Our series of the Penn State football best wins over 2023 opponents concludes with Michigan State. The Land Grant Trophy series is tied at 18-18-1 overall. Almost all of Penn State’s victories have occurred since it joined the Big Ten for the 1993 season.
The Spartans dominated their pre-Big Ten matchups with the Nittany Lions. Going back to the first meeting in 1914, Sparty won 8 of 10 matchups, losing one and another, ending in a tie. Since 1993 the game has mostly occurred as the finale for the regular season. This year it will occur on Black Friday and be held on a “neutral” Ford Field in Detroit. Whether you think the Land Grant Trophy is ugly or one of the most beautiful things in sports, this matchup is usually interesting.
Penn State has had its share of heartbreaks against the Spartans. The 2017 and 2018 matchups probably come to mind in recent history. But for the Nittany Lions’ best win in the series, let us travel back to their first conference matchup in 1993. It is likely a forgotten gem for many fans.
Penn State’s first year in the Big Ten Conference
Penn State was finishing its inaugural season as a member of the Big Ten conference. It was a solid first year in the conference, but back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State in the middle of the season derailed it from being a special one. Nonetheless, the Lions had laid the groundwork for what was to come in the following season. Penn State football only needed one more win to land in a decent bowl game. Ranked 14th in the country, a trip to 25th-ranked Michigan State was on its path.
The Spartans were 6-3 on the year. They had defeated their in-state rival Michigan earlier in the season but had fallen to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Indiana. On a cold day in East Lansing, head coach and creator of the Land Grant Trophy George Perles and Joe Paterno had their teams take the field for what would turn into a wild game. The field was a frozen brick, essentially. Ah, the good old days of AstroTurf.
Penn State struggles early
The Lions’ first opportunity with the ball ended on a fumble in Spartan territory. Penn State drove into Spartan territory again on its next possession, only for Brett Conway to miss a field goal. The Spartans got on the board first with a touchdown drive but missed the extra point. This would later prove to be fatal for Michigan State.
The Lions just could not quit from turning the ball over, as they did it again early in the second quarter while driving into Michigan State territory. The Spartans quickly converted this turnover into seven points to lead 13-0. Mike Archie finally got the Lions on the board on their next possession. The teams would continue to trade blows in the second quarter. By the halftime break, the Lions were only down one score, 23-17.
The second half did not start well for the boys in road whites. Penn State’s first drive ended on a 4th and 5 deep into Spartan territory. Michigan State took over on downs, promptly scoring a touchdown on the ensuing drive. The Spartans added another touchdown on their next possession. Down 37-17, it looked like the Lions’ win streak would end at three games. But then, they came alive.
Kerry Collins leads a fabulous second-half comeback
Penn State got an interception to end a Michigan State drive that could have been a death knell had the Spartans scored again. Kerry Collins found Bobby Engram open for a 40-yard touchdown strike to cut the lead to 37-24. The Penn State defense forced a fumble on the next possession and turned this into a touchdown as well. After forcing a three and out, it only took one play for Penn State to take its first lead of the day, and one it would not relinquish. Collins found Engram again for a touchdown, this time a beautiful 52-yard pass. The Lions, who scored three touchdowns in about four minutes, were now up 38-37.
The Penn State defense shut down Michigan State the rest of the way, and that would be the final score. Penn State took home the first Land Grant Trophy. Collins finished with 352 passing yards on the day and three touchdowns. Penn State football would go on to defeat Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl to finish its first Big Ten season 10-2. The following year would see the Lions go undefeated, win the Rose Bowl, and finish number two in the country.
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