EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michael Geiger had the windmill. Now Matt Coghlin has the slide.
On a long, wet, wacky day at Spartan Stadium, Coghlin’s celebration sure felt appropriate.
Coghlin kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired — some seven hours after the game began — and No. 24 Michigan State upset No. 7 Penn State 27-24 on Saturday night in a game that was delayed nearly 3 1/2 hours by severe weather in the second quarter. After making his winning kick, Coghlin ran back down the field and slid across it on his stomach while his teammates joined him in celebration.
“I wasn’t really thinking about the celebration,” Coghlin said. “Kind of running away — because I don’t want to get trampled. Just dove on the ground. I don’t know why.”
Two years ago, Geiger kicked a field goal to beat Ohio State and took off running, making a windmill motion with his arm. That gesture became one of the highlights of Michigan State’s run to a Big Ten title in 2015. The year’s Spartans (7-2, 5-1, No. 24 CFP) now have a chance to add an improbable championship of their own. They play at Ohio State next week, with the teams tied atop their division.
“We’ve put ourselves in position to at least be called a contender — and that’s what we want to do,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
Penn State, meanwhile, failed to capitalize on Ohio State’s loss to Iowa on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions lost 39-38 to the Buckeyes last weekend. A victory over Michigan State might have put Penn State (7-2, 4-2, No. 7) right back in the hunt for college football’s playoff, but instead, the Nittany Lions’ national title hopes may have crumbled for good.
Trace McSorley threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns for Penn State, but star Saquon Barkley was held in check. He had 0 yards rushing in the first half and finished with only 63. McSorley was intercepted three times.
“I think there’s a lot of noise that we try to manage. When things are going well there’s a lot of noise, a lot of positivity, a lot of patting on the back,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. “When you lose the game it’s the complete opposite. It couldn’t be more negative. For us in the past we haven’t worried about all those things.
There’s playoff rankings coming out. There’s this, there’s that. Stuff that doesn’t matter. … I would describe us as a young program. We haven’t been a part of these conversations for a long time. We haven’t handled it well. And that’s on me.”
Brian Lewerke threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans, and Michigan State was aided at the end by a roughing the passer call on Penn State’s Marcus Allen.
Lewerke was hit by Allen on a third-down pass that fell incomplete in the final minute. The penalty moved the ball to the Penn State 22, and the Spartans were able to run the clock down before Coghlin’s winning kick.
Coghlin rebounded after missing two field goals in a triple-overtime loss at Northwestern last weekend.
Penn State was ahead 14-7 in the second quarter when the game was halted for a lengthy weather delay. The game kicked off at 12:05 p.m. and didn’t end until after dark at 7:03.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions will wonder what might have been after two straight road defeats that came down to the final minutes. They may regret not being able to involve Barkley more Saturday. His streak of 15 straight games with a touchdown was snapped.
Michigan State: The Spartans will presumably be underdogs again next weekend at Ohio State, but Dantonio has them winning big games and contending for championships again after a 3-9 showing last season. And Lewerke is only a sophomore.
News of Ohio State’s struggles made it to East Lansing before the Michigan State-Penn State game was over.
“I think we were midway through the fourth quarter,” Michigan State linebacker Chris Frey said. “I was actually covering Saquon Barkley down the field, and he actually, after the play was like, ‘You know, Ohio State’s losing. They’re down big. We’re playing for a championship right now.'”
Michigan State has had problems with fumbles all season, and Penn State was by far the Big Ten’s leader coming in with a plus-14 turnover margin. But the Spartans didn’t fumble once in the wet weather, and they had only one turnover compared to Penn State’s three.
“I can’t throw three interceptions,” McSorley said. “I’ve got to do better for our team. I did a really bad job of that today.”
Penn State: The Nittany Lions get what should be a bit of a breather after this difficult stretch of their schedule. They host Rutgers next Saturday.
Michigan State: The Spartans play at Ohio State for the first time since beating the Buckeyes there two years ago on Geiger’s kick. The teams met last season in East Lansing, with Ohio State coming away with a 17-16 victory.