STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - There were moments during Penn State's regular-season finale against No. 10 Michigan State when it appeared as if the Nittany Lions could play with the Spartans. But there were more times that the Spartans clearly looked like the better team.
Michigan State proved the latter point on the scoreboard Saturday, using two touchdowns in a span of 2 minutes, 55 seconds in the third quarter to spark a 34-10 victory that spoiled the Lions' senior day festivities at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten) and its 17 seniors who were honored in pregame ceremonies will get one more chance to play, in a bowl to be announced, which provided some consolation. Meanwhile, the Spartans (10-2, 7-1) posted their fourth season of 10 or more wins in their last five.
For the sixth time this season, the Nittany Lions failed to score more than one touchdown in a conference game, even though they made six trips into Michigan State territory. Akeel Lynch's 3-yard run late in the third quarter accounted for their lone TD.
The Nittany Lions ran 20 plays in the second quarter, 17 of them on the Spartans' side of the 50, and scored just three points - on Sam Ficken's 41-yard field goal. They were unable to capitalize on an interception by defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, after Chris Godwin had a touchdown catch in his hands but lost it on a great play and pick by cornerback Trae Waynes.
"That's tough," said Christian Hackenberg, who threw his school-record-tying 15th interception instead of his ninth touchdown pass. "It's just one of those things, part of the game, move on from it. Chris is going to make that play for us down the road. But give them credit, that's a good defensive football team."
That's the way it's been going all season for the offense, which gained 233 total yards, or nearly 40 yards fewer than its Big Ten-worst average in Big Ten competition. The Lions rushed for a paltry 38 yards.
"Obviously, when you get field position, you have to take advantage of that," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "There's no doubt about it. We weren't able to do that consistently. We tried to stick with the running game all day long and not abort it like we've done in the past, and we weren't able to consistently do that."
Once again, Penn State's nationally ranked defense did the heavy lifting. While Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (30 carries, 118 yards, two touchdowns) became only the second back to rush for triple digits against the Nittany Lions, the Spartans gained just 298 yards of total offense; their average is 514.5.
The Lions didn't allow the Spartans an offensive touchdown in the first half, but R.J. Shelton's 90-yard return of the opening kickoff helped give the visitors a 13-3 halftime lead. However, they couldn't keep Michigan State out of the end zone in the third quarter.
Langford's 3-yard run capped a 63-yard drive on the Spartans' first possession of the second half. On the Lions' first play after the TD, Hackenberg fumbled after being sacked, and the Spartans recovered at the Lions 18, setting up a 10-yard scoring pass from Connor Cook to Tony Lippett.
Penn State responded with its only touchdown, on Lynch's run, but its offense had no punch to mount any fourth-quarter comeback.
Still, there was relief for the Lions knowing they will play once more.
"It's definitely more exciting because you get one more opportunity to go out and play with your friends," senior linebacker Mike Hull said. "You've got another month together. It's a lot better than ending your career on a note like that."