UNIVERSITY PARK - Joe Paterno took a look at the Penn State schedule prior to the season and thought "we had a shot at being 8-3."
Never mind that the Nittany Lions play 12 games.
Paterno's math was only less accurate than his projection as Penn State wrapped up its 2010 regular season Saturday afternoon with a 28-22 loss to Michigan State at Beaver Stadium.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State coach Joe Paterno talks with assistant Mike McQueary.
That makes 7-5 - which is the kind of program the Lions have become - and the game was not as close as the score indicated.
In fact, other than the first-half scare Penn State threw into Ohio State, this loss was carved in the same manner as the ones to Alabama, Iowa and Illinois.
And that's by getting totally outplayed in the first half. Saturday, on a cold and brutally windy day - working conditions apparently fit for only one 83-year-old on the face of the earth - Penn State found itself trailing 14-3 and not worse in part because Michigan State chose to eat three timeouts before halftime.
Excluding the 14 points they scored in the first half in Columbus, the Lions scored a touchdown in the first half just once (against Illinois) in their four other losses and trailed a collective 68-19 at halftime of those games.
Neither side of the ball can feel good about it, but Penn State got off to particularly slow starts defensively all year, and Saturday was no exception as Michigan State's Edwin Baker went right up the gut for 16 yards on the game's first play.
Two plays later, the Lions' Devon Still was hit with a personal foul penalty on MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins, and the Spartans' first touchdown drive was ignited.
The Nits once again did not manage a single sack and were picked apart by Cousins and an MSU passing game that missed on just five of 24 attempts.
"We got off to a bad start, and the personal foul penalty hurt," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "We couldn't come up with the big stop. We've got to get stout against the run. Everything starts with that."
Paterno didn't complain about the officiating afterward but said he wanted to look at "one or two calls, particularly early."
That included Still's foul and probably another, also on Still, in which the Lions ran into the punter in the second quarter and extended an MSU possession.
There was some grumbling by the Penn State players about the zebras. Defensive captain Ollie Ogbu said, "he [Still] barely touched the quarterback, and the punter ran into him [Still]."
The Lions added a third personal foul penalty, a late hit by Malcolm Willis out of bounds in the third quarter, and the team that entered the game as the least-penalized team in the country, averaging just 27 yards per game, wound up getting flagged eight times for 67 yards.
"Drive killers," guard Stefen Wisniewski called them, and "we're a team that prides itself on not being penalized," Ogbu added.
Offensive tackle Quinn Barham was credited with a rare hat trick - two false starts and a holding penalty - and the Lions capitalized on their early penetration to the Michigan State 10, down 7-0, with a delay of game infraction that forced them to settle for a field goal.
"We beat ourselves a little bit," offensive captain Brett Brackett, who dropped two passes, said.
That was a common refrain.
Though the Lions were down 21-3 and 28-10 and were never a serious threat to win in the second half, they felt their mistakes contributed more to Michigan State's lead than did the Spartans.
"It's frustrating because we knew we'd be able to move the ball," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "That [Michigan State] was a beatable team."
But the 2010 season proved the team in the home locker room was very beatable, too.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.