Michigan State did it again. For the second year in a row, the Spartans (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) stunned No. 8 Penn State (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) with a fourth-quarter rally and late go-ahead score to hand the Nittany Lions a bitter loss in the first game Penn State played after losing to Ohio State by one point.
Brian Lewerke underthrew a pass to Felton Davis on a third-and-two, but Davis was ready for it, broke a tackle and then broke the hearts of Penn State fans gathering in Beaver Stadium for homecoming. Davis’ touchdown grab came with 19 seconds to play, giving Michigan State a stunning 21-17 lead on the Nittany Lions. All that was left was for the Michigan State special teams unit to prevent KJ Hamler from a big kickoff return (they did) and for the defense to hold on for the final 13 seconds of the game. They did.
Penn State didn’t play their best game of the year, and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio going into his bag of tricks caught the Nittany Lions off guard a few times. But a fourth-quarter decision to attempt a fake field goal came up empty for the Spartans and their hopes of celebrating a big win in Big Ten East play. Brian Lewerke‘s pass over the middle to Raequan Williams appeared to be there for the taking, but the pass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.
Earlier in the game, Michigan State had successfully executed a fake punt and followed it up with a running back pass to lead to a touchdown. A few trick plays were needed to light a spark for the Spartans, who were a bit short-handed on offense. Penn State’s offense was not much better. The Nittany Lions struggled on third-down conversions and had a missed field goal and Penn State was flagged for six penalties for 41 yards. Outside of a couple of big runs by Miles Sanders, the Spartans defense fared well enough to keep the pressure on Penn State all afternoon.
Trace McSorley and Lewerke each had a rough game in terms of completing passes. McSorley, in particular, did not look like himself after a career game against the Buckeyes, from the ball slipping out of his hand on a pass to making an odd decision to run out of bounds late in the fourth quarter to stop the clock without forcing Michigan State to use a timeout. That inability for Penn State to kill off more than 11 seconds on their last offensive possession with the lead proved to be critical, as was a missed field goal earlier. Michigan State’s game-winning drive started at their 24-yard line with 1:10 to play, and the Spartans scored with fewer than 20 seconds remaining.
The win helps keep Michigan State in the discussion for the Big Ten championship with games still to play against Michigan (next week) and Ohio State down the line. The loss knocks Penn State out of the running for the Big Ten East once again, and the fight just to get back to a New Years Six bowl game may have taken a tough blow as well, although that could still be a possibility if Penn State can turn things around.
Penn State will take to the road for the second time in Big Ten play next week when they visit Indiana. Michigan State will return home next week for a big game against in-state rival Michigan.