(EAST LANSING) - Michigan State had a possible bowl bid on the line, Penn State was just playing for pride. Pride won out.
Michigan State quarterbacks combined to throw five interceptions, dooming the Spartans to a crushing 37-14 loss making their season ending trip to Hawaii in two weeks in effect, their bowl game.
Penn State played with emotion and fire, and as we pointed out in the preview article, if MSU mixed in turnovers it would be a recipe for disaster.
Spartans starter Drew Stanton went 12-of-19, but threw two costly interceptions before being injured and leaving the game for good. Dave Rayner started the game with a 19-yard field goal. With MSU driving to the Penn State 7-yard line, Stanton was picked off by safety Anwar Phillips kiling the Spartans drive.
Rayner's 57-yard effort offset Robbie Gould's 47-yarder to give MSU the 6-3 halftime lead. But the Nittany Lions came out the locker room breathing fire.
"I'm not going to talk about the third quarter. It was ugly," Smith said. "It was just mistake after mistake after mistake."
Quarterback Zack Mills led Penn State on a 12-play drive with Tony Hunt running it in from the one to put the Lions up 10-6, a lead they would never relinquish.
Stanton was picked off two plays into MSU's next possession by corner Tamba Hali and returned it to the Spartans 8-yard line. Mills scored on the first play from scrimmage.
After an exchange of punts, Stanton was hit in the face and suffered an eye injury.
"At some point you've got to assess if you're hurting the team more than you're helping it," said Stanton. "We still had an opportunity to win the game, so it was in our best interest to let somebody else go in there and try to make something happen."
He was replaced by senior Damon Dowdell who was intercepted on his second pass attempt by linebacker Paul Posluszny who returned it to the Spartans 10-yard line. Mills wasted no time running in in on the next play and the rout was on at 24-6.
Spartans coach John L. Smith made the switch to redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves, seeing his first action since the third game of the season. MSU went three and out, but punter Brandon Fields had his punt blocked by Penn State linebacker Donnie Johnson.
"It was straight-out miscommunication," Fields said. "We were doing the rugby stuff and I thought it was called off, but the line ran it."
Four plays later Mills hit receiver Michael Robinson for the 27-6 lead.
On MSU's next possession Reaves joined the interception party, being picked off by linebacker Calvin Lowry. Penn State cashed in with a 47-yard Gould field goal to make it 34-6.
Reaves got a bit of breathing room when DeAndra Cobb returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards to the Penn State 48-yard line. Reaves took advantage of the short field engineering a 7-play drive culminating in a 12-yard touchdown pass to his favorite receiver Jerramy Scott getting MSU as close as they would get 34-13. Gould added his third field goal to end it at 37-13.
Senior safety Jason Harmon, who failed to make big plays all year in after being converted from his cornerback position admitted MSU never lived up to expectations.
"I don't know if it's a lack of focus or a lack of respect going into the game, but we just seem to be a little lackadaisical, and you just can't do that."
MSU head coach John L. Smith said he had a nagging feeling that the Spartans weren't quite ready to play. "I didn't have a good feeling all week," Smith said. "You can tell when everybody's zeroed-in, and you can tell when you walk on the bus when everybody's serious about what's going to happen. But it wasn't the same as it has been the last three weeks and that's (the coaches') fault."
Smith said he doesn't view MSU's trip to Hawaii in two weeks as a bowl game, instead, he thinks it's more like punishment because he can't go out and recruit the way other coaches who had only 11 games this year can.
"It's two weeks that it takes away from your recruiting," Smith said. "It's not like a bowl game, it's a penalty. Now we have to serve our penalty because we didn't prepare these guys well enough."