Michigan State occasionally loses games it should win. Case in point: last week at home against Northwestern. Most teams do that. But no team in the country wins more games they have no business winning.
The latest, and perhaps most shocking of them all, came this afternoon in Happy Valley against Penn State. Mark Dantonio’s side entered as two-touchdown underdogs and without most of its offensive talent. Running back L.J. Scott, offensive linemen David Beedle and Kevin Jarvis, and wide receivers Cody White, Darrell Stewart, and Jalen Nailor did not make the trip due to injury.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke would have to do it with patchwork offensive line and wide receivers emerging from deep on the depth chart. And somehow, some way, he and the stout MSU defense did it.
Lewerke threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Felton Davis with 19 seconds remaining to secure a stunning and Big Ten-shaking 21-17 victory.
It took a fake punt and halfback pass. It took calling a fake field goal late in the fourth quarter. It took giving Penn State the ball back with 1:46 and putting the defense’s back to the wall.
That defense delivered the ball back. It allowed only 17 points to a team averaging 49.6 points/game. Trace McSorley managed 190 yards and the Nittany Lions were 3-for-14 on third down.
Lockdown defense and doing just enough on offense has been the formula for Michigan State in previous shocking upsets. Beating Ohio State in Columbus without Connor Cook. Beating Michigan in Ann Arbor in a monsoon. It isn’t pretty, but it’s effective.
They look overmatched for large portions of the game and yet do enough to win. It is a very specific skill and Dantonio has mastered the motivation required to use it. And it makes for a wild, confusing ride, one where no one’s sure what happened or how it happened.