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Like & Don’t Like: Wolf, Levine decisions on sports often lack common sense

Photo by Cory Giger: An empty Beaver Stadium on senior day

There’s always a lot to like and not like during a football game. This is my comprehensive list of things I liked and did not like, starting with the most important story lines of the game, then going through the contest from the beginning.

Don’t like: Look at the picture above of Beaver Stadium. The place is massive, obviously. You mean to tell me you couldn’t have fit a few hundred family members of players in the stands for senior day and still had them practice social distancing? I’ve said this many times: I can go to Walmart or my local grocery store and have 100 people jammed in there shopping while wearing masks. That’s accepted. But in a giant football stadium, the rule in Pennsylvania is now no fans can be present in the stands. It’s absurd.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine have tough jobs. They have to make very, very difficult decisions trying to keep the masses safe during the coronavirus, and their latest decision this week meant that no spectators at all could be in the stands Saturday. Wolf and Levine get ripped every day for their decisions by people who hate having their freedoms taken away. I feel the governor and doctor in some ways, because they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t with their decisions.

But I do want to add this point: Wolf and Levine often seem to be clueless when it comes to sports. They make haphazard decisions about crowd sizes at outdoor sporting events that have little regard for common sense. Yes, we want to keep people safe. But c’mon, take every situation into account individually and make decisions that actually make sense for each given situation. To not allow family members to watch the game inside Beaver Stadium on senior day was wrong. Just flat out wrong. Put a cap on it at, say, 400 people, and that EASILY could have worked while keeping everyone spread out around the stadium.

These are life memories being made by young athletes, and they need their families there if at all possible to share in the moment. Again, I know Wolf and Levine have tough jobs. I just wish they were capable of discerning between different scenarios and how the rules could be altered to make sure that people stay safe while also taking common sense into account. Because again, if you’re telling me all those people can cram into a Walmart, it makes no sense that a few hundred family members couldn’t have been inside Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Lamont Wade with his son, Roman, and family before the game.

Now, as for the game itself …

Like: Give Penn State credit for the way it went about its senior day festivities. It was a great idea having the players’ family members record videos of love and encouragement that were played on the big screen during senior day introductions. There were some great and moving messages by the family members, who I’m sure who have done anything they could have in order to be present for the game. It’s just a shame they were not allowed to be because of the decision made by Wolf.

Like: Down 21-18, PSU’s defense came up with a massive stop inside the 5-yard line late in the third quarter, keeping the Spartans out of the end zone and keeping it a one-score game. MSU had first-and-goal at the 4, then the Lions stuffed a couple of running plays. Thorne misfired on third down, so MSU had to settle for a field goal. That defensive stop very well might have been the game, since a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter would have been tough to overcome.

Like: Penn State’s offense responded to that defensive stop with a nice 69-yard TD drive to take the lead. It’s a game of inches, and Clifford just got the ball over an MSU defender over the middle that Jahan Dotson caught and turned into a 36-yard gain. Then Clifford hit Parker Washington for 26 yards to the 7 to set up a Will Levis TD. That drive, coming on the heels of the defensive stop, was complementary football at its best for the Lions.

Like: PSU’s defense got a quick stop to give the ball right back to the offense, and the offense scored quickly as Clifford connected with Washington for a deep pass that turned into a 49-yard catch-and-run TD to make it 32-2 with 12:18 to go.

Like: WR Parker Washington looks like he has a chance for a tremendous career. He caught four passes for 94 yards and a 49-yard TD.

Like: Jahan Dotson had a fantastic 81-yard punt return for a TD that pretty much sealed the deal with 11:24 remaining. Dotson sped up through traffic to avoid a tackle attempt and raced his way to the end zone. It was a thing of beauty.

Like: WHAT??? They finally let Will Levis throw the ball! After running it 17 times with no pass attempts last week, the backup QB didn’t throw in the first half Saturday. But on second-and-5 at the MSU 43, Levis threw, and some magic happened. It wasn’t a great pass and was tipped, but it bounced to Lambert-Smith for an 11-yard gain. Levis actually threw it two more times and finished 3-for-3 for 54 yards.

Don’t like: DE Jayson Oweh and RB Devyn Ford both missed the game. They both warmed up but didn’t play. Oweh was on the sideline in street clothes.

FIRST QUARTER

Like: Jaquan Brisker picked off Payton Thorne on MSU’s first possession and had a nice return, but …

Don’t like: Brisker fumbled the ball at the end of the return and gave it right back to the Spartans.

Like: That could have been a tough spot for the defense after forcing a turnover but giving it back. But the Lions didn’t flinch after Brisker’s fumble, got a tackle for loss on first down and forced a quick three-and-out.

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Don’t like: Keyvone Lee scored from the 9 on PSU’s first series, but Will Fries was called for holding, pushing the Lions back to first-and-goal at the 19. The hold ending up costing PSU, which stalled at the 7 and had to settle for a field goal.

Don’t like: Sean Clifford took a hard hit as he fell on his right shoulder/head area late in the quarter. Clifford was down for only a couple seconds and got back up. But he came out of the game on a third-and-7 play, replaced by Will Levis. But the quarter ended before a play could be run, and Clifford was back out out on the field for the first play of the second quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

Don’t like: The Lions got burned badly on a 45-yard TD pass from Payton Thorne to Jalen Nailor with 13:50 left in the half. Nailor got behind Daequan Hardy for the easy score.

Like: PSU answered with a TD drive, as Sean Clifford busted free up the middle on a third-and-4 run for a 31-yard TD with 10:00 left in the half.

Don’t like: PSU’s secondary continued to play poorly as Thorne tossed a beautiful 26-yard TD pass to Tre’von Morgan to retake the lead with 6:24 to go in the half.

Don’t like: The Lions continued to just run Will Levis up the gut every time he came in. No creativity, no giving the defense any other look. Nothing.

Don’t like: The PSU defense was awful during a long TD drive by the Spartans late in the half. Sparty took over at its own 13 with 3:23 to go, and at that point, you’re thinking PSU can get a quick stop and get the ball back for a chance to score late. Instead, Michigan State moved right down the field with ease and scored another TD with 1:26 to go for a 21-10 lead.

THIRD QUARTER

Like: The Lions came out firing in the third quarter as they moved 75 yards down the field for a big touchdown. The drive started with an 11-yard pass from Clifford to KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Clifford was sharp on the drive.

Like: Parker Washington made a nice catch on a throw that was a little high for an 8-yard TD grab from Clifford.

Don’t like: I’m not a fan of going for 2 so early in the game, and PSU didn’t need to with 10:07 left in the third. But …

Like: The decision paid off when Clifford threw a bullet over the middle to Jahan Dotson for the 2-point conversion.

Don’t like: The defense allowed the Spartans to march right down the field on the ensuing series, hurting the team’s chance to keep up the momentum. Michigan State mixed it up well and moved down to first-and-goal at the 4.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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