The Michigan State Spartans started off promising on a sunny and unseasonably warm day in Happy Valley. However, the inability to finish out and inconsistencies that seem like they plagued this team in its first year regime throughout the short season proved once again to be its downfall. The LAZERZ PEW PEW Land Grant Trophy stays in State College with Penn State for another year.
The start to the game was a quintessential 2020 drive for the end of this odd season. MSU drew a delay of game penalty on its opening play. The Spartans proceeded to pick up seven yards on a run by Jayden Reed and then another 15 thanks to an unsportsmanlike penalty by Penn State’s Shaka Toney. Two plays later, Payton Thorne throws an interception that is returned 17 yards before being fumbled and recovered by Michigan State so the Spartans end up with a two yard loss but a first down. Four plays later the Spartans punt and Penn State marched is 65 yards over 12 plays for a field goal.
As the first quarter closed two series later, the Spartans seemingly puzzled fans as Penn State was flagged for holding and MSU accepted the penalty despite forcing fourth down. Luckily Clifford missed the wide open receiver for a first down on the replay of third down in the opening play of the second quarter and the Nittany Lions punt left MSU with great field position. Three plays later, and it was touchdown MSU on a beautiful 45-yard dime by Thorne for his first career touchdown pass. Make it 7-3 Michigan State.
After Penn State’s eight-play, 61-yard drive ended with an untouched Clifford taking it in 31 yards for the touchdown to jump ahead 10-7, Michigan State showed some grit lacking last week. The Spartans marched it 70 yards in seven plays, only facing one third down en-route. Despite a false start on second-and-one that pushed the Spartans back to Penn State’s 26-yard-line, Thorne responded with another dime thrown 26 yards into double-coverage and hauled in by Tre’Von Morgan for his first career touchdown. MSU held Penn State to just 30 yards on its next defensive series and forced a punt.
The Spartans were pinned at MSU’s 13-yard-line at the start of this drive, but made quick work. Just 1:57 later the Spartans had yet another touchdown. Thorne had passes of 11, 37, and 19 yards before connecting to Jalen Nailor for seven yards and the touchdown. Penn State stalled out on its next drive and MSU kneeled it to head into the locker room.
What a half. Thorne was 11-13 for 202 yards to Penn State’s 92 yards. Jordon Simmons had 40 yards of his own on the ground. However, the third quarter was a lot less effective for Michigan State. The Nittany Lions came out and methodically marched it down the field on long drives. The first for 75 yards over 11 plays with a two-point conversion to boot. Suddenly it was 21-18 MSU with less than five minutes off the clock.
Michigan State started out hot on its first two plays as Simmons ran it for 16 yards and Tre Mosley caught a 10-yard pass for back-to-back first downs, but the Spartans stalled out and punted four plays later. Penn State had its own three-and-out and the Spartans got good field position at its own 43. A promising 12-play, 51-yard drive stalled out as first Connor Heyward, then Thorne’s blocker slipped up on back-to-back plays inside the five- and six-yard-lines. Then Jalen Nailor probably should have drawn a flag for defensive pass interference as he failed to bring in Thorne’s pass attempt on third. Matt Coghlin was called on and hit the short 23-yard field goal.
Penn State responded with just five plays as the Nittany Lions marched it 69 yards for a touchdown by Will Levis from the one-yard-line. PSU settled for the kick and took the lead 25-24 with just two seconds left in the third quarter. Michigan State had a three-and-out, then disaster as Jahan Dotson fields the punt and returns it 81 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 39-24 after PSU got the extra point.
The Spartans did nothing on offense besides lose 15 yards off of a sack and penalty. Punting from its own nine-yard-line, the Spartans did finally manage to hold Penn State to a three-and-out. Despite running into the kicker, PSU declined and MSU took over at its own 11-yard-line. Back-to-back eight-yard plays made a promising start, before yet another second half drive stalled out. MSU faced fourth down and long, but chose to go for it. Payton Thorne even managed 10 yards on a scramble for what would have been a first down, but Kevin Jarvis was flagged for a face mask penalty and MSU elected to punt on fourth-and-23. Penn State ate clock and gained 34 yards over nine plays and before turning it over on downs after failing to convert fourth-and-one thanks to a beautiful stop by Noah Harvey. MSU took over with 2:42 left on the clock.
As Penn State relaxed pressure late in this one, Michigan State managed to drive it 66 yards over 10 plays. The Spartans stalled out in the red zone and turned it over on downs at Penn State’s 10-yard-line. PSU was able to kneel it twice and that’s the game. 39-24 Penn State with the win.
A tale of two halves clearly as Michigan State racked up 242 yards total in the first half, but then managed just 147 yards in the second. Just 24 net rushing yards in the second half as well after getting 40 in the first. PSU and MSU managed exactly 70 plays each, but MSU finished with 5.6 average yards per play to PSU’s 5.8. A story of “what if” regarding the roster being able to finish out this game.