Penn State looked to end its season on a high note with a win against Michigan State in East Lansing.
But critical mistakes down the stretch cost the Nittany Lions and allowed the Spartans to take hold of the game in the fourth quarter.
While Penn State spent much of the day in the lead, crucial miscues in all three phases led to their downfall once again in 2021 and seemed to be a fitting end to a disappointing season.
Here is how our staff graded the Nittany Lions’ 30-27 loss to the Spartans.
Offense: B+ | Seth Engle
There’s not much more you can ask for in the snow. The offensive performance wasn’t perfect but Sean Clifford did the most he could to move the ball down field despite the inclement weather.
The fifth-year senior Clifford threw for a respectable 23-for-34 for 313 yards and three touchdowns in what was likely his final regular-season game as a Nittany Lion.
Another player who likely played his last regular-season game in the blue and white? Jahan Dotson, who went off for 137 receiving yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions.
On the ground, Keyvone Lee held his own rushing, for 79 yards on 15 attempts — one of the better rushing performances by a Nittany Lion this season.
Despite what seemed like decent performances across the board on offense, certain play-calling mistakes and a snowing downfall held Penn State back from truly taking advantage of the worst passing defense in the Big Ten.
Defense: C | Max Ralph
Saturday marked one of the worst defensive performances of the season for Penn State.
The run defense was subpar all afternoon, as Heisman hopeful Kenneth Walker III ran wild on numerous occasions, tallying 138 yards and a touchdown. Each time the Nittany Lions grabbed some momentum, Walker and Michigan State ripped it right back.
Penn State struggled to find anything in the pass rush, only getting to Payton Thorne a few times on the afternoon. The blue and white was abysmal on third and fourth down as well, as the Spartans converted 12 of 22 attempts.
Penalties reared their ugly head for Penn State again, too, as some defensive pass interference calls helped Michigan State big time to extend drives.
When the Nittany Lions needed it most, the defense fell short after a strong performance all season long.
Special teams: D | Justin Morganstein
Special teams play was clearly an issue given the conditions on Saturday.
Kicking field goals was nearly impossible, it seemed, as each team missed an extra point with Jordan Stout missing a short field goal as well.
This put Penn State in a tough position to go for it on fourth down and was not ideal for a tightly contested matchup.
The Nittany Lions ended up bringing in Jake Pinegar to take the final extra point after not kicking all season as it looked like the snow really affected Stout.
The punting was good, as usual, but the lack of a kicking game hurt Penn State in the end.
Coaching: C- | Justin Morganstein
This game was a battle of the contract extensions between James Franklin and Mel Tucker, who both signed 10-year extensions this week to stay with their respective programs.
While Penn State and Michigan State had nothing to play for Big Ten title implications, they both wanted to end their regular seasons on a high note.
Tucker’s group played like it wanted to go to a New Year’s Six bowl as they brought out creativity in their game plan right away.
Meanwhile, Franklin and his staff failed to pull out the stops in the final game of the regular year and were unable to take advantage of a poor Michigan State passing defense.
The offense scored just six points in the second half while the defense made some critical errors that led to conversions on both third and fourth down for the Spartans.
Many of the miscues have been recurring themes this season which can certainly fall on the coaching staff to correct.
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