Spartans hold off Lions
STATE COLLEGE - Penn State struck for 19 fourth quarter points Saturday against Michigan State, which hadn't won in Beaver Stadium since 1965.
In past seasons, that would have been enough to seal the deal for another Nittany Lions' win over the Spartans.
With a share of the Big Ten championship on the line, however, Michigan State didn't let it slip away this time.
The Spartans used the running of Edwin Baker and the clutch passing of Kirk Cousins to build a 21-3 after three quarters, then held off a furious PSU rally bid to hold on for a 28-22 victory.
Michigan State (11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) needed to beat the Lions and get some help elsewhere to claim a piece of the crown, their first since 1990.
The Spartans upheld their end of the bargain, snapping an eight-game losing streak in Happy Valley, but so did Wisconsin, which annihilated Northwestern 70-23, and Ohio State, which drubbed Michigan 37-7.
That means a three-way title for the Big Ten title. The Rose Bowl bid will go to the team ranked highest in the Bowl Championship Series standings. On Sunday, the BCS standings had Wisconsin was ranked fifth, Ohio State sixth and Michigan State eighth.
"I think right now we're one of the top 8-9 teams in the nation," said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. "I know only two teams can come from the Big Ten (for the BCS Bowls), but you certainly have to throw our hat in the ring. We're the only football team that's beaten Wisconsin, and I might add that we did it convincingly."
The Spartans did take home the Land Grant Trophy, which they will hold onto for a while, since the Big Ten's new divisional set-up for next year will have MSU and PSU in different divisions and they aren't scheduled to play the next two seasons.
Penn State dropped to 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten), its most losses since 2004, despite Mike McGloin's attempt to pull off a late comeback.
McGloin completed 23 of 43 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with Joe Suhey and Derek Moye for the TDs, but it proved to be too little, too late. He became the first PSU QB to pass for over 300 yards two straight weeks.
Penn State did outgain the Spartans, 396-331.
While the Lions have been inconsistent with a young squad this season (on Senior Day, only 8 upperclassmen started), they had been among the nation's least penalized teams.
Against a Spartan team that didn't make many miscues, PSU had more than its share, getting flagged 8 times for 67 yards, most of them at inopportune times.
"Well I don't know if they cost us a game but they shouldn't have had an impact on it," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno. "But every time you complain about something like that you take something else away from the other guy, and Michigan State is a good, solid football team."
"I think we beat ourselves today," said PSU linebacker Nate Stupar. "There were a lot of opportunities and a lot of penalties that we had on ourselves; third down stops where we had them and then let them keep driving."
The Spartans took the opening kickoff and drove 71 yards to paydirt on seven plays, with Baker scoring on a seven-yard run. Baker finished with 128 yards on 28 carries.
The Lions answered with a 34 yard Collin Wagner field goal to cut it to 7-3, but they wouldn't score again until McGloin found Suhey down the sideline on a 37-yard TD strike in the fourth quarter.
In between, Cousins found B.J. Cunningham for a pair of TDs, an eight-yarder in the second quarter and a 24-yarder in the third.
The Spartans' tight ends, Brian Linthicum and Charlie Gantt, hurt the Lions all game, as Cousins found them for key first downs. Wide receiver/backup QB Keith Nichol hooked up with Gantt on a 4-yard TD with 8:31 remaining that gave MSU a 28-10 advantage and had many Lions fans headed for the exits on the cold, flurry-filled afternoon.
The Lions didn't go away, however, as a 10-yard Evan Royster TD with 5:51 to go and Moye's 4-yard scoring catch (after he had stripped the ball away from safety Trenton Robinson after an interception in the end zone) closed the final deficit.
That did not erase how the Spartans controlled the first three quarters, however.
"We are right there," said McGloin. "Obviously today, things started off slow for us. That is an 11-1 team we played today so that shows just how close we are. We need to learn how to finish games and complete games."
The Lions will now await their bowl destination, most likely the Gator Bowl. Meanwhile, Paterno admitted he knew his team would have its ups and downs.
"I don't know if there is any disappointment," he said. "I thought going into the season, we had a shot at being 8-4. We had some tough games that included three tough teams on the road. I thought we would probably be better than we were at that stage."