Rapid reaction: Michigan State outlasts Penn State for 10th win, Land Grant Trophy
A back-and-forth battle played in a driving snow storm took its final momentum swings in the fourth quarter Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., giving Michigan State a 30-27 victory over Penn State and possession of the Land Grant Trophy.
The Spartans stopped Keyvone Lee on a 4th-and-1 carry early in the fourth quarter, then stripped him and recovered his fumble on the next Penn State possession to preserve a 23-20 lead.
With the victory, No. 12 Michigan State (10-2, 7-2) gave itself a shot to regain a top-10 ranking and make a New Year’s 6 bowl. Penn State (7-5, 4-5) finishes with a losing B1G record for a second straight year, something that last happened in 2003-04.
With field goals not an option late for MSU because of the field conditions plus and an injury to kicker Matt Coghlin, Michigan State iced the game by converting a 4th-and-15 for a touchdown. Jayden Reed fended off a defender with his body and snared a 20-yard pass from Payton Thorne.
When Penn State fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, what had been a close battle all day long turned decidedly in the Spartans’ favor. A late PSU touchdown made the final score close.
In the battle of newly-enriched head coaches, Mel Tucker got the better of James Franklin and the Spartans took the bulky series trophy back after it had spent the last 2 years in State College, Pa.
Michigan State made more grit plays, winning the turnover battle 2-1 and the sack battle 4-0.
Otherwise, the teams played true to form.
For MSU, Kenneth Walker III rushed 139 yards and 1 TD on 29 carries, and Payton Thorne went 19-of-30 for 268 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT.
Penn State did a solid job exploiting MSU’s worst-in-the-nation pass defense early. Sean Clifford threw for 173 yards in the first half, but didn’t fare quite as well after the break as MSU’s pressure and the snowfall intensified. Jahan Dotson had another great game, racking up more than 135 yards receiving with 2 TDs.
The momentum swung to Michigan State when it stuffed Lee on a 4th-and-1 on its 16-yard line with 12:43 left in the game. Lee had amassed 71 rushing yards to that point, one of his better outings in a season in which Penn State has not had a 100-yard rusher. Lee blasted ahead for 6 yards to set up the 4th-and-1, but when the Lions needed a yard, they — once again — could not get one on the ground.
James Franklin might have opted for a tying field goal in other circumstances, but the snow-covered field left that unfeasible. Kicker Jordan Stout had already missed a short FG and an extra-point by that time, and conditions were only getting worse as the day-long flurries continued.
Michigan State dominated in the first 7 minutes of the game, looking way more comfortable in the cold and snow in East Lansing than the visitors at the start.
Against a defense that hadn’t given up a first-quarter touchdown all season, Michigan marched methodically for not 1 but 2 TDs before the opening period was halfway gone. Walker racked up 67 yards on 9 carries, playing a key role in drives that went 76 and 99 yards. Payton Thorne went 6-for-7 for 99 yards on the 2 drives, capping the second one with a 9-yard TD pass to Tre Mosley. Walker had the opening score, a 2-yard run.
Just when it looked like Penn State would be frozen out of any chance of an 8th win, though, Clifford gained some rhythm and starting picking apart the worst pass defense in the nation. He hit star receiver Jahan Dotson on consecutive plays for 45 combined yards to cap a 6-play, 68-yard drive.
A couple drives later, Clifford was at it again, going 2-for-3 for 46 yards to convert a short field into a tying touchdown. After Parker Washington made an impressive one-handed catch, Clifford put the next one on the money to Dotson for a 30-yard score.
At that point in the game, early in the second quarter, Clifford had 150 yards passing and Penn State had 0 rushing yards on 6 carries. The Lions appeared destined to finish the regular season without a single-game 100-yard individual rushing effort, which hasn’t happened at least since the 1990s. Records get sketchy going further back, but it’s very likely Penn State hasn’t had such a season in more than 70 years.
As the half wore on and the yard lines became hard to see as snow piled up, Michigan State played to its standard formula as well. Balancing run and pass, the Spartans finally met some resistance against the 4th-best scoring defense in the nation. After the touchdown drives, there were 2 3-and-outs.
But then the Spartans got going again, keeping the next drive alive by converting a 4th-and-6, going for it even after a false start penalty added 5 yards to what had been a 4th-and-1. In total, the march went 70 yards in 15 plays before MSU settled for a 22-yard field goal that Matt Coghlin barely squirted over the crossbar.
Penn State responded with a 61-yard march, highlighted by a 33-yard run by Keyvone Lee (yes, you read that right), that ended with a missed field goal. Jordan Stout pushed the kick wide right from 27 yards out.
After Michigan State ran the final seconds off the first-half clock, the score stood at 17-14 in favor of the Spartans. Things went according to script in the first half. For MSU, Walker had 83 rushing yards and Thorne was 12-of-17 for 168 yards. For PSU, Clifford exploited the Spartans’ pass D for 173 yards, completing 11 of 15 throws. Penn State’s much-maligned O-line allowed 2 sacks and produced 38 rushing yards — all but 5 on one play. Both teams’ receivers made great catches, some of them one-handed, despite the snowy conditions.
Neither team committed a turnover in the first half, a string that was broken when Daequan Hardy took an interception of Thorne for 27 yards and a touchdown as Penn State took its first lead. Stout clanged the PAT try off the left upright, leaving the Lions’ lead at 20-17.
Stout’s rough outing was in sharp contrast to Coghlin, who made all his scoring kicks to tie MSU’s all-time scoring record despite a sore hip that limited his follow-through. Coghlin’s first-half FG was his final attempt, however, as he was too injured to continue in the second half.
That turned out to be a key turn of events, as his replacement, Evan Johnson, missed a PAT after MSU re-took the lead with a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Walker did a lot of the dirty work on the drive, and was above 100 yards rushing before the third quarter had ended. Thorne capped the march with a 1-yard run, getting pushed into the end zone by teammates. Johnson’s try was his first game experience for the Spartans.