Michigan State football’s season has officially come to an end in Happy Valley. Finishing with a 5-7 record following a 35-16 loss against Penn State, the Spartans will fall short of bowl eligibility.
Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne threw for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception while sixth-year quarterback Sean Clifford threw for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Keon Coleman led the Spartan receivers with 91 receiving yards while wrestling with an unknown injury.
The Spartans didn’t get off to the start they were hoping for. Confusion ensued on the opening drive when Thorne threw an ill-advised backward pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed that was a little too low and he was unable to recover it.
The ball was then picked up by the Penn State defense, giving the Nittany Lions a great field position early in the game. However, they were unable to capitalize on MSU’s error, being held to a 37-yard field goal attempt from redshirt senior kicker Jake Pinegar that was unsuccessful.
Penn State found its groove thanks to freshman running back Nicholas Singleton who had more than 50 rushing yards before the end of the first quarter. He found a hole in the MSU defense for a 31-yard rush that would have ended in a touchdown if not for fifth-year safety Xavier Henderson who came through with the tackle.
The Spartans had a chance to end the drive on 4th and 2, but Clifford got the ball off to sophomore wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith at the last second before stepping out of bounds. MSU’s inability to get off the field on third down cost them here as Clifford found sophomore tight end Theo Johnson in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown, putting the Nittany Lions up 7-0.
The MSU offense was unable to answer and the defense continued to struggle on the following drives. This time Singleton rushed for a total of 32 yards over multiple attempts before Lambert-Smith was given the green light to throw the ball on a trick play. His attempt was caught by a wide open Johnson for his second touchdown, making it 14-0 in favor of Penn State.
Michigan State strung together some offense to threaten a touchdown before heading into the locker room at halftime. The Spartans had multiple chances to march down the field, including a 16-yard pass to junior wide receiver Montorie Foster Jr., but ultimately ran out of time. They had to rely on freshman kicker Jack Stone who nailed a 51-yard field goal to put MSU on the board and make it 14-3 at the half.
The Spartans struggled with costly errors in the second half as well. After forcing Penn State to punt, Reed fumbled on the return, where it was recovered by the Nittany Lions. They found the end zone to make it 21-3 on the second play of the drive when Clifford’s throw found sophomore tight end Tyler Warren.
After some offensive miscues, MSU needed a big answer to stay in the game. Despite some close calls, they did find themselves on the other side of the field with the momentum on their side. Thorne found redshirt sophomore tight end Maliq Carr in the end zone to finish the drive, but it was not an easy play to pull off.
Carr had to fight off his defender and jump at the last second to snag the ball with one hand on his way down to get MSU’s first touchdown, cutting the lead to 11 and keeping the game competitive.
After Carr’s touchdown, the Spartans got some much-needed energy to fight their way back into the game. On their next offensive drive, they moved fast on throws to Coleman and redshirt junior wide receiver Tre Mosley, before Thorne ultimately took it himself into the end zone with a little over 11 minutes to play. They attempted a two point conversion but were unsuccessful, making the score 21-16.
The Nittany Lions, however, had an answer. After struggling to contain their rushing attack, the Spartans forced a fourth and one play. Clifford found Singleton to his left and the running back had nothing but field in front of him.
Down 28-16, the Spartan offense then turned the ball over on an interception by Thorne for the final nail in the coffin. Just to be sure, Penn State pulled out one more touchdown on the first play of its next drive on a pass from Clifford to Lambert-Smith, making the score 35-16 where it would stay until the end of the game.
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