|Michigan State 41, Penn State 10|
|November 22, 2003|
|Spartan Stadium - East Lansing, MI|
|Kickoff Time: 12:00 p.m. EDT|
Mich. - With a wave, a forced smile, and the weight of the most troubled
season of his 38 years as Penn State's head coach on his back, Joe Paterno
said, "I just want to go home right now."
At the other end of a trailer that served as a postgame interview room adjacent to Spartan Stadium, someone solicited Michael Robinson's take on the demeanor of the legendary 76-year-old coach.
"You could tell that things were wearing on him, and I would think that would happen to any coach going through a season like we just went through," the Nittany Lions' multipurpose back said.
Quarterback Zack Mills agreed. "I think this season took a toll on him," he said.
Rather than head into the off-season with the realization that they are at least capable of defeating a good team, the Penn State Nittany Lions yesterday played as if they were eager to board the chartered flights that took them back to their State College isolation post.
Botching just about every facet of the game, Penn State (3-9, 1-7) suffered a 41-10 pounding by Michigan State (8-4, 5-3) in a Big Ten game that brought a merciful end to its season.
The nine losses are the most ever by Penn State, which began football in 1887.
"I mean, sometimes it looked like some guys were just hanging on," Robinson said. "We can't play like that."
Penn State narrowly avoided tying the most lopsided loss of the Paterno era when it blocked an extra-point attempt with 4 minutes, 7 seconds remaining, and then scored its only touchdown of the day, a 13-yard pass from Robinson to Terrance Phillips with 11 seconds to go. The biggest margin of victory against a Paterno-coached team came four seasons ago when Ohio State beat the Nittany Lions, 45-6.
After losing three straight to Penn State, the Spartans collected on a debt because of a Pennsylvania-bred quarterback and a defense that sacked Mills four times, pummeled him on several other occasions, and reduced the Nittany Lions' attack to little more than a series of successive three and outs.
"Michigan State could have beaten us by another 20 points if they had caught the ball a little more," said Paterno, who has had three losing seasons in the last four. "This is as bad a football game as we've played in a long time."
Jeff Smoker, the senior from Manheim, Lancaster County, who was suspended the second half of last season because of a substance-abuse problem, picked apart Penn State for 357 yards and four TD throws, each to a different receiver.
Smoker, who completed 29 of 50 passes and was rarely touched, became the first Spartans quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. It was his 10th game of 300-plus passing yards, and his four TD tosses equaled a school record. Smoker, who was coveted by Penn State while he was starring at Manheim Central, had lost his previous two starts against the Nittany Lions.
"It means a lot to me," Smoker said. "We haven't beaten them since I've been here. I know all of their coaches really well and some of their players. We've got a great rivalry, Michigan State and Penn State, but we got them this time."
Like most of Penn State's opponents this season, Michigan State benefited from the Nittany Lions' dreadful special teams. The Spartans had a 54-yard kickoff return and a partially blocked punt, which led to a TD. They recovered a fumbled punt by Calvin Lowry that led to a TD. They also scored a TD after Penn State punter Jeremy Kapinos shanked one into the stands for a distance of 9 yards.
"The kicking game broke down," Paterno said. "And our pass protection broke down."
After Robbie Gould gave Penn State an early 3-0 lead with a 29-yard field goal, the Nittany Lions imploded. Smoker hit Kyle Brown with a short pass, but Brown turned it into an 80-yard TD when he juked past cornerback Rich Gardner and broke free of Anwar Phillips' weak effort to tackle him. The Spartans made it 14-3 in the second quarter when Tyrell Dortch raced 14 yards on a draw play. The end came in sight for Penn State when Smoker tossed a 40-yard completion to Brown on third and 13 from the Michigan State 3-yard line. Cornerback Alan Zemaitis slipped trying to defend Brown, who was left wide open down the sideline. Smoker ended the 94-yard drive with a 14-yard TD toss to tight end Eric Knott and it was 21-3 at the half.
In the second half, the Nittany Lions went down meekly. They went three and out their first six possessions after the break while the Spartans, who lost to Penn State, 61-7, last season, poured it on.
As they have through most of the season, off-the-field problems affected the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Maurice Humphrey, who was emerging as a go-to receiver, was left home because he broke an undisclosed team rule, Paterno said. Paterno said senior tackle Chris McKelvy, from North Penn High School, did not make the trip because he missed classes.
"I tell them if you don't go to school you don't play," Paterno said.
Despite a growing opposition among Penn State followers and alumni, Paterno has vowed to return next season.
"I want to talk to some kids and get a feel for some things," Paterno said as he looked toward the off-season. "I'll spend the next two weeks doing that, and then I'll figure out what I want to do. Nothing ever quite worked out the way we thought it would work out."
Notes: Ernie Terrell, a seldom-used redshirt sophomore receiver from Norristown High School, did not make the trip. Paterno said the former Pennsylvania sprint champion must decide whether he wants to play football or run track......Robinson started at tailback for the third straight game while highly regarded freshman Austin Scott was limited to two carries late in the game. Even though he played little in the final three games, Scott led the team in rushing with 436 yards. Scott started four games and did not play in two games, once because of illness......Michigan State gained 476 yards while Penn State managed 238......The Nittany Lions were 3 for 17 on third-down conversions.