On the last Saturday of November, Penn State took down Michigan State 35-16 to finish the regular season at 10-2.
Penn State won the toss and deferred, so the Spartans took the ball first, starting from their own 17. A Peyton Thorne throw on the run on second down moved the chains, but on the next play, Thorne’s backwards pass was dropped by Jayden Reed and recovered by Tyler Elsdon, setting up the Nittany Lions at the Michigan State 24. Two runs by Kaytron Allen and an incompletion by Sean Clifford resulted in a Jake Pinegar 37-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right to keep the game scoreless.
The Spartans started their next drive at the 20, and picked up another first down early before their drive stalled thanks to a tackle for loss by Chop Robinson on second down and a sack by Adisa Isaac on third down. The Nittany Lions took over at their own 17 this time, starting with the trusty TE screen to Brenton Strange for five. Allen then picked up a first down to the 40 with some nifty running on third and short, just getting tripped up in the secondary. On third and 13 from the 37 after a Sal Wormley false start, Clifford was pressured and forced to throw it away, bringing on Barney Amor for the first time.
Michigan State began their next possession from their 35 and a pass over the middle to Keon Coleman moved the ball to the Penn State 43. Coziah Izzard stuffed Jalen Berger in the backfield on second down, and on third and long, Kalen King sniffed out and blew up the screen attempt to force another punt.
Starting 90 yards from the end zone, Nicholas Singleton picked up six on first down and 14 on second down to get the drive moving. After a short gain, the freshman from Reading burst into the clear with a 31-yard scamper into Spartan territory. Singleton came off the field for the next three plays, and as a result, the offense gained eight yards, setting up a fourth down and two at the 30, and Clifford hit KeAndre Lambert-Smith on the run for seven and the conversion. A defensive holding penalty gave the Nittany Lions the ball at the 13, and Clifford hit a wide-open Theo Johnson for an 11-yard score on third down, capping the 11-play, 90-yard drive, and giving the Lions a 7-0 lead with 40 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Spartans initially moved the ball on their next drive, but a run for no gain, a holding penalty and another hurried incompletion by Thorne resulted in another punt. Clifford and the offense responded with an five-play, 80-yard drive in just 2:08, starting with a swing pass to Singleton for 19 and back-to-back Singleton runs, and ended with some trickery thanks to Lambert-Smith, who caught Clifford’s backwards pass and tossed a 48-yard rainbow to Theo Johnson, making it 14-0 with 11:22 left in the half.
Michigan State moved the ball to the Penn State 39 thanks to the efforts of Reed and running back Elijah Collins, but on third and short, Abdul Carter tracked down Collins in the backfield, and on fourth down, Dom DeLuca knocked away Thorne’s throw to Coleman to give Penn State the ball back at their 33.
Singleton began the next series by picking up another first down, Lambert-Smith snared a Clifford throw to move it into Spartan territory, and Allen had a nice catch-and-run for 16 yards down to the 29. On third down and five, Allen put his head down and bulled his way down to the 14. Unfortunately, he gained just three yards on the next three plays, and Pinegar’s 28-yard attempt sailed wide left to keep the score at 14-0 with 1:31 to go. Michigan State moved the ball across midfield, but Kalen King’s pass coverage kept the Spartans from popping the big plays. They did get on the scoreboard thanks to a Jack Stone 51-yard field goal, making it 14-3 Penn State at the half.
On the opening possession of the second half, the Nittany Lions moved the chains thanks to a Clifford scramble for 11 yards to the 36, but he was sacked on second down and a short completion to Johnson failed to extend the drive. Michigan State began their drive at the 22, but likewise failed to produce points, gaining just six yards on three plays.
Penn State started their next series from the 20 after a 72-yard punt, and moved the chains with a Clifford strike to Mitchell Tinsley to the 38 on third and five. On the next third down, the sixth-year senior was sacked, bringing on Amor for another punt. Reed fumbled the punt for the second straight time, but this time the ball stayed in bounds and was recovered by Tyler Warren at the Spartan 17. Two plays later, Clifford hit Warren with a throw where only the big tight end could reach it over the defender, and Pinegar’s extra point made it 21-3 with 5:42 left in the third quarter. Michigan State answered with a 10-play, 75-yard drive in 4:05 and Maliq Carr’s nine-yard touchdown reception made it 21-10 with 1:37 to go. Clifford found Lambert-Smith for 11 to begin the drive, but two runs by Singleton went nowhere and Aaron Brule brought down No. 14 in the backfield on third down to end the drive and the third quarter.
The Spartans started their first possession of the fourth from the 30, and used a completion to Tre Mosley and a pass interference penalty to take the ball into Penn State territory. Carter continued his solid game with a sack on a blitz up the middle, but Thorne hit a wide-open Coleman for 23 yards down to the Penn State 25 to move the sticks. He completed another desperation pass on third and long to the eight, and after a pass interference penalty in the end zone on Johnny Dixon, Thorne ran it in from two yards away to further cut down the Penn State lead. The two-point conversion was knocked away by senior Keaton Ellis, making it 21-16 with 10:52 left.
Penn State’s critical next series began with a Allen seven-yard run to the 32, a one-yard gain, and a short completion from Clifford to Warren for the first down to the 36. Allen picked up a short gain on the next play, before Clifford hit Lambert-Smith downfield to the Spartan 43, and Brenton Strange for 12 on the next play. Allen rumbled forward for six to the 25, and after an offsides penalty, gained six again to the 14. On third and short from the 12, Singleton was stopped short on a sweep from the T-formation, but Clifford hit Singleton with a screen on fourth down, and the running back scampered his way down the near sideline for the clinching score, making it 28-16 Nittany Lions with 4:31 to go.
Michigan State started their penultimate drive with two straight incompletions, before Thorne was hurried into a wounded duck of a throw that was grabbed by Kalen King to seal the win. Penn State wasn’t done, as Clifford took advantage of the field position and lofted a pass to Lambert-Smith in the end zone for his 99th career touchdown throw, and the score was 35-16 with 3:56 left.
The Spartans failed to move the ball on their final possession, and Penn State ran out the final 2:07 to move to 10-2.
Sean Clifford finished his final regular season with a 76% completion percentage, going 19/24 for 202 yards and four touchdowns. Kaytron Allen led the team in rushing with 82 yards on 21 carries, while Nicholas Singleton added 71 yards on 15 rushes. Theo Johnson had two touchdowns through the air, and KeAndre Lambert Smith had five catches for 83 yards and both a receiving score and a 48-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Warren. Defensively, Abdul Carter had seven tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks. Kalen King nabbed an interception, and Tyler Warren recovered a fumbled punt.
It might not have always been pretty, but hey, neither is the Land Grant Trophy. Penn State moves to 10-2 and awaits their bowl fate after Championship Week.