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Michigan State 30, Penn State 27: Rapid Reaction to a Wild Ride

The Lions faltered, then nearly roared, in the 4th quarter of a snow-covered game in East Lansing.

Penn State rallied from its largest deficit of the season, only to unravel in the fourth quarter of a 30-27 loss to Michigan State.

The Lions turned over the ball on consecutive touches and were stuffed on 4th-and-1 to complete the regular season at 7-5. They attempted one more frantic, valiant rally — a late scoring drive that included quarterback Sean Clifford's wild scrambling throw to convert a 4th-and-24 pass to Brenton Strange — but fell short in the snow at Spartan Stadium.

It's also critical to note: Penn State kicker Jordan Stout missed a 27-yard field goal and an extra point, keeping four points off the scoreboard. Michigan State also missed an extra point.

Here's the breakdown of a wild afternoon in East Lansing.

The turning point

Penn State's big offseason study project will involve its short-yardage run game. It has been inconsequential this season, coming up short in some key moments.

The latest example came in the fourth quarter, when the Lions faced 4th-and-1 at the Michigan State 16-yard line. Kicker Jordan Stout had missed a 27-yarder field-goal attempt and an extra point, so he remained on the bench. And the Lions had just converted a 4th-and-3 with a Sean Clifford-to-Jahan Dotson completion, so they went to the run game. Which Michigan State blew up.

Linebacker Noah Harvey crashed the middle of Penn State's line and stuffed Keyvone Lee for no gain, crushing the Lions' potential go-ahead drive.

The turning point, part II

Penn State's kept running on its next possession, with worse results. This time, a dancing Lee was stripped of the ball, and Michigan State recovered the fumble at the Penn State 48-yard.

That led to Michigan State's biggest play of the game: a 4th-and-15 touchdown pass from Thorne to Jayden Reed, giving the Spartan a 30-20 lead.

Reed made an exceptional throw to Reed, who boxed out Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon for the touchdown reception.

The unraveling continues

Running back John Lovett fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the exclamation point of Penn State's dismal fourth quarter. The Lions turned over the ball on back-to-back touches and didn't give themselves a chance.

The fumble also marked a tough spot for Penn State transfers: Dixon came to Penn State this year from South Carolina, Lovett from Baylor.

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Daequan Hardy's exceptional season

Cornerback Daequan Hardy has been among the rising stars of Penn State's defense this season, earning a de facto starter's role as the nickel back. Hardy turned that into a tremendous season, which he punctuated with a touchdown Saturday.

Hardy intercepted a bad third-quarter decision by Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne, turning it into a 17-yard touchdown return that gave the Lions their first lead at 20-17.

When in doubt, go to Jahan Dotson

Facing a 14-0 deficit, its largest of the season, Penn State turned to a reliable force. Jahan Dotson made stellar back-to-back catches and showed incredible body control to score on a 27-yard touchdown reception.

On the next series, Dotson got free in Michigan State's secondary on a combination route for an easy 30-yard touchdown, his 12th of the season.

Dotson later made his 180th career reception, moving into second place on Penn State's all-time receptions list.

Penn State's defense rattled early

Prior to Saturday, the Lions had allowed just 12 first-quarter points and no touchdowns. The Spartans topped that on their first two drives.

Michigan State opened with an 8-play, 76-yard scoring drive on which Payton Thorne adroitly mixed some throws in with Kenneth Walker's power game. The second drive was even better, as the Spartans went 99 yards on nine plays, getting big plays from Walker and receiver Jayden Reed, who beat a pass interference for 23 yards.

The Spartans outgained 175-9 on their first two drive. Walker finished with 138 yards on 30 carries.

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