EAST LANSING, Mich. –– Pat Freiermuth caught the ball at the 5-yard line, and as he ran over two Michigan State defenders on the way to the end zone, he had one thing on his mind.

“I was kind of having flashbacks to Iowa, I’m not gonna lie, with the knee down and everything,” Freiermuth said after Penn State’s 28-7 win over the Spartans on Saturday. “I was like, ‘I have to get in this time.’”

Freiermuth did get in, and not just on that effort early in the second quarter. He had five catches for 60 yards and three touchdowns, the most in a game by a tight end in Penn State history. The scores put him at 15 for his career, tying him with Mike Gesicki for the most by a tight end in program history. But Freiermuth has played just 21 games.

“It’s cool,” the sophomore said of his record-setting day. “I definitely didn’t expect that. But I’m going to continue to get better, and hopefully the team continues to get better.”

Penn State's Pat Freiermuth (87) runs in for a touchdown on a pass reception against Michigan State's Josh Butler (19), Tre Mosley (17) and Xavier Henderson, right, during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis / AP
Penn State's Pat Freiermuth (87) runs in for a touchdown on a pass reception against Michigan State's Josh Butler (19), Tre Mosley (17) and Xavier Henderson, right, during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Freiermuth has already seen an improvement in his game from his freshman year, and the physicality he showed when he muscled his way into the end zone was an example.

“Last year, I kinda shied away from it [because] it was my first year,” Freiermuth said of his new physical style. “That was kind of what my identity was in high school. In the offseason, I prided myself in getting bigger, stronger, and faster. To be able to do that and incorporate it into my game, I think everyone’s been seeing that this year.”

The Lions jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half, with Freiermuth scoring two of the touchdowns. But, if Michigan State didn’t muff a punt inside its 10-yard line in the third quarter, Freiermuth might not have found the end zone for a third time. Penn State accumulated just 30 total yards in the third quarter, even with the time of possession split nearly 50-50.

“It honestly has to do with execution,” Freiermuth said. “We were talking with Carl Ohlson, our sports psychologist guy. He was telling us about how we have to split up the halves. We have to pride ourselves in that.”

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, center, scores on a two-point conversion against Michigan State during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis / AP
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, center, scores on a two-point conversion against Michigan State during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, left, dives for a first down against Michigan State's Shakur Brown (29) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Al Goldis / AP
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, left, dives for a first down against Michigan State's Shakur Brown (29) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

There is something to the Nittany Lions’ ability to jump out to early leads. With the way their defense is playing, any first-quarter lead puts their opponents in a hole that’s tough to climb out of.

Quarterback Sean Clifford said a lot of the team’s early success has to do with the work it puts in leading up to the game.

“Preparation is definitely the biggest thing,” Clifford said. “I take a lot of pride in preparing to play fast. The first quarter is always based off that tape that you watch early in the week and how you scheme ‘em up and everything. I think we’ve done a good job jumping on teams.”

Clifford and Freiermuth praised offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne’s game plan and play calling, but there’s something to be said for the number of weapons Penn State has.

“You go across the board from X to Z to Y to H to running back to quarterback, offensive line,” Freiermuth said. “There’s just so many mismatches that we create. It’s kinda hard for defenses to put a coverage out there for us.”