Oct 9, 2021; Iowa City, Iowa, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws a pass as Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Joe Evans (13) rushes in during the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Iowa edges No. 4 Penn State in Big Ten showdown

Spencer Petras and Nico Ragaini hooked up on a 44-yard touchdown pass with 6:26 remaining Saturday as No. 3 Iowa rallied to a 23-20 victory over No. 4 Penn State in a Big Ten battle at Iowa City.

Iowa’s Charlie Jones also scored a touchdown and Caleb Shudak kicked three field goals in a rare top-five matchup for each school. The Nittany Lions hadn’t played in a top-five showdown since 1999, while the Hawkeyes hadn’t hosted a matchup of top-five squads since 1985.

Despite trailing 17-3 in the second quarter, Iowa (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) chipped away at the deficit while Penn State (5-1, 2-1) struggled without quarterback Sean Clifford, who exited early in the second quarter with an undisclosed arm injury. The Hawkeyes got within 17-10 at halftime but later trailed by 10 before Shudak kicked a 48-yard field goal late in the third quarter and booted another one from 36 yards out with 8:08 remaining to make it 20-16.

The decisive play came on when Petras rolled out to his right and threw back across the field to a wide-open Ragaini, who rumbled to the left pylon for the go-ahead score.

Penn State’s final three possessions ended in a turnover on downs, an interception, and another turnover on downs as the Hawkeyes clinched their 12th straight win.

Clifford was injured on a clean hit by Jack Campbell as he released the ball. He missed the Nittany Lions’ final three drives of the first half, during which the team netted minus-19 total yards with Ta’Quan Roberson at quarterback.

Already up 7-3, the visitors expanded their lead late in the first quarter after Petras’ pass was deflected and intercepted by Jaquan Brisker. That set up Penn State just 39 yards from the end zone, and four plays later, Clifford ran in on a quarterback draw for a 14-3 cushion.

Jordan Stout kicked a 32-yard field goal on the play after Clifford’s injury to make it 17-3, but Iowa followed with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to close the margin to 17-10. Petras found Jones, who stumbled before diving for the pylon for a 9-yard TD, the final score of the half.

Petras finished 17 of 31 for 195 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Clifford completed 15 of 25 passes for 146 yards with two interceptions before an overmatched Roberson went 7 of 20 for 34 yards and two picks.

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions  wide receiver Parker Washington (3) runs with the ball during the second quarter against the Villanova Wildcats at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Big plays get No. 6 Penn State past Villanova

Sean Clifford threw the first of his four touchdowns on Penn State’s opening play from scrimmage, Parker Washington caught two scores and the No. 6 Nittany Lions defeated visiting Villanova 38-17 Saturday at State College, Pa.

In their first meeting with the FCS Wildcats since 1951 – a Villanova victory – the Nittany Lions (4-0) saw Clifford connect on 19-of-26 passes for a career-high 401 yards with one interception.

Washington caught five passes for a game-high 148 yards, and Jahan Dotson caught seven passes for 117 yards and scored in his sixth consecutive game.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith had a long TD reception, Tyler Warren rushed for a score and Ji’Ayir Brown had an interception.

Penn State, which piled up 509 yards of offense, improved to 6-3-1 in the all-time series and was victorious for the 19th consecutive time against schools from Pennsylvania.

Ranked No. 11 in the STATS Perform FCS Poll, Villanova (3-1) got two TD passes from Daniel Smith, who was 20 of 34 for 222 yards with an interception. Villanova’s Rayjoun Pringle had four catches for 107 yards and two TDs, while Cole Bunce kicked a 39-yard field goal and Kshawn Schulters had an interception.

After stopping Villanova on the game’s first series, the Penn State took all of one play to go up 7-0 as Dotson got one-on-one coverage and zipped behind the Wildcats’ secondary for a 52-yard score.

Bunce’s 39-yard boot got Villanova on the board on its third drive after a roughing-the-passer penalty wiped out an interception by Brown.

Penn State made it 14-3 when Clifford connected with Washington for a 52-yards score just 53 seconds into the second quarter.

Jordan Stout booted a 29-yard field for a 17-3 halftime lead, but the Nittany Lions could not get their running game going with just 18 yards on 17 attempts in the first half.

Clifford rolled out and kept a play alive early in third quarter, finding Lambert-Smith down the sideline for an 83-yard score, and later hit Washington again from 23 yards for a 31-3 lead.

Warren scored on a fourth-down plunge in the fourth quarter for Penn State, and Pringle caught two TD passes for Villanova in the final 9:42 to complete the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Penn State's Jan Mahlert (84) makes a catch in the first quarter against Auburn at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in State College.

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No. 10 Penn State holds on to defeat No. 22 Auburn

Sean Clifford threw two touchdown passes Saturday as No. 10 Penn State topped No. 22 Auburn 28-20 in an exciting non-conference matchup in University Park, Pa.

The Nittany Lions (3-0) led throughout the second half, but the Tigers (2-1) drove to the Penn State 2 in the waning minutes. On fourth down, Bo Nix’s pass fell incomplete to Kobe Hudson, who got tangled up with Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker, but no flags were thrown.

After a punt, Auburn got the ball back on its own 38 with 45 seconds left. The Tigers got as far as the Nittany Lions’ 26, but Nix’s last-second pass down the seam was broken up by Brisker.

Clifford finished 28 of 32 for 280 yards, while Jahan Dotson hauled in 10 receptions for 78 yards and a score. Noah Cain and Tyler Warren rushed for touchdowns for the Nittany Lions.

Nix was 21 of 37 for 185 yards without a touchdown or an interception. Tank Bigsby carried 23 times for the visitors, accumulating 102 yards and two scores.

Penn State held a 14-10 lead at halftime and extended its cushion early in the third. Auburn fumbled on the first play of the quarter and, four plays later, Warren jumped into the end zone for a 2-yard TD.

The Tigers scored on their ensuing possession as Bigsby’s 6-yard plunge capped a 15-play, 75-yard march. A 43-yard field goal by Anders Carlson on the first play of the fourth quarter brought Auburn within 21-20.

Clifford’s 40-yard pass to Brenton Strange was the big play on Penn State’s next drive, which Cain punctuated with a 3-yard TD run with 10:48 to go for the 28-20 lead.

Following a touchdown pass from Clifford to Dotson late in the first quarter, Auburn came right back with a TD of its own — a 4-yard plunge by Bigsby to put the Tigers ahead 10-7 with 12:28 left in the half.

Penn State regained the lead with 1 1/2 minutes to play before intermission. The go-ahead drive encapsulated 14 plays and 91 yards with Clifford finding a wide-open Strange for a 2-yard TD.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Ball State Cardinals at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

QB Sean Clifford guides No. 11 Penn State past Ball State

Sean Clifford accounted for two touchdowns Saturday as No. 13 Penn State cruised to a 44-13 home win over Ball State in non-conference action from University Park, Pa.

Noah Cain contributed 99 total yards and a touchdown for Penn State (2-0), which rode the momentum from last week’s road win against then-No. 12 Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions outgained the Cardinals 240-69 on the ground in their first game with fans at Beaver Stadium since November 2019.

Clifford finished 21 of 29 for 230 yards and a touchdown, and the senior added 66 yards and a score on 11 carries.

Drew Plitt was 25 of 39 for 176 yards and two interceptions for Ball State (1-1). It did not help that the Cardinals managed only 2.7 yards per carry. Justin Hall led the team with six catches for 35 yards, while Parker Washington paced the Nittany Lions with six catches for 57 yards.

Penn State drove 75-plus yards to the end zone on each of its first two drives. Cain’s 5-yard TD run capped a 13-play march to set the tone for the contest, and then just over four minutes later, Clifford plunged in from 1 yard out to make it 14-0.

The highlight of the second quarter was Jahan Dotson’s nifty 25-yard touchdown catch in which he flashed some impressive footwork on his way to the end zone. Ball State kicked two field goals in the period — one in the opening minute and one at the halftime buzzer — to enter the locker room trailing 24-6.

Nittany Lions linebacker Jesse Luketa stepped in front of Plitt’s pass and made a one-handed interception, rumbling 16 yards to the end zone with about six minutes left in the third quarter to make it 31-6.

Penn State’s Jordan Stout tacked on two more field goals before the Cardinals scored their only touchdown on a 6-yard rush by Carson Steele with 6:54 remaining in the game.

Ta’Quan Roberson capped the scoring with his 23-yard pass to Theo Johnson with 2:10 to go.

–Field Level Media

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) airs out a pass during the third quarter of their game against Wisconsin  Saturday, September 4, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Penn State beat Wisconsin 16-10.

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After beating Wisconsin, No. 11 Penn State meets Ball State

After posting a quality road win in its season opener, No. 11 Penn State will return home to face Ball State in non-conference action on Saturday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions (1-0) defeated then-No. 12 Wisconsin last weekend, forcing three turnovers en route to a 16-10 Big Ten triumph. Coach James Franklin’s team held the ball for just 17:09 (compared with 42:51 for the Badgers) but mustered enough offense in the second half after the teams went into the locker room in a scoreless tie.

“Overall, a gutsy win on the road against a really good opponent. … A lot to build on. A lot to learn from,” Franklin said.

Saturday’s matchup will mark Penn State’s first game in front of fans at Beaver Stadium since November 2019.

“It would really be powerful if we started a sellout streak in Beaver Stadium, create a home field advantage like no other in college football!” Franklin tweeted Sunday. “Let’s come together as a community like never before and show the world why this is ‘Happy Valley’! #WeAre Let’s do it TOGETHER!”

Sean Clifford passed for 247 yards and a touchdown in the Nittany Lions’ opener. Jahan Dotson accounted for 102 of those yards, snagging five receptions, including a 49-yard touchdown.

Noah Cain contributed eight carries for 48 yards and a touchdown and also caught five passes, matching Dotson for the team lead.

Those names undoubtedly are familiar to a Ball State team that went 7-1 en route to the Mid-American Conference championship last season and topped Western Illinois 31-21 in its 2021 opener.

Drew Plitt passed for two touchdowns as part of a 188-yard performance through the air in that game, while Justin Hall was his favorite target with eight catches for 137 yards and two TDs. Will Jones registered 93 rushing yards, including a score, to fuel the Cardinals’ ground game.

Ball State (1-0), like Penn State, got off to a quiet start in its opener. The Cardinals were tied with the Leathernecks 7-7 at halftime before the teams combined for 38 points after intermission.

“Obviously we are 1-0, and that is the most important thing that happened tonight,” Ball State coach Mike Neu said. “But we have a lot of things we need to clean up. We didn’t play a great first half and put the defense in a bad position. However, I was proud of the way we came back out in the second half, established the line of scrimmage, and did a great job of controlling the clock.”

The Cardinals return 23 starters (including special teams) from last year’s squad — and those players combine for more than 400 career starts.

This is the first-ever matchup between Penn State and Ball State. But Penn State is 27-3 against current MAC members.

Nittany Lions linebacker Ellis Brooks will miss the first half against Ball State after being called for targeting and ejected during the fourth quarter against Wisconsin.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) warms up on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 56-21. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Penn State tries to win fifth straight vs. No. 12 Wisconsin

No. 19 Penn State aims to continue its recent dominance of No. 12 Wisconsin when the two Big Ten powers open the season on Saturday at Madison, Wis.

The Nittany Lions have won four straight meetings and six of the past seven. The Badgers last prevailed in 2011 when they rolled to a 45-7 home victory.

Neither team wants to open the campaign with a conference loss, especially with excitement high following the shortened 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, Penn State coach James Franklin sees this season as a night-and-day difference from 2020.

“It’s hard for me not to compare everything to last year just because that’s the most recent thing we’ve gone through, so comparing it to last year, it’s not even close,” Franklin recently told reporters. “Having spring ball, having all the summer walkthroughs, I think we’re in a good place.”

The Nittany Lions brought in Mike Yurcich to pump up on the offense after he spent last season as offensive coordinator at Texas.

One of Yurcich’s main orders of business is getting quarterback Sean Clifford to take a major step forward in his third season as a starter.

Clifford passed for 1,883 yards and 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions last season when Penn State went 4-5.

“Any quarterback that has his demeanor and attitude and willingness to learn and understands every day that there’s something more to attain, his ceiling is very high,” Yurcich told reporters. “I think he can get a lot better. … He’s a tremendous leader. Sean’s all about helping this team win.”

Clifford has a top-rate receiver in Jahan Dotson, who caught 52 passes for 884 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Clifford also averaged 24.6 yards on eight punt returns, returning one for a score.

The Nittany Lions feature a trio of solid defensive players in linebackers Ellis Brooks (team-leading 60 tackles in 2020) and Jesse Luketa (59 tackles) and safety Jaquan Brisker (57 tackles).

The Badgers went 4-3 last season and are hoping to see improved play from quarterback Graham Mertz, who passed for 1,238 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.

Mertz had a memorable college debut when he tossed five touchdown passes against Illinois. But he had just four over the final six games.

“First off, going back to last year, it was definitely one of those years that you learn from and you grow from,” Mertz told reporters. “And for me, I always set the bar really high for myself. And I know what we want to do here is something that’s never been done. And I know the whole team is on that same wave.”

Tight end Jake Ferguson is back after leading the Badgers with 30 receptions for 305 yards and four touchdowns last season. He has 10 career scoring receptions.

The Wisconsin defense is led by inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, who has led the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons. He had 80 stops in 2019 and 52 in last season’s seven-game slate.

“On the field, in meetings or workouts, he’s a tremendous example,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst told reporters. “You point to how you want to approach it, he’s got that. He brings an energy along with it. He’s doing it in his style. There’s no question that he’s one of our leaders.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) returns the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State scores 42 unanswered to whip Illinois

Jahan Dotson caught two long touchdown passes and host Penn State ran away from Illinois with 42 unanswered points Saturday in a 56-21 win.

Penn State (4-5) took over after a wild back-and-forth first quarter with touchdown runs by Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee in the second, along with Dotson’s 70-yard touchdown play. Dotson also added a 75-yard score and finished with six catches for 189 yards, adding to his Big Ten-leading receiving yardage total.

Holmes scored two touchdowns as part of his 77 rushing yards, and Lee added 85 rushing yards. Starting quarterback Sean Clifford threw for 285 yards and two scores without an interception.

Newly hired Illinois head coach Bret Bielema, named the new Fighting Illini head coach on a six-year contract earlier in the day, watched the game from a spot on the field away from his soon-to-be players. Offensive coordinator Rod Smith guided the Fighting Illini on Saturday.

The game saw a combined 28 points scored in the first 5 minutes, 10 seconds. Clifford found Dotson near the sideline on the game’s first offensive play, and Dotson made a cut and broke free for a 75-yard touchdown.

Illinois responded with a big play on its first play, but quarterback Isaiah Williams threw an interception to end a good opening drive. On the first play of Penn State’s second possession, Clifford fumbled and the Illini recovered.

Given quality field position, Williams hit Brian Hightower for a touchdown to tie the score at 7. But Lamont Wade took the kickoff from end zone to end zone for a 100-yard touchdown and the Nittany Lions regained the lead, 14-7.

A 64-yard run by Williams set up Illinois for another score, Chase Brown for 12 yards to tie it at 14 with still 9:50 left in the first. Before the quarter ended, Williams flipped a screen pass to Daniel Barker, who rumbled down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown, and Penn State backup quarterback Will Levis faked a pass and ran four yards for a touchdown to make it 21-21.

Then came the touchdowns for Holmes, Lee, Dotson’s second and a Levis’ eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brenton Strange with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.

Williams threw for 120 yards and ran for 102.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA;  Penn State Nittany Lions running back Keyvone Lee (24) runs for a touchdown against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State puts 2-game win streak on line vs. Michigan State

With an improved running game and defense, Penn State has responded from perhaps the most trying season in school history with impressive back-to-back wins.

The Nittany Lions (2-5) seem to have put the first 0-5 start to a season in school history behind them and seek a third straight win when Michigan State visits in the teams’ latest battle for the Land Grant Trophy on Saturday in University Park, Pa.

Freshman Keyvone Lee rushed for 95 yards and the defense held Rutgers to 205 total yards in last Saturday’s 23-7 victory, the 900th in school history. The Nittany Lions are the eighth program in FBS to reach that mark.

Lee also rushed for 134 yards in Penn State’s 27-17 defeat of Michigan on Nov. 28, and the Nittany Lions rushed for at least 245 yards for the third time in four games.

“They’ve continued to battle, and that’s a good sign about who our program is and what we built here,” coach James Franklin said Tuesday.

The Nittany Lions held Rutgers to zero or negative yards on 45 percent of the snaps and just 43 yards in the first half. Linebacker Jesse Luketa led the way with 10 tackles, one for a loss, and a fumble recovery.

Michigan State (2-4) has wins over Michigan and Northwestern, but its four losses have been by a combined 117 points, including last Saturday’s 52-12 drubbing by Ohio State, which was playing without coach Ryan Day and 23 players.

The Spartans were outgained 521-261, turned the ball over four times and racked up 10 penalties for 101 yards. The Spartans are last in the conference in scoring offense (17.4), total offense (314.7), yards per carry (2.6) and turnover margin (-9).

“We have the ability, in my mind, to play better football,” coach Mel Tucker said Tuesday. “We take care of the ball, we eliminate foolish penalties, we win the field position battle and we continue to work on our technique and fundamentals and play more physically, I believe that we can have success.”

Against the Buckeyes, Payton Thorne relieved an ineffective and injured Rocky Lombardi and provided a spark. The redshirt freshman completed 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards while rushing for 42 yards and a 20-yard touchdown.

Penn State holds a 15-9 edge in the Land Grant Trophy series and won 28-7 last year. Sean Clifford threw four touchdown passes, three to Pat Freiermuth, who set a single-game record for Penn State tight ends.

–Field Level Media