Penn State football schedule: Building for 2021 with 4 straight wins

By Christopher Six
Dec 28, 2019; Arlington, Texas, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) looks to pass in the second quarter against the Memphis Tigers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State Football schedule update: The Nittany Lions closed out a grueling 2020 season by winning their fourth straight 56-21 over Illinois at a snow-covered Beaver Stadium.

If there is one word, to sum up, Penn State’s 2020 season, it would be streaky. Preseason predictions had the Nittany Lions challenging Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy. Instead, Penn State got off to the worst start in program history. The team finally seemed to gel in the second half, rattling off four wins to end the season. Along the way, the program notched its 900th win, and star running back Journey Brown was forced to retire due to a heart condition.

Penn State announced Saturday it was opting out of a bowl game. After an 0-5 start, talk of a bowl appearance would almost seem nonsensical. But after rebounding, and with the NCAA relaxing requirements to fill a slate of remaining bowls, the Nittany Lions were in the conversation. Penn State has plenty of holes to fill for 2021, particularly in the secondary and on the offensive and defensive lines. Fifteen recruits signed letters of intent last week. Recruiting continues, and the program may look to the transfer portal for additional help.

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Week 16: Illinois (2-5) at Penn State (3-5)

  • Date: Saturday, December 19 at 5:30pm (ET)
  • Television: FS1
  • Odds: Penn State -15
  • Over/Under: 51.5
  • Prediction: Penn State 31, Illinois 17
  • Final score: Penn State 56, Illinois 21

The Nittany Lions looked to be in for another shootout with the score tied at 21-21 at the end of the first quarter. But the defense clamped down on the Illini, not allowing them to pass midfield for the rest of the game. The offense responded with 21 unanswered points, giving Penn State a 42-21 at the half, effectively putting this one out of reach. Wideout Jahan Dotson was electric, tallying 239 all-purpose yards, including two big touchdown receptions. Sean Clifford threw for two touchdowns, while Will Levis threw for one of his own and added a rushing TD. Cazaih Holmes and Kayvone Lee split the bulk of the rushing duties and accounted for three touchdowns between them.

Week 15: Michigan State at Penn State

  • Date: Saturday, December 12 at 3:30 pm (ET)
  • Television: ESPN
  • Odds: Penn State -14.5
  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Prediction: Penn State 23, Michigan State 17
  • Final score: Penn State 39, Michigan State 24

It was a tale of two halves, with the Spartans holding a 21-10 lead at the break behind freshman Payton Thorne’s first start at quarterback. But the Lions roared back, as Penn State held Michigan State to just three points in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points of its own. Sean Clifford, who also rushed for a touchdown, was 17-27 for 232 yards and two passing TDs, both to Parker Washington. Will Levis also contributed a rushing touchdown, while Jahan Dotson led receivers with 8 receptions for 108 yards and added an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lion defense kept the pressure on Thorne all day and held the Spartans to just 64 yards on the ground.

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Penn State Football Scores

Week 14: Penn State at Rutgers

  • Date: Saturday, December 5 at 12pm (ET)
  • Television: FS1 or BTN
  • Odds: Penn State -10.5
  • Over/Under: 57.5
  • Prediction: Penn State 38, Rutgers 28
  • Final Score: Penn State 23, Rutgers 7

After opening the season with five straight losses, Penn State made it two wins in a row with a 23-7 victory on the road at Rutgers. Windy conditions kept both sides from airing it out, so the Nittany Lions relied on their rejuvenated running game. Keyvone Lee rushed 17 times for 95 yards, Devyn Ford returned to the lineup to contribute 65 yards on 11 carries, and backup quarterback Will Levis had 65 yards of his own on 17 carries while not throwing a pass. Meanwhile, the defense throttled the Scarlet Knights, holding them to just 43 total yards in the first half limiting the high-scoring Rutgers offense to just one touchdown.

Week 13: Penn State at Michigan

  • Date: Saturday, November 28, 2020 at 12pm (ET)
  • Television: ABC
  • Odds: Michigan -2.5
  • Over/Under: 55.5
  • Prediction: Michigan 38, Penn State 28
  • Final Score: Penn State 27, Michigan 17
Dec 28, 2019; Arlington, Texas, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin reacts to a touchdown in the game against the Memphis Tigers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2019; Arlington, Texas, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin reacts to a touchdown in the game against the Memphis Tigers at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State finally notched its first win this 2020 season — and it’s first in the Big House since 2009. Penn State’s offense flourished behind strong performances from freshman running back Keyvone Lee and embattled quarterback Sean Clifford. Lee rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown in relief of Devyn Ford and Clifford avoided the mistakes that plagued him in State’s first five games. The Nittany Lions committed zero turnovers all day. Outscored 117-33 in the first half of the first five games, the Lions avoided falling behind early and headed into the locker room at the half up 17-7. The defense contributed a big stop on fourth-and-one at Penn State’s 37-yard line on Michigan’s final possession.

Week 12: Iowa at Penn State

  • Date: Saturday November 21, 2020 at 3:30pm (ET)
  • Television: BTN
  • Odds: Iowa -2.5
  • Over/Under: 48
  • Prediction: Iowa 31, Penn State 21 
  • Final Score: Iowa 41, Penn State 21

Iowa scored 24 points on four turnovers, handing the Nittany Lions a 41-21 home loss. Will Levis, in his first start of the season in place of Sean Clifford, coughed up two fumbles. Clifford, in relief, threw two interceptions, including a pick-six to DT Daviyon Nixon in the closing minutes of the game. The 305-pound lineman returned it 71 yards for the touchdown, ending Penn State’s slim hope of a comeback.

Week 11: Penn State at Nebraska

  • Date: Saturday November 14, 2020 at 12:00pm (ET)
  • Television: FS1
  • Odds: PSU -3.5
  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Prediction: Penn State 20, Nebraska 17
  • Final Score: Nebraska 30, Penn State 23

It was more of the same as mistakes, turnovers and another slow start found State down by three touchdowns by halftime. After throwing an interception and giving up a fumble that Nebraska returned for a touchdown, James Franklin finally pulled the plug on Sean Clifford. Backup Will Levis helped the Nittany Lions claw back in the second half, but the damage was done. Penn State dominated on offense, outgaining Nebraska 501-298 and running 91 plays to the Cornhuskers 60, but red zone struggles continue to plague the Nittany Lions.

Week 10: Maryland at Penn State

  • Date: Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 3:30 p.m. (ET)
  • Television: BTN
  • Odds: PSU -24.0
  • Over/Under: 61.5
  • Prediction: Penn State 38, Maryland 21
  • Final Score: Maryland 35, Penn State 19

Led by new faces Rakim Jarrett and Taulia Tagovailoa, the Terrapins jumped out early to a 21-0 lead, scoring touchdowns on three of their first four possessions to upset Penn State at home. The Terps defense contained Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, including a touchdown from a forced fumble on a sack just after halftime that put it at 35-7. Penn State is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground this season. Forced to air it out, Clifford had just 27 completions in 57 attempts, missing open receivers, throwing two picks and was sacked seven times.

Week 9: Ohio State at Penn State

  • Date: Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. (ET)
  • Odds: OSU -12.5
  • Over/Under: 62.5
  • Prediction: Ohio State 45, Penn State 27
  • Final Score: Ohio State 38, Penn State 25

Penn State found itself down by two touchdowns early in a game that was never truly in doubt as Ohio State defeated the Nittany Lions 38-25. Quarterback Justin Fields cemented his entry into the Heisman conversation with a four-touchdown performance. The Penn State running attack — clearly missing Journey Brown and Noah Cain — was not able to get much going on the ground. The Nittany Lions were able to avoid the turnovers that marred its performance against Indiana, but simply lacked the ability to match what Ohio State brought to the table. The loss drops Penn State out of the Top 25 for the first time in four years. 

Week 8: Penn State at Indiana

  • Date: Saturday, October 24, 2020 at 3:30 p.m. (ET)
  • Final Score: Indiana 36, Penn State 35
  • Odds: PSU -6.5
  • Over/Under: 58.5

Everyone will talk about Indiana’s decision to go for two, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and the replay, but it was a laundry list of mistakes that left Penn State in that position. Despite missed field goals, mental lapses and turnovers that led to 10 Indiana points, the Nittany Lions were up with 1:42 left to play. Penn State stopped Indiana on downs and needed to do nothing but run out the clock. State chose to hand the ball to running back Devyn Ford. It turned out to be the wrong decision — Ford scored instead of stopping short when Indiana let him walk in. That gave the ball back to the Hoosiers with enough time to score and send it into overtime. The win was Indiana’s first over a top-ranked opponent in 33 years.