One Last Family Trip

Penn State punter Blake Gillikin (left), head coach James Franklin, and linebacker Jan Johnson visited Children’s Health Texas leading up to their 2019 Goodyear Cotton Bowl matchup with Memphis. Photo by Melissa Macatee, CBAA

The smiles tell you everything you need to know.

When the team travels during the regular season, there’s no time to see the local sights. You arrive, you play the game, and you get home. That’s the job.

Bowl games are different. The team arrives early, with numerous events scheduled for them in the community. For this year, the Outback Bowl’s website lists events at Busch Gardens and Clearwater Beach, and the 2019 Cotton Bowl trip featured a trip to a local hospital. In addition to the two photos embedded within this story, you can see a full gallery on the bowl’s website. Based on the good vibes in the photos, it’s time well spent for everyone involved.

With the College Football Playoff (seemingly) overnight changing what it means to play in the postseason, it’s easy to forget that playing in a New Year’s Day bowl in Florida would usually automatically qualify as a successful season and a nice year-end destination for all the offseason and winter workouts.

There’s a lot happening leading up to the game, with the local community looking forward to the contest every year, no matter which teams are playing. For some or many, this will be their first up close experience with Penn State, and like most other aspects of the football program, the coaches frame this as an opportunity more than an obligation.

“I think it’s very valuable,” Anthony Poindexter said of the off-field events scheduled. Poindexter will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator and call plays in the Outback Bowl, with new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz onsite and observing. “These kids worked all year starting way back when the season ended last year really, preparing for the season. We’re going to win the game, that’s the main goal. But it’s also a little reward for the kids to be able to go down to Florida, be as one, be like a family there, and spend our last days as a team together.”

Poindexter continued: “Be out in the community and show how we’ve been blessed with the opportunities we have. Maybe we can give back and give some light to somebody’s life that doesn’t have as much light or needs a pick-me-up while we’re there. I think it’d just be awesome.”

Linebacker Cam Brown shared a gift with a patient at Children’s Health Texas. Photo by Melissa Macatee, CBAA

Let’s not get confused. As Poindexter mentioned, everyone — myself, fans, the players and coaches — acknowledges the game itself is the main priority. More specifically, winning the game. Winter in Happy Valley is more smooth following a bowl victory.

That doesn’t mean Penn State can’t have the best of both worlds. Meet new people, expand your network, and then go out and win the game on the field. When you say it like that, the metrics for a positive bowl trip mirror those of the college experience.

“I think that’s critical, that’s part of the bowl process really is to enjoy everything about the bowl, establishment some relationships — these guys get to meet certain people — and be able to market themselves and network,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “I think that’s all part of it. And giving back to the community, honestly, it’s a great opportunity for these guys to take advantage of that.”

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Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 14

Citrus Bowl, January 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

I’m really struggling to write something about Micah Parsons that hasn’t been written before.

To put it short, he’s a monster and the possibility of him winning the Defensive Player of the Year award grows by the game. He’s been a huge role in completely transforming the Dallas Cowboys defense into one of the better defenses in the league.

Parsons had three tackles in the Cowboys’ win over NFC East rival Washington on Sunday, with two sacks, including a strip-sack that led to a defensive touchdown for Dallas.

Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Godwin and the Buccaneers held off a furious Buffalo Bills comeback with a 33-27 overtime win.

The former Penn State star hauled in 10 receptions for 105 yards to continue his Pro Bowl-caliber season.

He also displayed one of the better wide receiver blocking clips you’re ever going to see.

Shaka Toney, Defensive End, Washington Football Team

Shaka Toney makes his debut in our rundown after a good display in Washington’s loss to Dallas.

Because of COVID-19 protocols, Washington was without a handful of defensive lineman, meaning Toney had to play a bigger role than usual. He didn’t disappoint in his first NFL start, logging the most snaps on the team and totaling four tackles.

Toney has developed into a solid piece for a talented Washington front.

Penn State’s History In The Outback Bowl

2011 Outback Bowl (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

Penn State’s matchup against No. 21 Arkansas will be the program’s fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl, and the first since 2011.

Let’s take a quick look back at the previous four games in Tampa.

1996 vs. Auburn (Penn State won 43-14)

The 1995 season wasn’t quite as special as the magical 1994 campaign, but it still ended in triumph. The Nittany Lions blew out Auburn, 43-14, thanks to Bobby Engram’s MVP performance. Engram had 113 receiving yards with a pair of touchdowns.

The first half was controlled by the defenses, with Auburn taking a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. After back-to-back Penn State field goal drives, a Wally Richardson touchdown strike to Mike Archie extend the Penn State to 16-7 going into halftime. From that point forward, it was a complete domination from the Nittany Lions.

Just five minutes into the second half, Richardson connected with Engram on a nine-yard touchdown pass. A drive later Richardson again passed for a touchdown, this time hooking up with Steven Pitts. Just like that it was 29-7.

The scoring wasn’t over, though. Curtis Enis plunged into the end zone from a yard out and then a minute later Engram snagged his second TD grab of the afternoon to make it 43-7. That was 40 unanswered points for the blue and white. A late Kevin McLeod rushing touchdown for the Tigers made the final score 43-14.

A complete effort for Penn State to earn its 17th bowl win.

1999 vs. Kentucky (Penn State won 26-14)

Just three years later, Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions were back in Tampa for the Outback Bowl.

Heisman trophy finalist Tim Couch got the scoring started with a touchdown pass to Lance Mickelesen and put the Wildcats up 7-0 early. Penn State answered back with a field goal, only for Couch to connect on another touchdown pass to put Kentucky ahead 14-3.

A Kevin Thompson found Joe Nastasi for the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown of the day in the second quarter, before another Travis Forney field goal closed the gap to 14-13.

Two more Forney field goals gave Penn State a 19-14 lead. In the fourth quarter the Nittany Lions took full control as Chafie Fields scored on a 19-yard touchdown run with four minutes left to give Penn State a 26–14 lead. That would prove to be the final score.

2007 vs. Tennessee (Penn State won 20-10)

A defensive struggle for most of the afternoon, Penn State and Tennessee traded field goals on either side of the first period. The Nittany Lions scored the game’s first touchdown on a 2-yard connection from Anthony Morelli to Andrew Quarless.

The Volunteers answered on the next possession with a LaMarcus Coker 42-yard touchdown run.

A scoreless third quarter saw the score locked in a 10-10 tie, only for a Tony Davis 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown to completely flip the game on its head for the Nittany Lions.

A stingy Penn State defense and another Kevin Kelly field goal secured the 20-10 win, the Nittany Lions’ third win in Outback Bowls.

2011 vs. Florida (Florida won 37-24)

The game started brightly enough for the Nittany Lions as Matt McGloin found Derek Moye for a 5-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.

The Gators bit back with 14 unanswered, including a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Then, Penn State responded with 10 points unequalled of their own (a Michael Zordich TD plunge and then a Collin Wagner field goal). At halftime, the Nittany Lions held a narrow 17-14 lead.

The second half proved to be a different story, though. In what was Urban Meyer’s final game as head coach of the Gators, Florida rallied to outscore Penn State 23-7 in the second half. An Ahmad Black 80-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the win for the SEC outfit. It was Penn State’s first loss in the Outback Bowl.

So, there you have. A brief history of Penn State at the Outback Bowl. Let’s hope the Nittany Lions improve to 4-1 in the game in a few weeks.


Lifelong Service to Penn State

John Black (center) has shared this will be his last season covering Penn State football, his 46th year as editor of The Football Letter. Prior to the home finale against Rutgers last month, John’s family joined him in the press box for a ceremony recognizing his inclusion on a commemorative plaque. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

John Black, legendary Penn Stater and lifelong ambassador for the University, has announced 2021 will be his last season covering Penn State football for The Football Letter, a member benefit of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Black, a 1962 Penn State graduate who served in the U.S. Marines, walked onto the Penn State football team and served as the editor of The Daily Collegian for two years after initially joining the student newspaper as a sportswriter. In his role as editor of The Football Letter, Black covered Penn State as the team rose from an eastern power to a nationally premier and globally recognized program throughout the decades. Notably, he authored Football Letter columns from Penn State’s national title wins in the 1983 Sugar Bowl and 1987 Fiesta Bowl — sharing a firsthand account with alumni and fans.

Black has covered the last 564 Penn State football games out of the 1,355 games in Penn State’s illustrious 135-year gridiron history, saying “I have always tried to write about the game For the Glory of Penn State.”

After graduation from Penn State in 1962, Black went to work for the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington, D.C., when Edward R. Murrow was the director. He covered the civil rights beat from 1962-66, when USIA sent him to New York to be a United Nations correspondent for USIA, covering meetings and actions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Human Rights Commission, and other international organizations headquartered in the United Nations Building in New York City.

Black accepted the position as editor of the Penn Stater magazine in 1970, then rose to become the deputy director of the Alumni Association. He formally retired in 2001 and stayed on as editor of The Football Letter in a volunteer role, assuring the continuation of the historic publication.

“John’s lifelong commitment to Penn State and her alumni is unparalleled having served the Alumni Association in an official capacity for parts of seven decades,” Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford said. “I count myself among the lucky Penn Staters to have had the chance to serve this great University with him. His legacy is in the lives he touched, the people he made feel special, and the countless stories he has told that live forever as part of the lore of Dear Old State.”

“I think a tremendous responsibility comes with that,” Black said in 2014 of writing The Football Letter, “because you’re doing your job and really following through on trying to be the eyes and ears at the game for all avid alumni and fans. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Black, the longest-tenured beat writer, has carried on the legacy and original mission of Ridge Riley, a 1932 Penn State graduate and longtime Penn State administrator. In 1938, Riley created The Football Letter, the longest-running publication of its kind in the country, to ensure alumni would remain connected to the football program. The week after each contest, alumni and fans across the nation read an eyewitness account of each game. Since this was before the invention of television and decades before the proliferation of media coverage, The Football Letter often served as the sole source for Penn Staters to follow the football team and learn in-depth details that Riley shared from being in attendance.

As Black began his first season authoring The Football Letter in 1976, he wrote the last chapter of Road to No. 1 after Riley’s death in early January 1976. Written by Riley, Road to No. 1 is the most comprehensive book ever written on Penn State football and includes a foreword from Joe Paterno. Riley and Paterno spoke often, with Paterno seeing Riley as a father figure and an integral part of the program as editor of The Football Letter. Black worked off Riley’s notes and consulted with Riley’s wife, Margaret, to ensure the book was finished and ready for publication.   

“Writing The Football Letter has given me the opportunity to see every Penn State game since 1976, and to see it on a firsthand basis, where I’m concentrating on it and trying to absorb it as much as I can,” Black says. Photo credit: John Patishnock

Black has remained active with the Alumni Association since retiring from his full-time responsibilities, attending events and meetings, where he remains a popular conversationalist, speaker, and guest. Recently, he authored a column in the January/February 2020 issue of the Penn Stater, marking the 150th anniversary of the Alumni Association. In the article, Black shares:

“Writing The Football Letter has given me the opportunity to see every Penn State game since 1976, and to see it on a firsthand basis, where I’m concentrating on it and trying to absorb it as much as I can. It’s not just going for a big tailgate and walking in to see the game as something that goes on, and then going home. For me, it’s been an opportunity to really closely follow the exploits of the Penn State football team.” The full article is available to read online.

Black’s name was included on the groundbreaking installation of a commemorative plaque in the Beaver Stadium press box, recognizing him for serving on the press corps for 25-plus years. The plaque was unveiled prior to this season’s home finale against Rutgers, and you can see a video and photos of the ceremony on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page. Additionally, in 2020, Black co-hosted the inaugural season of The Football Letter Live, a weekly online show that’s part of the recent expansion of the publication.

Black spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps before coming to Penn State and becoming editor of The Daily Collegian, as a student, and, eight years later, of the The Penn Stater magazine as an Alumni Association staff member. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

The Football Letter will continue to remain an Alumni Association member benefit, with the game day emails, Football Letter Live, and additional components all returning next season.

John lives in State College with his wife, Veda Kay. They enjoy attending campus and athletic events, traveling, and spending time with their three children and eight grandchildren.

For more on The Football Letter, including how Alumni Association members can access archived issues, visit the Alumni Association’s website.

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Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 13

Penn State at Pitt 2018 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Quite a full rundown this week, so let’s dive into it.

What a game and what a season Chris Godwin is having down in Tampa.

Godwin had a monster afternoon on Sunday, hauling in 15 receptions for 143 yards in the Buccaneers’ 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Those 15 catches were a Tampa Bay record for receptions in a single game and the most any player has recorded this season.

Miles Sanders, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

A welcome return for Miles Sanders to our rundown.

It’s been a challenging season for Sanders, dealing with injury and a lack of usage, but he broke out in a big way on Sunday.

Sanders helped lead the team to a win over the New York Jets with 24 carries for 120 yards, while also catching three passes for 22 yards.

He did need to leave the game early due to an ankle injury and did not return, but should be back when the team returns from its bye week.

Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pat Freiermuth’s two-point conversion reception proved to be the game-winner for the Steelers in their AFC North clash with the Ravens.

Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Micah Parsons continues his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign and remains in the hunt for the NFC Defensive Player of the Year award.

Parsons tallied his 10th sack of the season in Dallas’ much-needed win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football. He also finished with five total tackles.

Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback, Detroit Lions

Welcome to the win column, Detroit!

The Lions claimed that elusive first win of the season in dramatic fashion, topping the Vikings with a touchdown as time expired.

Amani Oruwariye was his usual solid self in the win, finishing with seven tackles, including a tackle-for-loss.

Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are on a roll and are firmly in the AFC Wild Card hunt.

Mike Gesicki remains a key piece in this resurgence for Miami and snagged another seven receptions in Sunday’s win over the Giants.

The tight end ranks second on the team with 642 receiving yards.

Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants

While Saquon Barkley isn’t back to his excellent best just yet, there are signs he’s coming around after an ankle injury knocked him out of action for a few weeks.

Barkley rushed for 55 yards on the ground and added six catches for 19 yards.

Success With Honor Exemplified

In the past few days, two Penn Staters were recognized for contributions that go beyond the playing field, exemplifying Success With Honor.

On Tuesday, former Penn State linebacker and current Detroit Lions fullback Jason Cabinda was nominated by his organization for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. The honor recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities, in addition to their success on the field.

“Guys like Jason Cabinda can change the world,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said in a statement released by the team. “He is a man of principle who sets such a positive example for our entire locker room. Since the day I met him, he has embodied what it means to be a leader on and off the field. With our platform in today’s NFL, it is our duty to help lift up the lives of others, and Jason carries this responsibility with dignity and honor.”

As a Nittany Lion, Cabinda totaled 283 tackles as a reliable linebacker from 2014-17. He stood out during his senior season in Happy Valley by making 88 total tackles, forcing two fumbles, and grabbing 6.5 tackles for loss.

Since joining Detroit in 2019, Cabinda has been devoted to the youth and community in Detroit through his various efforts with Davison Elementary School. This August, he hosted a Back to School Book Drive where he gave out more than 800 books in addition to school supplies for students to take home. Cabinda also held virtual weekly reading comprehension sessions with Davison students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of eradicating childhood illiteracy.

Incentivizing students to invest in their education, he established the “Jason Cabinda Attendance Award,” given to students that maintain 100 percent attendance during the school year. His programming at Davison Elementary has garnered funding from the Ford Motor Co. Fund, Athletes for Charity and other donors.

“Walter Payton’s legacy embodies so many things. He was one of the greatest running backs on the field, and he truly looked out for people that didn’t have a voice and gave them a voice. I think within my character, I hope to embody Walter Payton in the sense of wanting to look out for others and wanting to be somebody who gives back and be somebody who remembers their roots and where they came from,” Cabinda said in the release from the team. “When you’re in this position, you can have such an impact on these communities. You can have an impact knowing that the person that is standing in front of them is a person that has been in their shoes and has been sitting in their seats.”


A current Nittany Lion also received recognition on Tuesday, as Penn State men’s basketball senior forward John Harrar was named a top 30 candidate for the prestigious Senior CLASS Award.

To be eligible for the award, a player must be classified as senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages athletes to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

From the list of 30 candidates, a committee will select 10 finalists in February. Those 10 names will then be placed on the official ballot for a nationwide vote. Fan balloting will be coupled with votes from coaches and media to determine the recipient of the award.

Harrar has been actively involved in several community service initiatives throughout his time in Happy Valley, including the State College Area Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk, Coaches vs. Cancer-Penn State initiatives, and volunteering at the Centre County United Way Day of Caring where he and the Nittany Lions have served breakfasts to the 1,500 volunteers.

Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry had this to say about Harrar in a recent press conference: “What that kid does every day – in practice, in the film room, in the locker room, on the court – that’s Penn State. When I got here and people started telling me about it –  I’ve got people on my staff from Penn State, and people in the community tell me about Penn State – what I hear that Penn State is, I see it every day and I see it in John and what he does and who he is.”

In addition to his success on the court (he is currently in the top 10 in the country in rebounding), Harrar is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He graduated in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in management and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in management and organizational leadership from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.

Harrar is the well-documented leader for Penn State basketball. He was named a recipient of the 2021 Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award, one of just 28 recipients amongst all Big Ten student-athletes in every sport. He is known for consistently bringing a strong leadership presence and outstanding work ethic that has been praised by opposing coaches and national media alike.

Harrar is also a two-time recipient of Big Ten Sportsmanship Award that is awarded to one member of each Big Ten team.

With players granted an extra year of eligibility due to the Covid-19 pandemic, returning to Penn State for an extra season was never a hard decision for the sixth-year forward, even with the possibility of transferring elsewhere on the table.
 
“I have no regrets coming back,” said Harrar. “This is home for sure.”

Officially Official

Last month, James Franklin and Penn State agreed to a 10-year extension that outlines ways the football program will compete 365 days a year. This wasn’t news for the players on the team and incoming recruits, as Franklin had kept everyone updated. Now that the contract is official, the direct feedback Franklin’s been receiving has been positive. Photo credit: John Patishnock

James Franklin isn’t going anywhere.

While there may have been doubts among various sections of the fan base and other stakeholder groups, the current team and incoming recruits knew this all along. Beyond generally saying he’s handling things in-house, Franklin didn’t publicly comment in recent months while national writers and commentators pushed out the same tired storyline of him possibly leaving for another school.

Maybe that’s because he didn’t feel the need to say anything. If so, he was right.

He’s indicated time and again over the years — through both his actions and his words — that he’s committed to Penn State. You don’t passionately advocate for improving the infrastructure of a program, finally get everything in place, and then start all over somewhere else. And for what it’s worth, I don’t buy that USC is a more attractive job than Penn State. If you want to live in L.A., more power to you, but even that has its drawbacks.

The reasons why Penn State is a better job than USC (or LSU) is a topic for another column. For now, what’s important is that the lengthy extension didn’t come as a shock to the people inside Lasch. So, for all the misguided questions about distractions this season, it’s easy to argue that factors outside the team’s control, such as injuries, played a much bigger role this fall than anything else.

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are preparing for their fifth consecutive New Year’s Six/New Year’s Day bowl. Photo credit: Steve Manuel

“The recruits, I think there is a sense of relief,” Franklin said Sunday evening. “They were all informed the whole way, but, when you’re seeing things in the media, and when you also see so many other places and so many coaches say that they’re not doing anything and then they do, it gives you pause. So I understand that. As much as I’m talking to these families and kids and explain it to them, what’s going on in the process, it still makes them feel better when they see it come out publicly.”

Want to see the ripple effect of jumping from coach to coach? Look at Nebraska, Florida State, Miami, or Texas, among other programs that are now a shadow of their former selves. For all the angst concerning the team this season, Franklin and the Nittany Lions are preparing to play in their fifth straight New Year’s Six or New Year’s Day bowl. That a 7-5 record was enough to get Penn State playing in the Outback Bowl underscores the strength of the program that’s been built and maintained ever since Franklin arrived in 2014.

Critical observation is good (I feel) in all aspects of life. You don’t improve without identifying how you can improve. Whether that’s with your goals re: health, finances, business, or in leading a college football program.

What’s even better is direct feedback from people who self-identify as being in your corner. Franklin has built a good rapport with a group of lettermen that includes Anthony “Spice” Adams, LaVar Arrington, and Brandon Short. They’ve spent time around the program and like the approach that Franklin and his administration are taking.

One reason for the support is they’ve seen how things are done with the current staff. The day after the game against Michigan last month, Adams visited Franklin in his office and told him, “‘Coach, I love what you’re doing with the winning and those types of things, but it’s the other stuff. It’s how much you care about the kids,'” Franklin said, relaying the conversation.

“The impact that Penn State had on him, the impact that the coaches had on him, I think that’s something that’s resonated with me since I’ve come back to Penn State: is how important the entire experience is for Penn Staters,” Franklin continued. “For our lettermen, for the people in the community, the type of young men we recruit, the families that we joined with — all of those things are important. So, the feedback from the lettermen and things like that has been really good.”

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The Roaring 20: Penn State-Michigan State

John Patishnock/The Football Letter

Time for this week’s Roaring 20, looking back at a snow-filled weekend in East Lansing as Penn State dropped its regular season finale to Michigan State, 30-27.

1. Tough end to the regular season for the Nittany Lions in a game that was dominated by the snow. It started to come down about an hour before our Pep Rally on Saturday and didn’t seem to stop. As a native Michigander myself, it was a fitting homecoming.

2. Hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I certainly enjoyed getting back home here to Michigan to enjoy time with friends and family. It’s not something anyone should take for granted.

3. Shoutout to the field crew at Spartan Stadium, who worked hard all day and evening to keep the field lines cleared off as best as they could.

4. Another shoutout to our alumni in Michigan. Was great seeing Penn Staters come out to our final Pep Rally of the regular season. It’s been a blast traveling around the Big Ten this season and seeing how many Nittany Lion alumni and fans come out to support Dear Old State.

5. The weather conditions didn’t stop plenty of Penn State support from invading Spartan Stadium, either.

6. Great video from John Patishnock for Penn State’s team entrance.

7. Obviously, a disappointing day for Penn State. Jahan Dotson was once again a bright spot for the Nittany Lions, though. His two touchdown grabs brought his season total to 12.

8. Jahan is going to be an exceptional player at the next level. He’s had a historic season and career for the blue and white. One (likely) final act to come in the bowl game.

9. DaeQuan Hardy’s pick-six in the third quarter was Penn State’s third of the season.

10. Penn State now has a takeaway in 18 straight games.

11. Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III is a heck of a player. The Doak Walker Award favorite toughed out a nagging ankle injury to once again help lead his team to a win. Walker III finished the day with 30 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown.

12. Nothing equals Happy Valley, but Michigan State’s campus was quite pretty, especially with a layer of snow covering the ground, trees and buildings. If you ever get out to a game in East Lansing, spend some time and take in the campus sights.

13. Penn State’s bowl game destination will be announced Dec. 5. The Nittany Lions look as though they’re headed to one of three postseason games: The Pinstripe Bowl, The Las Vegas Bowl or The Music City Bowl.

15. Michigan could be the Big Ten’s representative in the College Football Playoff if the Wolverines take down Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. That one should be an old-school defensive battle.

16. This week’s Football Letter will be delivered to members on Tuesday of this week, highlighted by John Black’s letter, game photos, videos, and other Alumni Association tidbits.

17. Thanks to everyone who followed along with us, whether that be reading the letter, checking out the blog or following us on Twitter. Your interest and support is much appreciated.

18. We’ll have plenty of coverage leading up to and at the bowl game — wherever that may be — so stick with us as we close out the 2021 season.

19. The winter sports season is also ramping up, with wrestling, hockey, basketball, and other sports all in action. If you’re in Happy Valley at all over the next few months, get out to a game or two if you can.

20. We Are!

Giving Themselves A Chance

Micah Shrewsberry and the Nittany Lions men’s hoops team battled LSU on Friday night in the Emerald Coast Classic. The four-team tournament’s taking place in Northwest Florida State’s gym, with Penn State pushing LSU to overtime with a buzzer-beating basket before falling 68-63. Photo credit: Penn State Men’s Basketball.

Micah Shrewsberry sounds confident. The way his team plays explains why he feels that way.

Penn State men’s basketball is spending the holidays in Northwest Florida, as part of the four-team Emerald Coast Classic. The Nittany Lions will spend some extra time together, staying several days as opposed to the typical overnight trips for a standard game on the schedule. Along with team bonding, these games often serve as guideposts for how the team will fare in conference competition.

Based on Friday night, Shrewsberry will have his team ready.

The Nittany Lions’ first opponent was LSU, which finished 19-10 and won an NCAA Tournament game last season. The Tigers were 8-point favorites, though entered the locker room at halftime facing a 32-29 deficit. In a game with plenty of crucial possessions, Penn State didn’t flinch, sending the game to overtime at the buzzer after Seth Lundy caught a carom in midair and scored on a put-back with one-tenth of a second left.

Lundy was one of four Nittany Lions to score eight-plus points, with Jalen Pickett (14), Sam Sessoms (13), Myles Dread (13), and Lundy (8) the top scorers for Penn State.

“If you look at this game, how LSU wants to play, if you look at the scores that they’ve had, you look at what they do, we turned this into a Big Ten game. That’s what we do with our defense,” Shrewsberry said after the game on a media call. “If we defend like this, you give yourself a chance every single night, and this is going to be the Big Ten. … So this is great preparation for us.”

To Shrewsberry’s point, the over/under for this game (the expected number of points scored for both teams) was 141.5. If you’re wondering how it’s possible to score a half-point, that’s purely for betting purposes. Even with the extra period, Penn State and LSU scored 10 less points combined than expected.

That’s what Shrewsberry was talking about when he said Penn State turned this into a Big Ten game. In LSU’s first five games, the Tigers scored at least 74 every time out, including 101 in their season opener. Overall, LSU averaged 85.4 points coming into Friday night’s contest. Penn State held LSU to 58 points in regulation, 27 points below the Tigers’ season average.

Pretty darn impressive. You can check out Lundy’s buzzer-beater and the team’s game graphic below. We’ve also included our full Q&A exchange with Shrewsberry, so you can see the entire context.

Q: Micah, I ask this question especially within the context that the Big Ten now plays a couple conference games in December: When you have a game like tonight where there are so many crucial possessions, how much does that prepare the guys for the upcoming Big Ten season?

A: “You know what, for us, if you look at this game, how LSU wants to play, if you look at the scores that they’ve had, you look at what they do, we turned this into a Big Ten game. That’s what we do with our defense. If we defend like this, you give yourself a chance every single night, and this is going to be the Big Ten. These are going to be the wars like this in the Big Ten, so this is great preparation for us. Who’s going to go to the glass as hard as these guys? Well, Michigan State will on Dec. 11. We’ve got to get EJ Liddell off the glass but he’s shooting 3s just like (Darius) Days was tonight. So, this was great practice for these early Big Ten games that are coming up. But the effort that we play with, what we did tonight effort-wise, what we did against Cornell the other night, effort-wise, that gives you a chance. That gives you a chance in the Big Ten, and that’s all we’re asking for. We want a chance to compete.”

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Penn State Preview: Michigan State

Penn State v. Michigan State 2020 (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season. Welcome to this week’s game preview. 

Game Details: Penn State at No. 12 Michigan State. 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Venue: Spartan Stadium. East Lansing, Michigan.

Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 36 with increasing cloudiness for kick-off. Chance of flurries later in the evening.

The Line: Penn State -1.5 (via SI SportsBook).

All-Time Series: Series tied 17-17-1.

Last Meeting: Penn State won last season’s matchup, 39-24.

Last Week: Penn State blanked Rutgers 28-0. Michigan State was demolished at Ohio State, 56-7.

Penn State v. Rutgers (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

Other Big Ten Games This Weekend: 
– No. 16 Iowa at Nebraska (1:30 p.m. ET on Friday. BTN)
– No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan (Noon ET. Fox)
– Maryland at Rutgers (Noon ET. BTN)
– Northwestern at Illinois (3:30 p.m. ET. BTN)
– Indiana at Purdue (3:30 p.m. ET. FS1)
– No. 14 Wisconsin at Minnesota (4 p.m. ET. Fox)

The Lead: Contrasting fortunes last week for these two teams. Penn State battled a team-wide flu bug to shutout Rutgers, 28-0. Michigan State fell flat on its face in its big matchup at Ohio State, barely laying a finger on the Buckeyes in a 56-7 loss. The Scarlet Knights punted on 10 of its first 11 drives with the other drive ending the first half and its final three drives ending in a turnover on downs, an interception and the end of the game. Rutgers crossed the 50-yard line on only one drive. The Nittany Lions also shutout Indiana this season, marking the first time Penn State has shutout two conference opponents since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lions can slow down Kenneth Walker III and the Spartans running attack. As Keneth Walker goes, so goes Michigan State. He is the focal point of everything they do. And as we saw last week at Ohio State, if he’s held in check the Spartans are very beatable. The Michigan State football standout junior running back is officially one of three finalists nominated for The Maxwell Award, and one of three finalists for The Doak Walker Award. If Penn State’s defense can shut him down, the blue and white have a great shot at claiming their eighth win of the season.

Michigan State Wins If: Kenneth Walker III gets back on track. Take everything I just said about what happens when you slow Walker down and apply the opposite if he gets going. Not many teams have had success running against this Penn State defense this season. If Walker has a stellar day, the Spartans can get to the 10-win mark.

Penn State v. Rutgers (Photo by Steve Manuel/The Football Letter)

Keep An Eye On: Sean Clifford. Head Coach James Franklin announced at his Tuesday press conference that Clifford would start against the Spartans. He left last week’s win over Rutgers early with that previously mentioned flu bug. If he’s good to go, he’s Penn State’s starter. On another note, huge shoutout to freshman QB Christian Veilleux who stepped in for the ill Clifford and performed well to lead the Nittany Lions to a win last week.

Trivia Tidbit: Each school was founded in 1855, Michigan State on Feb. 12 and Penn State on Feb. 22. The schools were the prototypes after which the Land Grant system was patterned. Each institution brought to American education the new dimensions of service and outreach in addition to education and research.

Honoring John Black: Saturday was a special day for John Black, author of The Football Letter for the past 45 seasons. John’s name was officially included on a commemorative plaque that was unveiled in the Beaver Stadium press box during a pregame ceremony, and you can see a video of the recognition on our Facebook page. We’ve also got photos on our Twitter page. Can’t think of anyone more worthy of this kind of recognition than John!

Membership Note: Penn State email personal addresses available to members of the Penn State Alumni Association are hosted by Google’s G Suite for Education. When you activate your alumni email address, you also get full access to all of the tools available in G Suite for Education. G Suite for Education is primarily designed for educators, and features many tools intended to facilitate learning in K-12 and higher education environments. However, tools such as Jamboard, a cloud-based, collaborative smartboard, and Meet, a tool for online video calls and messages, have many applications you may find very useful. Lean more here.

Score Predictions: 
John Patishnock: Penn State 28, Michigan State 16
Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 30, Michigan State 17