Eleven months ago, the Nittany Lions lost by one point to Ohio State and, a week later, let it ruin their College Football Playoff chances. And it happened again.
For the second year in a row, Penn State lost to Michigan State. The Nittany Lions fell 21-17 on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, an ugly loss that all but ends Penn State’s national title aspirations.
Trace McSorley made history, becoming Penn State’s all-time leader in passing yards. He finished with 192 yards while completing 19 of his 32 passes. Miles Sanders ran 17 times for 162 yards and a touchdown, while KJ Hamler led the Nittany Lions with 66 receiving yards and a touchdown on 5 catches.
Meanwhile, Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke — who torched Penn State for 400 yards in last year’s meeting — was unimpressive -- until the final drive and his back-shoulder, back-breaking TD completion in the final minute. He completed 24 of 52 passes for 259 yards. Running back Connor Heyward was a factor, converting a 26-yard fake punt and connecting on a 36-yard pass to Cam Chambers.
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Penn State finished with 397 yards with a 6.2 yards per play clip, while Michigan State had 418 yards and 4.7 per play.
Player of the game
Miles Sanders: With Saquon Barkley in the house, Sanders did his best Sa-Sa impression.
In the first quarter, Barkley’s former understudy ripped off a 78-yard run through the heart of Michigan State’s defense. The rush was 15 yards more than Michigan State had allowed in any game this season. Sanders wasn’t done, either. His 48-yard touchdown run was Saquon-esque, spinning through an arm tackle and splitting two would-be tacklers to the house.
This wasn’t a breakout performance per se by Sanders. The junior tallied 200 yards at Illinois and eclipsed 100 yards for the first time at Pitt. But this was against the No. 1 rush defense in the country, a team that allowed 33.8 rushing yards per game.
Stat that mattered
41 yards: The amount of penalty yardage Penn State accrued throughout the game.
Penn State’s six penalties killed the Nittany Lions all day long, starting with C.J. Thorpe’s unsportsmanlike conduct call. Thorpe’s extracurricular activity negated a third-and-goal stop on the 1-yard line. Next play, the Spartans found the end zone.
But it wasn’t just Thorpe’s isolated incident. A defensive holding call on Penn State defensive tackle Robert Windsor — on third-and-2 — extended Michigan State’s third-quarter touchdown drive. The Nittany Lions also suffered from a pair of second-quarter offensive penalties on separate drives, both ending in punts.
It was a sloppy post-bye performance for Penn State.
Garrett Taylor: The redshirt junior safety deserves some recognition. Taylor was all over the field, recording 6 tackles and 5 pass breakups, including a huge breakup on Michigan State’s fake field goal to break up a possible touchdown.
But Taylor’s biggest contribution was his second tip-drill interception of the season, returning the third-quarter takeaway to Michigan State’s 35-yard line. Of course, Penn State couldn’t convert on Taylor’s heads-up play, failing to score on the turnover.
Bus to Bloomington: The Spartans are behind Penn State, and here come the Hoosiers. Indiana (4-3) has lost three of its last four games. Tom Allen’s squad lost 42-16 to Iowa at home on Saturday, one week removed from its 49-26 defeat at Ohio State. Indiana’s four wins have come against Florida International, Virginia, Ball State and Rutgers. Not exactly impressive. But Indiana seemingly plays its bigger opponents close at home, and Penn State needed a 24-point fourth quarter to win 45-31 in Bloomington two years ago.