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Defense Dominates Again as Offense Finally Finds the Big Play: No. 11 Penn State-42, Michigan State-0

It was a Friday night to remember in Detroit.

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Penn State found the winning formula that resulted in its 10th win in 12 times during the 2023 regular season, leaning on a ferocious defense as the Nittany Lions dominated Michigan State.

It seemed like it might be Penn State’s night when a wide open Kaytron Allen bobbled a pass straight up into the air, only for it land right back in his hands for an 11 yard gain and a first down. The offense would lean heavily on Allen during the opening drive, which resulted in a 50-yard field goal by Alex Felkins, giving Penn State an early 3-0 lead.

Michigan State answered with a promising drive of their own, which got into scoring range thanks to a beautiful downfield pass by Kaitin Houser under heavy pressure that landed right in the hands of Montorie Foster Jr. for a 30-yard gain. However, the drive was quickly halted by a diving interception by safety Jaylen Reed at the Michigan State 9-yard line.

Allen struck again with a 50-yard run to quickly get the ball in Spartans territory. It was the longest run of the year for the Nittany Lions, another good omen for a team that struggled to gain explosive run plays throughout the season. The drive would stall just short of the red zone yet again, as Penn State settled for a 40-yard field goal that went off the upright and kept the score at 3-0.

The Spartans were then quickly shut down on third and two thanks to pressure from Zane Durant, causing Houser to throw the ball away. Nicholas Singleton then took his turn providing an explosive play, catching a screen pass and racing for a 65-yard gain.

Penn State was then able to finally make it into the red zone as Drew Allar found tight end Theo Johnosn for a 22-yard gain to set up 1st and goal from the nine. Allar was sacked for the second time on the night on third down to force another field goal. Felkins was able to connect on a 30-yard attempt for a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The defense got off the field with a quick three and out, capped off with a sack by Curtis Jacobs on third and 11. Singleton then picked up where he left off. A 15-yard reception followed by a 20-yard run got the Nittany Lions into scoring range, as Allar found tight end Kahlil Dinkins to set up first and goal from the nine. Singleton nearly struck paydirt on the next play, but was brought down a foot short of the goal line. The Nittany Lions found the end zone for the first time thanks to a short pass to Kaytron Allen on third down to gain a 13-0 lead over the Spartans. It was Allar’s 22nd touchdown of the season to just one interception in his first year as a starter.

Michigan State would respond with a 29-yard reception by Maliq Carr to get to the Penn State 25, but an intentional grounding call on the next play pushed the Spartans out of field goal range. Linebacker Kobe King pushed them even further back with a tackle for a loss of four yards on the next play. The once promising drive ended with a punt on 4th-and-31. Despite a 28-yard run by Trey Potts, the Nittany Lions were unable to get back on the scoreboard before halftime.

The Spartans were once again denied on the first drive of the second half as Abdul Carter got the fourth sack of the night for the defense. The quick stop gave the offense an opportunity to build the lead with the ball just shy of midfield. Allar would later find KeAndre Lambert-Smith for the first time of the evening for a 22-yard gain to find the red zone. A fourth down conversion by Allen would lead to an 8-yard touchdown reception by Tyler Warren, courtesy of Beau Pribula. Allar connected with Lambert-Smith once again for a two-point conversion to give the Nittany Lions a 21-0 lead.

The three touchdown lead seemed insurmountable against a Penn State defense that had kept the Spartans off the scoreboard thus far, and has made moving the ball extremely difficult throughout the year as one of the very best defenses in the nation.

They proved it once again as soon as they stepped back on the field, shutting down the Spartans on third and 31 following an errant shotgun snap to get the ball right back in the hands of the offense. The defense had still yet to allow 100 yards throughout the midway point of the third quarter.

Looking for an exclamation point on a game where the Nittany Lions slowly built a lead, Allar found Omari Evans over the top of the defense for a 60-yard gain all the way down to the three yard line. Pribula would find the end zone for the second time shortly after, this time with his legs. Penn State was rolling with a 28-0 lead with just over four minutes in the third quarter.

Adissa Isaac got the fifth sack of the night for the defense on third and 12 to force yet another three and out. As the Spartans were forced to punt out of their own end zone, Daeqaun Hardy took advantage with a return that went all the way down to 28-yard line. Hardy’s explosive return led to Allar finding Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown catch as the big plays continued for an offense that found so few during the first 11 games of the season. It was Allar’s second touchdown strike of the night, as he neared the 300 yard passing mark for the evening.

Allar wouldn’t get the chance to build on the 292 yards passing up to that point early in the fourth quarter as Pribula finished the game under center with the Nittany Lions in the midst of a blowout victory.

The storyline continued for the defensive side of the ball, as Penn State again got a sack on a third and long – this time from heat coming from cornerback Cam Miller. Michigan State punted out of its end zone again on a night where they struggled to reach the line of scrimmage on many possessions.

Allen would continue helping the offense find explosive plays, churning out a 40 yard run that put him well over the 100 yard mark for the night. Allen eventually finished with 118 yards on the ground, as well as three catches for 17 yards and a touchdown through the air. Singleton finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run moments later. Singleton’s big night ended with 186 yards from scrimmage in a game where he led the team in receiving yards.

The touchdown would cap off a 29-point explosion in the second half as Penn State pulled ahead to end the season with a satisfying 42-0 win in a lopsided battle for the Land Grant Trophy.

Key Numbers

68 – Michigan State was only able to muster a measly 68 yards against an aggressive Penn State defense that made things difficult on just about every play of the night.

518- Penn State outgained Michigan State by 518 yards as the offense racked up 586 yards thanks to big days by Allar, Allen and Singleton.

137, 118 – amount of rushing yards by Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton, respectively. It was a refreshing change of pace for the two backs who were able to reel off several large gains on the ground.

7 - Penn State’s defense finished with seven sacks as they provided constant pressure to make it nearly impossible to move the ball through the air.