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No. 11 Penn State Handles Michigan State 35-16 In Regular-Season Finale

No. 11 Penn State football (10-2, Big Ten 7-2) defeated Michigan State (5-7, Big Ten 3-6) in its regular-season finale 35-16 Saturday. The result secured the Nittany Lions’ first 10-win season since 2019 and eliminated the Spartans from bowl eligibility.

After recognizing 22 seniors on Senior Day, Penn State took care of business in front of a lively Beaver Stadium crowd. Sixth-year senior Sean Clifford led the offense with 202 passing yards and four touchdowns. The defense largely swallowed up Michigan State’s attack, forcing three turnovers and only allowing 25 yards on the ground.

How It Happened

On the third play of the game, Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne threw a backward pass that fell to the grass. Hearing no whistle, the Nittany Lion defense covered the loose football and stole possession. Starting quarterback Sean Clifford and the offense didn’t capitalize after a pair of Kaytron Allen rushes and an incomplete pass. Redshirt senior Jake Pinegar took the field for a 37-yard field goal attempt and missed, marking his first miss since the team’s September matchup with Central Michigan.

Although Michigan State moved the chains on second down, the Spartans’ responding drive was cut short by two consecutive tackles for loss, including Adisa Isaac’s fourth sack on the year. The Nittany Lions’ subsequent drive followed a similar trajectory, ending with a punt three plays after picking up a first down. Another two consecutive tackles for loss against Michigan State forced a third straight punt.

Penn State opened up its next drive with four consecutive runs by Nick Singleton. Singleton racked up 52 yards on his quartet of attempts. After seven plays for modest gains (and a defensive holding flag), Clifford found tight end Theo Johnson in the end zone for the game’s first score. When Pinegar converted the extra point, Penn State led 7-0 with under a minute remaining in the first quarter.

After a quick first down began the second quarter for Michigan State, the offense stalled. A blitz from Ji’Ayir Brown forced a near interception to Abdul Carter and ushered the punt crew on.

Singleton secured a pair of first downs for the Nittany Lions, one on a 16-yard reception and the other on a 5-yard carry. At the Spartans’ 48-yard line, Clifford hit KeAndre Lambert-Smith on a screen. Instead of running though, Lambert-Smith threw a bomb to Johnson for a wide-open touchdown. Pinegar’s extra point increased Penn State’s advantage to 14-0 with 11 and a half minutes left in the second quarter.

The Spartans patiently began a drive at their own 25-yard line, pushing all the way to Penn State’s 39-yard line. Michigan State’s offense began to sputter, culminating in a Carter tackle for loss and a fourth-down pass breakup Dominic DeLuca for a turnover on downs. Nine carries between Singleton and Allen, as well as 2-of-3 passing from Clifford, resulted in a 28-yard field goal attempt. Pinegar’s attempt went wide, marking his second miss of the game – as many as he had on the season coming into the contest.

Despite taking over with under 90 game seconds remaining, three penalties and a fourth-down conversion allowed the Spartans’ drive to last. Michigan State pushed to Penn State’s 34-yard line, where Thorne spiked the ball with one second remaining. The extra time earned Michigan State a bonus field goal, cutting the deficit to 14-3 heading into halftime.

Receiving the ball to being the second half, Penn State’s offense failed to make much headway. After picking up a first down, a Singleton run went backwards and Clifford took a second-down sack, Barney Amor came out to punt. Immediately after, Michigan State only managed a three-and-out.

Penn State struggled to take advantage of its quick return to the attack, but a forced fumble by Brown and a recovery from Tyler Warren gifted the Nittany Lions a red zone possession. After a short pass to Allen, Clifford found Warren for a 14-yard touchdown in the end zone’s back corner. James Franklin’s squad led 21-3 with five and a half minutes left in the third quarter, after Pinegar’s extra point.

A second-down dime from Thorne picked up 25 yards for the Spartans, placing the team in striking distance. Five of Michigan State’s next seven plays went for positive yardage, including a 10-yard rush and a 17-yard pass. The drive was punctuated by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Maliq Carr. A successful extra point brought the contest to 21-10 with a minute and a half remaining in the third.

Clifford hit Lambert-Smith for 11 yards on first down, but an inconsequential pair of Singleton rushes gave way to another sack and Amor punt. Michigan State responded with a plodding drive, extended by two automatic first down penalties against the Nittany Lions. After reaching all the way to the 2-yard line, Thorne tucked the ball and scored an important rushing touchdown. The Spartans failed a two-point conversion, but they still cut the lead to 21-16 with under 11 minutes in the fourth quarter.

The Nittany Lions strung together a consistent drive, highlighted by two passes eclipsing 10 yards to Lambert-Smith and Brenton Strange. An offsides penalty at the 25-yard line put Penn State in the red zone again and the offense took advantage. On fourth down, Clifford hit Singleton for a poorly defended screen pass and the Nittany Lions scored a 12-yard touchdown. Pinegar’s extra point made it 28-16 with four and a half minutes remaining in the game.

Three plays into Michigan State’s next drive, Thorne threw an interception to Kalen King – the Nittany Lion’s second on the year. It took Penn State just one play to make the Spartans pay, as Clifford found Lambert-Smith for a 35-yard touchdown pass. After the extra point, Penn State led 35-16 with under four minutes left in the game.

After a quick three-and-out for Michigan State, Singleton ran twice before a designed run to Clifford finished the game with a Penn State victory.


  • As usual, Manny Diaz’s defense took care of business. Led by Ji’Ayir Brown (who forced a special teams fumble and logged numerous hits on the quarterback) and Abdul Carter (who totaled seven tackles and two sacks), the Nittany Lions recorded three sacks and three turnovers. Michigan State could only muster 25 yards rushing, as the offense was largely neutralized.
  • The tight end room was remarkably productive, as sophomores Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren caught three of the team’s touchdowns. Johnson snagged three catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns, while Warren and redshirt junior Brenton Strange each had two receptions for 17 yards.
  • Sixth-year senior Sean Clifford was cheered during the pregame Senior Day proceedings before entering an efficient day. The starting quarterback finished 19-of-24, recording 202 yards and a quartet of touchdowns.
  • Redshirt senior kicker Jake Pinegar did not receive the same ovation as Clifford. Despite entering the game with only two misses on the year, Pinegar missed two kicks in the first half and faced raucous boos from the Beaver Stadium crowd. Elsewhere, Pinegar was a perfect 5-of-5 on extra points.
  • After a successful start, Penn State’s running backs seemed to falter on the ground. In the third quarter, Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen only combined for four yards. A fourth-quarter touchdown catch from Singleton improved the stat sheet and put the game out of reach, but the clear period of ineffectiveness left the second half feeling sour.

What’s Next

With Saturday’s win, Penn State’s regular season comes to an end. The Nittany Lions became bowl eligible after their White Out win against Minnesota, but their bowl will not be announced until December 4 during the selection show.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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