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Penn State Falls Short Against No. 6 Michigan 21-17

Penn State football (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) lost to No. 6 Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) 21-17 Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

The Nittany Lions jumped out to an early lead, but the game turned into a gritty back-and-forth affair that saw its fair share of momentum switches. The Wolverines came up with a huge defensive stop in the end and iced the game on the ground when it mattered most.

With Saturday’s loss, Penn State’s brief winning streak against Michigan is no more.

How It Happened

Michigan won the opening coin toss and deferred its choice to the second half, giving Mike Yurcich’s offense the ball to start the game. Facing a 3rd and 17 on the opening drive, Sean Clifford hit Parker Washington for a 24-yard gain to move the chains.

Michigan’s defense held, though, and forced a 4th and 6. Penn State faked the punt, and Jordan Stout connected with Curtis Jacobs for an 18-yard gain.

Penn State cashed in after the trick play, as Stout drilled a 42-yard field goal to give the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead with 9:56 left in the first quarter.

After a Michigan three and out, Penn State kept its offensive momentum going with a nice balance between the run and pass. A 19-yard completion to Theo Johnson moved the Nittany Lions into the Wolverines’ territory, and a Clifford scramble advanced Penn State inside Michigan’s 10-yard line.

Facing a 4th and 2 from the two-yard line, Penn State ran yet another fake, but this time, Stout was swallowed up immediately and fumbled, which Michigan returned to its own 29-yard line.

Michigan went three and out again, and Penn State took over at its own two-yard line. The first quarter ended with Penn State at its own 39-yard line after picking up three first downs on the drive. Stout came on to punt after Clifford was sacked on 3rd and long.

The Wolverines’ offense started cooking on the next drive with some nice gains through the air. Later in the drive, on a 4th and 2 from just past midfield, Hassan Haskins just reached the line to gain to keep Michigan’s drive alive.

On the 15th play of the drive, Cade McNamara found Roman Wilson for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines a 7-3 lead with 5:49 left in the half.

Following a Penn State three and out, Michigan got the ground game going with Haskins. He broke loose for a 16-yard gain to get the Wolverines to their own 40-yard line.

On a 4th and 2 from Penn State’s 38-yard line, the Nittany Lions stuffed Haskins in the backfield to give Clifford and Co. the ball back with 1:35 left in the half.

Clifford connected with Washington for a 44-yard gain on the second play of the drive to advance the ball down to Michigan’s 25-yard line. After losing some yardage, Stout came on and attempted a 52-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining in the half. He drilled it to make it a one-point at the half.

The second half started with Michigan quickly driving down into Penn State’s territory. A combination of the run and pass moved the Wolverines all the way down to Penn State’s one-yard line. Then, on the ninth play of the drive, McNamara and Wilson hooked up for another touchdown to extend Michigan’s lead to 14-6 with 11:50 left in the quarter.

Keyvone Lee provided a spark for the Nittany Lions on the ensuing drive, picking up two first downs to start the drive. However, the drive stalled, and Stout came on to punt it back to the Wolverines.

After a Michigan punt, Penn State’s offense finally got the ball moving. Lee picked up 10 on the ground, and then Clifford found Washington for a 20-yard gain to set up the Nittany Lions at Michigan’s 30-yard line. Unable to move it any further, Stout missed a 43-yard field goal to keep it a 14-6 game with 6:46 left in the quarter.

The two teams traded punts, and Michigan got the ball at the its own one-yard line to start the fourth quarter.

Following a Michigan three and out, Penn State started its drive at Michigan’s 39-yard line. Six plays into the drive, facing a big 4th and 4, Clifford and Dotson connected to keep the drive alive. On a 4th and 2 later in the drive, Dotson, once again, came up clutch with a 15-yard gain to move deeper into Michigan’s territory.

On the third 4th down of the drive, from the two-yard line, Clifford connected with Tyler Warren for a touchdown, setting up a crucial two-point conversion, which Dotson converted to tie the game up at 14 with 7:35 remaining in the game.

Arnold Ebiketie came up huge on the next drive with a strip sack, which Derrick Tangelo recovered to set the Nittany Lions up with prime field position.

Penn State took advantage, as Stout drilled a 31-yard field goal to give Penn State a 17-14 lead with 5:55 left in the game.

Michigan responded with a six-play driving ending with an Erick All 47-yard touchdown to take a 21-17 lead with 3:29 left in the game.

Penn State failed to move the ball on its next drive and turned the ball over on downs after a fade to Cam Sullivan-Brown on 4th and 2 fell incomplete with 2:51 left in the game.

Michigan iced the game from there, running out the clock and winning 21-17.


  • What a typical, gritty Big Ten football game. It was a battle of the defense’s in the first half in the brisk conditions, with both teams struggling to sustain consistency on the offensive side of the ball. It was the definition of a back-and-forth affair, with both teams gaining and losing momentum at multiple points in the second half.
  • Penn State’s offensive line struggled mightily to keep Sean Clifford upright in this one. Going up against a tough Michigan front seven, Clifford was sacked seven times Saturday, the most he’s been taken down all season. With the signal-caller hurried often, Clifford was on the move quite a bit, leading to a fair share of disruption in Penn State’s offensive backfield.
  • Coming into this game, Penn State knew it needed to stop the run. When it mattered most, it just couldn’t do it. Hassan Haskins rushed 31 times for 156 yards. The run game was a great compliment to Cade McNamara, who tossed three touchdowns and threw for 217 yards.

What’s Next

Penn State will remain at home next week for a noon matchup against Rutgers. The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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