Penn State postgame updates: Sean Clifford leads 10th victory, Senior Day celebration

Sean Clifford, Abdul Carter lead Lions' late domination

Penn State delivered when absolutely necessary on both sides of the ball to gain its ever-important 10th victory of the season.

And it earned the bulky and beautiful Land Grant Trophy in the process.

The Nittany Lions dominated early, bent in the middle but stormed away down the stretch to win, 35-16, against the short-handed Michigan State Spartans.

Nov 26, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Theo Johnson (84) is hoisted into the air by offensive linesman Juice Scruggs (70) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Theo Johnson (84) is hoisted into the air by offensive linesman Juice Scruggs (70) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Clifford was his most efficient self in his final performance in Beaver Stadium. He completed 19 of his 24 passes with four touchdowns − all without an interception.

Penn State pulled away thanks to a big advantage in total yards: 410-254.

Rookie running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for 160 rushing yards behind a makeshift offensive line, once again.

On defense, fast-growing star linebacker Abdul Carter, just a true freshman, continues to develop into a feroucious force in the backfield. He tied for the team-lead with seven tackles vs. the Spartans. He registered two sacks, three tackles for loss and almost had a few other game-changing plays.

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The victory solidies the Lions as a Top 10 team and enables it to still pursue one of the biggest bowl games available like the Rose, Cotton and Orange.

Michigan's earlier win today at Ohio State and Clemson's loss to South Carolina makes the Rose even more possible. A Notre Dame victory over USC tonight would all but lock up the Lions' unorthodox path to the most prestigious bowl outside of the playoffs.

Of course, Michigan would still need to beat Purdue in next weekend's Big Ten Championship Game, as expected.

Sean Clifford makes most of Senior Day celebration

Give it up to Sean Clifford: He certainly made the most of his opportunities in his final game in Beaver Stadium.

He didn't throw the ball a lot. And he rarely tried downfield routes until the fourth quarter.

But throughout, the sixth-year senior was careful and prudent in his throws, even if he did hold onto the ball too long at times.

Nevertheless, when it mattered most, Clifford delivered at his best. He converted a fourth-down pass for an insurance down midway through the fourth quarter.

Following a turnover, he dialed up a deep pass to receiver-of-the-day, KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The pass was perfect over coverage and Lambert-Smith cradled the ball as he fell into the end zone.

The 35-yard pass play put things out of reach for the Spartans. Penn State took a 35-16 lead with less than four minutes to play.

Clifford is now 19-of-24 passing (79%) for 202 yards and a stunning four touchdowns.

Lambert-Smith has five receptions for 83 yards. He also completed a touchdown throw off a trick play.

Fourth-down connection: Sean Clifford to Nick Singleton

Penn State and coordinator Mike Yurcich continue to dial up fourth-down magic.

The Nittany Lions converted on a big fourth-down pass early to KeAndre Lambert-Smith to spark their first touchdown drive.

They just came up even bigger now with 4:31 to play.

Working to desperately hold onto a lead here on Senior Day, the Lions went for it on fourth-and-2 instead of trying another mid-range field goal.

They shifted out of full-house backfield, pre-snap. Sean Clifford then threw a sideline screen pass to Nick Singleton who used his blocking well to sprint into the end zone for the 12-yard score to just about put this away.

Penn State leads 28-16.

Clifford is now 18-of-23 throwing for 167 yards and three scores.

Michigan State, Payton Thorne storm back

The Michigan State Spartans, the most schizophrenic team in the Big Ten, once more, are giving their best effort in weeks.

Short-handed and coming off an embarrassing defeat to Indiana, the Spartans have stormed back here in the second half behind Payton Thorne's throwing and some stunning catches.

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne looks to throw a pass while pressured by Penn State defensive end Adisa Isaac during the first half on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College, Pennsylvania.
Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne looks to throw a pass while pressured by Penn State defensive end Adisa Isaac during the first half on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College, Pennsylvania.

After falling behind 21-3, and nearly more, MSU has scored twice in the second half to pull within one score. Thorne is now 23-of-39 throwing for 239 yards and a touchdown. He just ran in for a score, too.

The two-point conversion, though, failed.

Penn State gets the ball back with nearly 11 minutes remaining. It's 21-16 in Beaver Stadium.

Tyler Warren does it all, Lions extend the lead

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Penn State's third-string tight end is pretty valuable.

Tyler Warren lifted up the Nittany Lions in a big way midway through the third quarter. First, he recovered a fumbled punt along the sideline deep in Michigan State territory − Jayden Reed's second fumbled punt of the day.

A few moments later, he made a great touchdown catch in the back of the right side of the end zone. The 14-yard pass play extended the Lions' lead to 21-3 over Michigan State.

It was Warren's third TD catch of the season.

Penn State tight ends now have five catches today for 81 yards.

Penn State tight end Theo Johnson (84) hauls in a pass from KeAndre Lambert-Smith and takes it 48 yards for his second touchdown of the game in the second quarter against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College.
Penn State tight end Theo Johnson (84) hauls in a pass from KeAndre Lambert-Smith and takes it 48 yards for his second touchdown of the game in the second quarter against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in State College.

Lions lead is slim. But Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen primed for surge

The Nittany Lions have dominated Michigan State in all facets but have delivered, strangely enough, around the red zone.

So the Spartans are still in this game, starting the third quarter. They're down just 14-3.

But for how long do they survive, at this rate?

Nov 26, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton (10) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Nicholas Singleton (10) runs with the ball during the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State tailbacks Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen seem on the verge of pounding MSU into submission, once for all. They've hit promising runs but the Spartans have held on, though barely so at time.

Singleton has 10 carries for 75 yards and nearly broke a couple runs for much longer.

Allen has 13 carries for 50 yards and is adept at punishing defenses in the second half with his physicality.

Penn State leads in total yards, 245-128.

Watch for the run game early on after the break.

Senior Day tribute: Celebrate Sean Clifford for who he is ... and how he's leaving Penn State

Penn State kicking operation fails

The Nittany Lions continue to dominate this game in all facets.

But the field goal unit has suddenly lost its feel-good mojo.

Senior Jake Pinegar seemed to have found his groove a few weeks ago, bombing career-best kicks against Indiana and Maryland. He looked strong and confident and unbreakable.

Then came today against Michigan State, Senior Day, and everything has gone wrong. He's missed two expected field goal tries here in the first half. He missed the first from 37 yards. The second only from 28.

The Lions should be up, 20-0.

Instead, it's just a two-score game.

It's 14-3 at halftime because Michigan State kicker, Bryce Baringer, made his own 51-yard attempt on the final play of the second quarter.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith throws again: Touchdown, Penn State

One of the best Penn State passes of the entire season was just thrown by a wide receiver.

KeAndre-Lambert Smith's got that throwing thing down.

For the second time this season, the starting wideout has completed a pass off a trick play. This time, Lambert-Smith caught a screen pass behind scrimmage. He stopped, waited and lofted a beauty, perfectly leading tight end Theo Johnson, wide open again.

The touchdown play went for 48 yards.

Penn State receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith just completed his second pass of the season, this one a touchdown strike to tight end Theo Johnson. His first completion, pictured here, went to Clifford at Auburn.
Penn State receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith just completed his second pass of the season, this one a touchdown strike to tight end Theo Johnson. His first completion, pictured here, went to Clifford at Auburn.

Meanwhile, Clifford has just 43 passing yards on five completions.

The Lions lead, early second quarter, 14-0.

Sean Clifford to Theo Johnson, Lions lead

Nov 26, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws a pass during a warm up prior to the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws a pass during a warm up prior to the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State's sleepy offense got a big jolt from half of their rookie running back combination at the end of the first quarter.

Nick Singleton ignited the Lions with a couple of big runs and already has 54 yards on five carries.

He drove the Lions close.

But Sean Clifford finished up the first touchdown drive. First, he hit KeAndre Lambert-Smith on a big fourth-down play. A bit later, he waited and found tight end Theo Johnson wide open, jogging into the end zone.

The Lions, by the way, are now an impressive 20-of-28 on fourth-down conversions this season (71.4 percent).

Penn State leads, 7-0, heading into the second quarter.

Lions' defense dominates Michigan State early on

Michigan State has had the ball three times already this season.

It fumbled away its first possession. And it got crushed in the backfield on the next two.

It's produced all of 24 yards midway through the first quarter of a scoreless game so far on Penn State Senior Day. The Lions already have four tackles for loss − one each from Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaace, Coziah Izzard and Kalen King.

Penn State's depth, defense may win the day

The Michigan State Spartans are in an untenable situation when it comes to their defense.

To just have enough healthy, available bodies, overall.

Rookie Nick Singleton expects to enjoy a big day running the football today with fellow tailback Kaytron Allen. Michigan State's run defense has withered in November under pressure from injuries and suspensions.
Rookie Nick Singleton expects to enjoy a big day running the football today with fellow tailback Kaytron Allen. Michigan State's run defense has withered in November under pressure from injuries and suspensions.

Injuries and suspenses have ripped away any kind of chance to dominate opponents with their expected physicality down the stretch this fall. Seven of eight suspensions from a postgame brawl at Michigan hit the Spartans' defense. They are so limited they aren't even hitting or tackling in practice.

It's been like that for the past three weeks.

“That lack of contact, full-speed contact and hitting, shows up mostly in the run game, as opposed to the passing game," Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said of his defense.

Opponents have taken advantage, gouging the Spartans' already suspect defense, even Indiana last week. Will the Lions do the same today? Freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen certainly appear willing to help control Senior Day here in Beaver Stadium.

What seniors to miss most?

There's a handful of Penn State seniors who will be announced in pregame ceremonies today that you knew were playing their final game in Beaver Stadium.

Sixth-year seniors like quarterback Sean Clifford, long snapper Chris Stoll and linebacker Jonathan Sutherland have used up their eligibility, even with the extra COVID year. Others like cornerback Joey Porter, Jr. and safety Ji'Ayir Brown and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher are played enough to earn big shots in the NFL.

Then there are the guys leaving eligibility on the table who will walk with the departing seniors today. Mostly, that means their Penn State careers are over after the bowl game − but not always. Clifford, of course, was announced last year against Rutgers but decided to return for his sixth season.

Here are the key players who are now expected to leave who could be key contributors in 2023 if they do choose to return: center Juice Scruggs, offensive lineman Bryce Effner, defensive tackle Dvon Ellies and cornerback Marquis Wilson.

Scruggs, who missed more than a season recovering from a severe car accident, has developed into Penn State's most consistent, durable offensive lineman and one of the top centers in the Big Ten. He's playing nearly every snap of November games because of injuries and depth issues.

He and Ellies, in particular, would be expected starters next season. Scruggs has his COVID eligibility season remaining; Ellies still has his fifth season left.

Seniors also have the option of transferring to use their final season elsewhere, as well.

Next step for Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen

Penn State's Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are proving to be one of the best freshman running back combinations ever in the Big Ten.

And they should keep building national attention with another promising effort during Saturday's Senior Day game against Michigan State.

How high can they go?

Singleton (863 rushing yards) and Allen (748) are the first freshman duo in league history to each rush for more than 700 yards in a season. They are one of only four FBS true freshman duos to do that since 2000.

Penn State running back Nick Singleton carries the ball for a short gain in the fourth quarter against Ohio State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in State College. The Nittany Lions fell to the Buckeyes, 44-31.
Penn State running back Nick Singleton carries the ball for a short gain in the fourth quarter against Ohio State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in State College. The Nittany Lions fell to the Buckeyes, 44-31.

Singleton already owns the Penn State record for most touchhdowns by a freshman (10) with Allen just behind (9).

Now, they'll go against a Michigan State defense devastated by injuries and suspensions, one struggling more each week.

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The Spartans rank only 11th in the Big Ten in rush defense, yielding 180 yards per game. Overall, they are 12th in total defense (417 yards per game).

Singleton is in striking distance of reaching 1,000 yards this weekend. Both could easily go over the mark during their upcoming bowl game.

Singleton ranks first among FBS freshmen in yards per carry (6.54) and 11th nationally overall. He's tied for first in the FBS with six runs of 40 or more yards and fourth with three 50-plus yard runs.

Nov 12, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Kaytron Allen (13) runs with the ball while trying to avoid being pushed out of bounds during the second quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Maryland 30-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Kaytron Allen (13) runs with the ball while trying to avoid being pushed out of bounds during the second quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Maryland 30-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Follow beat reporter Frank Bodani here all day and evening for instant updates, analysis and opinion from Penn State's Senior Day game vs. Michigan State.

This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Penn State football: James Franklin, Sean Clifford vs. Michigan State