Michigan State advances with the final shot to qualify for the Bowl

EAST LANSING — A year ago, Michigan State ended its home game schedule by beating Penn State on a snowy day at Spartan Stadium.

It was the 10th win for the Spartans in a resurgent season that would end in a Peach Bowl win over Pittsburgh to finish in the top 10 nationally.

The 2022 finals at Spartan Stadium was last week and it was bitterly cold again with more snow. This time, Michigan State wasn’t on the pinnacle of a win, but dejected after squandering a 17-point lead in the second half of a 39-31 doubles loss to Indiana.

The Spartans (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) missed their chance in a sixth win to qualify for the Bowl and salvage the remnants of a disappointing season. Now they need an upset at No. 11 Penn State (9-2, 6-2) on Saturday to secure a bowl berth — a reality Michigan State failed to anticipate this year.

“No, we didn’t,” said quarterback Payton Thorne.

Michigan State is ‘in disbelief’ after collapsing in 2OT loss to Indiana

After starting the season with talks of winning the Big Ten and a national title, the Spartans’ goals were shredded with four straight double-digit losses. Despite being severely understaffed due to injuries and suspensions, Michigan State rebounded and won three of four before collapsing against Indiana, putting East Lansing on a seven-game losing streak.

“Obviously it’s not a very exciting time in the dressing room,” Thorne said. “It is quiet. The boys are a bit in disbelief at how the game ended. It’s burning.”

Prior to last week, Michigan State was 10-0 in games decided by 10 points or less since Tucker took over the program in 2020, including two wins in overtime. Then the Spartans fell apart against the Hoosiers while being outplayed 32-7 after halftime. They nearly doubled Indiana in yards (540 to 288) but were sunk by explosive plays and a disastrous day on special teams, including giving up a kickoff return touchdown and Ben Patton missing what was a game-winning 22-yard field -Goal would have been as time expired in the regulation.

“Every time you lose, they hurt right away,” Tucker said. “We’re not going to cry about it. We haven’t done that yet, we won’t apologize. Fix it and move on. The important thing is what you do next.”

Takeaways, observations from Michigan State’s loss to Indiana

Xavier Henderson, fifth-year senior safety, began his Michigan State career with disappointing consecutive 7-6 seasons, a coaching change, 2020’s pandemic-altered 2-5 campaign and last year’s peak. After a brutal defeat in his last game at Spartan Stadium, he tried to put the team’s prospects into perspective.

“We didn’t live up to our expectations within the team,” said Henderson. “It is now. There’s nothing we can do to change that, but we can do something this week to prepare and try to beat a good Penn State team.

Though Tucker said that every loss feels the same, Thorne had a different page-turning take on the Nittany Lions.

“It’s not exactly ‘Hey, onto the next one’ right in the dressing room,” Thorne said. “Sometimes you just have to suck it in a bit, even if it’s not the good ones. We’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go.”

Michigan State unravels amid big plays, special teams miscues vs. Indiana

Ahead of facing Indiana with a chance to earn bowl eligibility, Tucker and his players said it wasn’t something they were focused on. It was about doing what was necessary to win. Henderson believes that will happen again this week before heading to Penn State.

“We just want to win the game,” he said. “Penn State is a good team, we need to see the movie. Of course we’d love to do a bowl game, but if there were no bowl games I’d say shoot, we still want to win.

Michigan State has squandered their best remaining chance of becoming Bowl-eligible against Indiana, facing a Penn State team that has only lost to top-5 undefeated Michigan and Ohio State this season. The Spartans opened as 16-point underdogs against the Nittany Lions in a matchup with the Land Grant Trophy on the line.

There’s still a chance Michigan State could get a bowl bid at 5-7 if there aren’t enough teams to fill the slots and Academic Progress Rate results matter. Meanwhile, the obvious way to land a Game 13 is an upset win at Penn State to end the regular season.

“I have faith in our young men and the staff that we will respond in the right way,” Tucker said. “We have one more opportunity and it’s a great opportunity to hit the road and do our best. The more I think about it, the more I look forward to it.”

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