If there was a theme for Michigan State’s football team during the 2021 season, it was that it found a way to win games. That was the case again on Thursday night in Atlanta.

Despite trailing most of the second half, Michigan State found a way to escape Mercedez-Benz Stadium with a 31-21 victory over Pitt in the Peach Bowl. The Spartans were able to do it despite struggling on the offensive side of the football through most of the game.

Michigan State was on the scoreboard first, scoring on its opening drive of the game. Quarterback Payton Thorne connected with Jayden Reed on a 28-yard pass to give the Spartans the early advantage at 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game.

Pitt tied the contest with a touchdown of its own on the following drive. The Panthers were methodical, putting together a 12-play, 75-yard drive, capped off with a 16-yard run to the end zone from Nick Patti.

Matt Coghlin drilled a 36-yard field goal attempt on Michigan State’s next possession to put the team back in front at 10-7, but that was the last time the Spartans would find points for quite some time.

After a Thorne interception late in the second quarter, Pitt was able to drive down the field and take its first lead of the game at 14-10, thanks to a 4-yard touchdown strike from Davis Beville to Jared Wayne.

Things didn’t get much better for Michigan State out of the halftime break. On the third play of the third quarter, Thorne fumbled the ball and Pitt’s Cam Bright ran it back 28 yards for the touchdown to give the Panthers a 21-10 lead.

Bright’s touchdown marked the end of the scoring for the third quarter.

Michigan State was struggling to run the football through three quarters, totaling just 55 yards on 30 carries. Kenneth Walker III’s absence from the Peach Bowl was noticeable.

The floodgates opened in the fourth quarter.

Mel Tucker’s team put together two methodical drives in the fourth quarter to give Michigan State a late lead. The first was a 13-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a Thorne touchdown pass to Connor Heyward to make the score 21-16. After forcing a 3-and-out, the Spartans got the ball back and pieced together an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive.

Reed made a spectacular catch in the end zone to give Michigan State the 24-21 lead.

Pitt would get one more opportunity to regain the lead in the Peach Bowl. While the Panthers drove down the field in a hurry, linebacker Cal Haladay intercepted a Beville pass and raced to the end zone to put the game out of reach with under 30 seconds to play.

Michigan State concludes the year as one of the most surprising teams in college football, finishing with an 11-2 record.