By Marvin Gelman
It wasn’t pretty, but when the game ended in Beaver Stadium Penn State had stormed back to defeat Michigan State, 39-24, for a third straight victory.
And it may be Nitpicking, but Penn State is finishing this season as a winner after a school-record five defeats.
For the first time all season, not even players’ family and friends were allowed to social distance in 110,000-seat Beaver Stadium because of the Gov. Wolf’s recent health-related orders.
In the strangest Senior Day maybe ever, the Lions tried to generate their own energy and motivation. And they did rule the day early on, especially on defense, only to be suddenly picked apart.
Then halftime arrived.
And for the first time since they began playing again in late October, the Lions not only made adjustments, they morphed into an entirely different functioning operation.
The biggest makeover came on offense, where quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis not only alternated opportunities but big pass plays. Levis, the previously run-only threat, completed each of his three passes, the second one downfield that seemed to light a match in the third quarter.
Clifford came right back to find emerging star Parker Washington (Big Ten Freshman of the Year?), and the Lions scored quickly after to retake a lead they would never give up again.
Together, Clifford and Levis put up impressive numbers: 20-of-30 passing for 286 yards and two TDs without an interception; they ran for 84 more yards and two more scores.
But a true seismic shift of events was yet to come.
A defense that sprung back to life set up this play early in the fourth quarter: Jahan Dotson fielded a long punt with room in front of him and began navigating quickly up the left side, a promising effort in place.
But then he squeezed through a wall of bodies, accelerated and broke into the clear.
Eighty-one yards later, Penn State had not just scored its third rapid-fire touchdown, it had all but broke the backs of the game Spartans, who have proved even more dysfunctional and unpredictable through this COVID-19 season.
This unforeseen avalanche left most of the fourth quarter yet to play. The Lions’ resurgent defense took over from there, finally pressuring and adjusting to Thorne’s early throwing success.
He had nothing in him after halftime but an early field goal drive that fizzled away bigger opportunities.
Though a complete effort of resistance for the third straight week, Brisker and senior defensive end Shane Simmons were particularly active, combining for 14 tackles, 3.5 for loss, an interception and a pass break-up.
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