Penn State Loses Regular-Season Finale To No. 12 Michigan State 30-27

Penn State football (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) lost its regular-season finale to No. 12 Michigan State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) 30-27 on a snowy Saturday in East Lansing.

The Nittany Lions immediately fell behind 14-0 thanks to a slow start on both sides of the ball. However, James Franklin’s squad got it together and even took the lead in the third quarter.

Some big plays in the fourth quarter, paired with an efficient ground game, allowed the Spartans to prevail and end Penn State’s regular season on a sour note.

How It Happened

Penn State won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half, giving Michigan State the ball to start the game. Early in the drive, Payton Thorne connected with Maliq Carr for a 40-yard gain to set the Spartans up at the Nittany Lions’ 21-yard line.

On the eighth play of the drive, Kenneth Walker III punched it in from five yards out to give Michigan State a 7-0 lead with 11:22 left in the first quarter.

Following a three and out from Sean Clifford and Co., Stout pinned the Spartans inside their own one-yard line to start their next drive. However, Walker kicked off the drive with a 35-yard run to give Michigan State some serious breathing room.

A few more chunk plays moved the Spartans all the way down to Penn State’s 10-yard line. Michigan State capped of its nine-play, 99-yard drive with a Tre Mosley nine-yard touchdown reception to give it a 14-0 lead with 6:09 left in the quarter.

The Nittany Lions got it moving on their ensuing drive with a 21-yard pitch-and-catch from Clifford to Brenton Strange. On the sixth play of the drive, Clifford found Jahan Dotson for a 27-yard touchdown to cut Michigan State’s lead to 14-7 with 3:37 remaining in the quarter.

After a Michigan State three and out, the first quarter ended with Penn State facing 2nd and 13 from its own 36-yard line. A few plays later, Stout came on to punt, and he pinned the Spartans at their own seven-yard line.

Michigan State responded with another punt, and the Nittany Lions took full advantage. Parker Washington hauled in a slick one-handed grab for a 16-yard gain on the second play of the drive.

Just a play later, Clifford connected with Dotson once again for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game up early in the second quarter.

Michigan State drove into Penn State’s territory and faced a 4th and 6 from the Nittany Lions’ 35-yard line. Thorne found Connor Heyward on a nifty tight end screen for a 19-yard gain that moved the chains.

Brent Pry’s defense held strong and forced a Matt Coghlin 22-yard field goal attempt. He drilled it to give the Spartans a 17-14 lead with 5:59 left in the half.

Penn State got the ground game going on the next drive. Keyvone Lee broke off a 33-yard run all the way down to Michigan State’s 37-yard line. Later in the drive, with Penn State threatening inside the 10-yard line, the Spartans sacked Clifford on 3rd down.

Stout missed a 27-yard field goal to keep it a 17-14 lead with 56 seconds left in the half. The Spartans kept their 17-14 lead heading into halftime.

Penn State started the third quarter with a 14-yard completion to Dotson on the second play of the drive. A play later, Lee broke loose for 18 yards to push the ball past midfield. However, that drive would end with the Spartans sacking Clifford, bringing on Stout to punt.

Michigan State was responsible for the first big mistake of the game on the next drive. Thorne was intercepted by Daequan Hardy, and he returned it 27 yards for a touchdown. Stout missed the extra point, though, so the Nittany Lions took a 20-17 lead early in the third quarter.

The Spartans responded by quickly marching their way into Penn State’s territory. The ground game pushed Michigan State down to the Nittany Lions’ 35-yard line.

Facing a 4th and 3 on Penn State’s 29-yard line, Thorne barreled forward for a gain of five to keep the drive alive. Later in the drive, Penn State appeared to have stopped Michigan State on 3rd down, but a controversial pass interference call on Joey Porter Jr. gave the Spartans the ball on the two-yard line with a fresh set of downs.

A few plays later, Thorne sneaked it in from a yard out, but Evan Johnson mixed the extra point, so Michigan State took a 23-20 lead with 2:14 left in the quarter.

The third quarter ended with Penn State driving at Michigan State’s 40-yard line.

With the Nittany Lions facing a 4th and 3 from Michigan State’s 40-yard line, they went for it. Clifford completed his pass to, you guessed it, Dotson for a 15-yard gain down to the Spartans’ 25-yard line.

On another 4th down a few plays later, Lee was stuffed in the backfield, and Michigan State took over with 12:43 left in the game. On the ensuing drive, missed tackles proved costly for the Nittany Lions and allowed Michigan State to convert a crucial 3rd down.

However, Penn State’s defense recovered and forced the Spartans to punt it away.

On the third play of the drive, Lee coughed up the football, and Michigan State recovered the ball at Penn State’s 48-yard line.

With the snow coming down hard and the Spartans dealing with an injury at kicker, they went for it on 4th and 15. Thorne threw it up to Jayden Reed, and Reed came down with it for a 20-yard touchdown to make it a 30-20 game with 5:10 remaining in the game.

If you thought it couldn’t get worse, well, it did. John Lovett fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and the Spartans recovered it. Penn State did stuff Walker on 4th down and started its next drive with 4:02 left in the game.

On 3rd and 10, Clifford ran backwards and was sacked for a 14-yard loss to set up 4th and 24. Somehow, Clifford connected with Brenton Strange for a 25-yard gain to keep Penn State’s hopes alive.

Clifford connected with Washington for a touchdown, but that’s all Penn State would get, as it lost 30-27.


  • It was a slow start for James Franklin’s squad, especially the defense. Coming into game, Brent Pry’s defense had given up just 12 first-quarter points. Well, that number was eclipsed in this game alone, as Michigan State put 14 points on the board in the first 15 minutes of action. In fact, Michigan State’s first touchdown was the first time Penn State has allowed an opening drive touchdown this season. Falling behind 14-0 put the Nittany Lions in a deep hole from the start, and certainly played a role in their loss.
  • Kenneth Walker III is as good as advertised, man. The Spartan running back gashed Penn State’s defense for 138 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. In a game with a lot of snow and tough conditions, the Spartans were able to establish an efficient ground game, which played a pivotal role in the win.
  • In case you forgot, here’s your weekly reminder that Jahan Dotson is an incredible football player. The stud wideout totaled eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in East Lansing on Saturday. Dotson moved into third place in program history for single-season receiving yards, and he is also now tied for second place in all-time program receiving touchdowns.

What’s Next

That’s a wrap on Penn State football’s 2021 regular season. Bowl matchups are set to be revealed on December 5, so we’ll know more about the Nittany Lions’ future then.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

After a four-year career with Onward State, Gabe is now a college graduate and off to the real world. He shockingly served as the blog’s managing editor during the 2022-23 school year and covered football for much of his Onward State tenure, including trips to the Outback Bowl and Rose Bowl. For any professional inquiries, please email Gabe at [email protected]. You can still see his bad sports takes on Twitter at @gabeangieri.

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