Postgame updates: Penn State loses close again, key questions before bowl game

·11 min read

PSU on 2-year spiral?

The Nittany Lions are now 11-10 over the past two seasons.

Even more, they should have been much better than this, much better in the snow, much better at beating good teams instead of falling excruciatingly close.

Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions place kicker Jordan Stout (98) reacts after missing a field goal during the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions place kicker Jordan Stout (98) reacts after missing a field goal during the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State did it again Saturday, days after announcing a new 10-year deal for head coach James Franklin. They played a Michigan State team short-handed by injuries and illness. Played the worst pass defense in the nation by a mile.

And the Lions just could not make them pay, could not take advantage of all of their strengths, including a healthy-enough Sean Clifford.

They fell behind 14-0 when their defense played stiff and unsure and let banged-up tailback Kenneth Walker III take it to them.

They caught up but then dissolved into a load of keyf mistakes, of not being able to execute their prolific pass game led by Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington. Heck, it took Clifford somehow escaping a fourth-and-24 play on the final drive just to make it close.

Their underwhelming running backs fumbled the ball away twice and the defense failed to make the big stops, suddenly giving up touchdowns in the red zone for the first time all season.

In the end, Franklin needs much better play along his lines and much more out of his first-year, well-compensated offensive coordinator.

A forgotten bowl game in Las Vegas or New York City awaits.

Sean Clifford, PSU goes down fighting

He somehow converted a stunning fourth down-and-24 situation.

But one more ragged day overall, this time in the snow, provided Penn State with another close defeat in the end.

Sean Clifford fought hard until the very end but the Nittany Lions lost two fumbles in the final, critical minutes and the hard-charging defense cracked too wide, once more, too.

The Lions couldn't fully take advantage of playing the worst pass defense in the nation and an opponent battered by illness and injury.

At each opportune time, the Lions stalled and struggled. Truly enough, they never looked comfortable in the snow in Spartan Stadium.

A big loss here that probably never should have been, considering the circumstances. Just like that rain-soaked, storm-delayed game here four years ago.

The final: Michigan State 30, Penn State 27.

Keyvone Lee fumble, pressure on D

The Nittany Lions can't run the ball when it matters.

Despite an improved run game in the snow, Keyvone Lee, the sophomore, struggled on back-to-back short-yard chances and fumbled away the second, his Lions down by a field goal.

That set the stage for Penn State defense. It's been the same story in these spots all season. Repeated, strong-willed efforts just aren't quite enough in the biggest moments in the tough second half of the season.

The worst thing happened, yet again.

The Spartans went for it on fourth-and-15 in the snow without an able field goal kicker. The result: Payton Thorne lofted a nice ball across the field to his best receiver, Jayden Reed.

Reed out-leaped cornerback Johnny Dixon for the critical touchdown.

Michigan State now leads, 30-20, with only five minutes to play.

Even worse, if possible?

John Lovett fumbled away the ensuing kickoff.

PSU turns it over on downs

The Lions converted one fourth-down try.

They couldn't do it a second time.

Keyvone Lee was stopped on fourth down and a long yard in the red zone early in the fourth quarter. The Lions went for it on downs instead of letting Jordan Stout try a medium-range field goal in the snow.

Stout had already missed a 27-yard field goal try and an extra point.

Penn State still trails Michigan State, 23-20.

The Lions had earlier converted a fourth down play on a throw from Sean Clifford to Jahan Dotson. The star wideout now has 7 catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

PSU defense gets help, can't hold

Two big penalties kept this Michigan State drive longer and more tedious than expected.

But, in the end, the Spartans held onto the ball in the snow, got a big pass play to its injured star receiver, Jayden Reed, and finished it with their run game.

Of course, no one can make short kicks in this game, it seems.

So while QB Payton Thorne's short TD plunge gave the Spartans back the lead, their kicker missed the extra point. The drive went 15 plays and covered 75 yards.

Penn State just couldn't quite get the stop, once again, to get off the field.

Michigan State leads, 23-20, at the end of the third quarter.

Daequan Hardy, game-changing play

The Nittany Lion defense gave its team the first lead of the game, surprisingly enough.

Daequan Hardy, the team's No. 3 cornerback, grabbed a poorly-thrown ball by Payton Thorne in the snow on third down. Hardy found his footing and quickly accelerated, covering 27 yards and diving into the end zone.

Penn State now leads 20-17 after Jordan Stout banged the extra point off the upright. For as great as Stout's been punting, he's now missed two easy kicks, costing four points.

PSU must step up offense in second half

The Penn State pass plays have been there and made.

Because most anyone can throw the ball on the nation's worst defense, by a mile, at trying to stop it.

But PSU just doesn't look comfortable in the snow in East Lansing and haven't taken full advantage of a broken Michigan State roster, in the process.

Sean Clifford is 11-of-17 throwing for 173 yards but has needed a couple of tremendous efforts from Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson to bring in throws that led to their two touchdowns.

The Lions still can't open up much of anything in the run game with Keyvone Lee's 33-yard burst down the left side accounting for all but 5 of their first-half rust total.

The difference in the 17-14 score is Jordan Stout's missed field goal at the end of the second quarter. But it really shouldn't even come to that. If Penn State's offense should be able to do anything well it's pass the ball in this game.

They must do a better job in the weather conditions to make that happen. Consider that the Spartans are also hurting from several key injuries and the flu this week.

A key target could be tight end Brenton Strange going forward. He's got three grabs for 38 yards early. No pass-game sign yet for backup Theo Johnson.

Defenses hold, PSU can't match field goals

The Penn State defense got the stop it needed but just a bit later than needed.

It gave up a few big plays late in the middle of the second quarter, including a fantastic one-handed catch by Montorie Foster across the middle. It couldn't get off the field before injured Michigan State kicker Matt Coghlin barely nudged a short field goal over the crossbar.

Penn State tried to match just before halftime and started well with a 33-yard snow-burst run down the left side from sophomore Keyvone Lee — the Florida kid who never saw the white stuff in person until last year.

But the Lions stalled in the red zone with left tackle Bryce Effner struggling to hold off the pass rush.

That gave Jordan Stout a chance to tie with a 27-yard field goal.

But he missed to the right.

At the half, Michigan State, 17-14.

Parker Washington, Jahan Dotson star

Sure, this Michigan State pass defense is historically bad.

But you still have to hold onto the ball in the snow to make the Spartans pay on their home field.

The Nittany Lions are beginning to do this, big-time.

Down, 14-7 early in the second quarter, Sean Clifford threw high to his left. Fortunate for him, Parker Washington leaped and somehow pulled in the ball with his right hand while fully extended to convert a key first down.

On the very next play Clifford found Jahan Dotson streaking open in the left slot. Easy throw, easy score.

Dotson already has three catches, 75 yards and two scores.

We're tied with 12:11 to play in the second quarter.

Can PSU take advantage?

The Nittany Lions must be able to take advantage of one of the worst pass defenses it may ever see.

So far, Sean Clifford is 5-of-7 for 92 yards and a touchdown in East Lansing in the snow. His team, though, trails 14-7 after the first quarter.

Michigan State is ranked last in the nation in pass defense and it's not even close at more than 350 yards per game. The last four games? The Spartans have somehow given up 1,741 passing yards (435 per game) and 14 touchdowns.

Penn State answers: Clifford to Dotson

Sean Clifford produced back-to-back clutch throws to his favorite receiver to bring the Nittany Lions back in East Lansing.

The PSU defense had already given up first-quarter touchdowns for the first time all season.

So leave it to the best pass combination in Penn State history to ignite a rally. Clifford first found Dotson on a third-down conversion to keep their second drive going.

Then he threw to him down the right side again, this time for 27-yard score. Two sterling catches on a slippery field for Dotson.

Michigan State 14, Penn State 7.

PSU defense on skates early at Michigan State

Opponents don't usually score early against this Penn State defense.

The Nittany Lions don't usually let anyone score touchdown in the red zone, no matter the time.

But Michigan State rolled down a snowy field twice early in this one, scoring TDs on each of its first two possessions.

Star tailback Kenneth Walker III (9 carries, 67 yards) led both drives, particularly with his 35-yard jailbreak when the Spartans were pinned on their own 1 yard line, up 7-0.

Payton Thorne, meanwhile, has been just about perfect at quarterback. He's 6-of-7 throwing and tossed a great ball to the back of the end zone on third down to Tre Mosley for a 14-0 lead.

Still six minutes left in the first quarter.

Michigan State revs quick in the snow

Nothing seems to bother the Spartans early on.

Not the flu ravaging the locker room this week. Not a rash of injuries, either. Not even the snow.

Maybe the snow helped? Who knows ...

But Michigan State plowed down the field the first time it got the ball. Kenneth Walker III seemed healthy enough running after struggling last week with a bad ankle. He carried early and late, scoring the touchdown in close to provide the 7-0 lead.

Credit QB Payton Thorne with his mobility and decision-making on pass plays to keep the drive smooth.

PSU healthy (kind of) again vs. Michigan State

Sean Clifford is definitely back at quarterback after sitting out most of last week's victory against Rutgers because of the flu.

His offensive line is nearly back, too.

The guards will be Eric Wilson and Juice Scruggs, Mike Miranda at center and Caedan Wallace at one tackle spot.

However, though starting left tackle Rasheed Walker made the trip after missing last week's game it appears that backup Bryce Effner will get the nod, at least to start things today.

For Michigan State, running back star Kenneth Walker III looks ready after struggling last week at Ohio State with a bad ankle.

Penn State vs. Michigan State

State looks to find some late-season stability today in snowy East Lansing.

Back-to-back victories for the first time since the opening of October is on deck with the Nittany Lions seemingly healthy again after a rash of injuries and a flu outbreak left them short-handed last week vs. Rutgers.

Now, Michigan State appears to be the one crippled and limping to the end of the Big Ten regular season.

Reports have surfaced that the flu has washed through the Spartans roster — one already hurting from injuries to its top two receivers, All-America tailback and various other starters on both sides of the ball.

Nov 13, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) gestures from the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Michigan defeated Penn State 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) gestures from the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Michigan defeated Penn State 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans were crushed last week at Ohio State, 56-7, but still have hopes of a 10-win season and a New Year's Six Bowl.

Penn State, meanwhile, looks to finish strong for seniors Jahan Dotson and QB Sean Clifford, who could be playing his final Big Ten game for the Nittany Lions.

PSU game day: PSU vs. Michigan State: Where to watch, what to look for in regular-season finale

Franklin's 10-year deal: James Franklin (finally) confirms Penn State as home: New 10-year contract announced

Even better?

Expect a couple of inches to snow to fall throughout the game.

Follow Frank Bodani here for updates throughout the afternoon and evening.

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Penn State postgame updates: Nittany Lions at Michigan State in Big Ten

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