Damion Terry had his head drooped with a towel hanging over it. Brandon Clemons walked over and put his arm around his fellow Pennsylvania product, whispering in his ear.
It wasn’t even halftime. Injuries ended both of their days, far shorter than they had hoped for or anticipated.
It was the perfect visual summary of Michigan State’s season, one that’s ending much earlier than the Spartans ever could have imagined three months ago.
The Spartans moved the ball early but failed to capitalize other than field goals, and No. 8 Penn State built momentum with three quick-strike, deep-ball touchdown passes to open the second half en route to a 45-12 victory Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
The loss ends MSU’s season with a 3-9 record and 1-8 mark in Big Ten play, the Spartans’ worst overall and league records since 1982. The Spartans already were assured to be without a bowl game for the first time in Mark Dantonio’s 10 seasons with last week’s loss to Ohio State.
With the win and Ohio State’s victory over Michigan, Penn State (10-2, 8-1) claims its first Big Ten East Division title. The Nittany Lions will play Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Terry, a redshirt junior, was knocked out midway through the second quarter after getting his first career start at quarterback, with Tyler O’Connor serving as his backup but also starting at receiver.
Terry finished 7-for-12 for 101 yards passing and 13 yards on four carries. Fifth-year senior O’Connor went 17-for-33 for 118 yards. He was sacked four times.
MSU’s offense went kaput when Terry left the game, and Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley launched touchdown passes of 34, 45 and 59 yards on the Nittany Lions’ first three drives of the second half. The Spartans managed just 32 yards on their four possessions, which included an O’Connor fumble and a pair of sacks.
McSorley finished 17-for-23 for 376 yards and four touchdowns. Penn State added salt into MSU’s wounds by continuing to throw the ball with the outcome already determined in the fourth quarter, a shot at the Spartans for running former offensive lineman Jack Allen for a touchdown in last year’s game in East Lansing, a 55-16 MSU win.
The Spartans now enter the off-season with another looming quarterback competition, more to replace on the offensive and (likely) defensive lines and just as many questions about who may or may not return on a coaching staff that produced one of the biggest drop-offs in recent history in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
With Terry at quarterback for MSU's first offensive play – alongside O’Connor, who flanked out at wide receiver -- R.J. Shelton’ rushed for nine yards. Then O’Connor returned to the bench and put on a headset.
Terry looked sharp on some throws and shaky on others. He hit Shelton for 39 yards to get into Penn State territory on MSU’s first drive and zipped another to Monty Madaris to get to the Nittany Lions’ 9.
But then he overthrew Shelton in the end zone, got dropped on a designed run for a 2-yard loss, then panicked on a corner blitz and got rid of the ball too quickly on a slant to Donnie Corley. MSU settled for Michael Geiger’s first field goal, a 28-yarder with 8:13 left in the opening quarter.
Terry led a second field-goal drive, which included a throwback to Shelton, who returned the pass to Terry on a quarterback screen for a 15-yard gain. That possession fizzled when Scott was dropped twice for a combined minus-6 yards on the next two plays, and Madaris fell before Terry’s pass got to him near the pylon. Geiger’s 36-yarder gave the Spartans a 6-0 lead they carried into the second quarter.
Penn State finally solved MSU’s defense, which had stymied the Nittany Lions on their first two drives, but the Spartans stalled them at the 17. Taylor Davis’ 35-yard field goal cut the MSU lead to 3.
Terry again had the Spartans moving on the following drive, including a 23-yard completion to Josiah Price on the first play. The QB also converted a pair of third downs, first with a sneak and then with an 11-yard slant pass to Shelton, as MSU quickly marched into Penn State territory again.
But on second-and-7 from the 21, Terry kept the ball on an option run around the right side. Jason Cabinda and Robert Windsor converged. Terry took a helmet-to-helmet collision and was woozy. MSU’s medical staff quickly rushed to his aid and ushered him to the sideline and put him through concussion protocol. He was ruled out for the rest of the game.
O’Connor replaced him, but the Spartans’ drive again stalled. Geiger’s 33-yard field goal gave MSU a 9-3 edge with 7:17 left in the quarter.
Penn State responded with a 10-play, 78-yard drive that kept the Spartans off balance. Saquon Barkley capped it with a 1-yard leap over the diving tackle attempt by Andrew Dowell to make it 10-9 Nittany Lions with 2:14 before half.
O’Connor again got the Spartans marching again in the hurry-up, but they sputtered one more time in the red zone. Geiger’s fourth field goal of the day, from 21 yards out, sent MSU into halftime with a 12-10 cushion.
Despite being unable to finish off their drives, the Spartans dominated Penn State offensively in the first half – 256-125 in total yards, 86-14 in rushing yards.
O’Connor and Terry were the only scholarship quarterbacks to make the trip to Beaver Stadium. Sophomore walk-on Colar Kuhns served as the third-stringer. True freshman quarterback Messiah deWeaver did not travel, and he will redshirt.
MSU’s season ends without a bowl game for the first time since the 2006 season, the final year under John L. Smith.