dropbacks. Tackles Jack Conklin and Kodi Kieler led the unit with three pressures between the two in more than 50 combined pass blocking snaps. In the run game, Conklin was dominant at times while compiling one of his highest grades of the season there – take a look at his play at 9:04 of the second quarter giving a solid double team chip to the left guard, which put DT Tarow Barney on the ground, before moving to seal linebacker Troy Reeder (-1.6) at the second level. And perhaps his best block of the day occurred in the third quarter (5:54) when Conklin owned tackle Anthony Zettel, taking him several yards inside before finishing with a pancake downfield.
— Entering the game, the two highest-graded Spartan defenders were DE Shilique Calhoun and DT Malik McDowell, and neither disappointed against Penn State. The pair put frequent pressure on Hackenberg, combining for a sack and nine other pressures to go with a batted pass. That BP came at 10:03 of the fourth quarter, when Calhoun deflected an attempted screen pass which McDowell caught and took for a touchdown
— QB Connor Cook looked very sharp in his return to the lineup with three touchdown passes and a 9.5 YPA, while taking advantage of several Penn State coverage busts. He was outstanding working at intermediate distance, compiling a +4.0 grade on 11 attempts there, including his pass at 11:49 of the third hitting Aaron Burbidge (+0.4) between corner and safety.
QB Connor Cook (+4.5)
DE Shilique Calhoun (+3.8)
RT Kodi Kieler (+3.5)
DT Malik McDowell (+3.5)
LT Jack Conklin (+3.0)