Feast on a Thanksgiving Weekend Showdown between Penn State and Michigan State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A senior farewell is on the menu as Penn State battles Michigan State for the Land-Grant Trophy in Happy Valley.
Penn State looks for its 10th regular season win to potentially slot into the New Year’s Six, otherwise known as the six highly coveted bowl games slated over New Year’s: The Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl.
“We have a chance this weekend to capitalize on a 10-win season, so that’s what we’re working towards right now,” redshirt super senior Jonathan Sutherland said.
Sutherland, who will sport the esteemed number zero jersey in Beaver Stadium for the final time on Saturday, reflected on his six years in Happy Valley with pride.
Since his freshman season, Sutherland shined on special teams with tireless enthusiasm to power the unit forward.
Now in his fourth season as a special teams captain, Sutherland said he is proud of the unit’s progress, and many players could assume the responsibility of wearing number zero on the field next season.
In addition to facing the Spartans, Sutherland and 20 of his senior teammates will be recognized for their contributions in the blue and white.
“When that clock hits zero at the end of the game, that’s when it’s really going to hit me,” Sutherland said.
Redshirt super senior quarterback Sean Clifford also took up the captain mantle with Sutherland for four years and expressed his sincere gratitude for the opportunity to suit up for six years as a Nittany Lion.
“Just to be a small spoke in that wheel is something that I can’t thank the community enough,” Clifford said.
With the ink still drying on Penn State’s new passing yard record, Clifford emphasized personal accountability and development as two key components to feeling content with his career as a student-athlete.
“Those core values that [James] Franklin preaches and that I committed to when I was younger…that hasn’t changed for me.”
Clifford’s goals and endeavors exceeded the boundaries of the football field with Limitless NIL, the first student-athlete-run NIL agency and his flagship program as an entrepreneur.
The senior day celebration will technically be Clifford’s second recognition, but he said he is excited to have fun celebrating with his family, coaches and teammates who witnessed him grow on and off the field in an “all-encompassing football program.”
Choosing the word “perseverance” to describe Clifford and his journey as a Nittany Lion, head coach James Franklin dove into his relationship with the Cincinnati native and said that shared experiences strengthen the bonds between a quarterback and head coach.
Relating to his prior experiences with former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorely, Franklin mentioned that the weight that comes with the title of quarterback and head coach can be felt but also creates an opportunity to grow and learn.
“He has maximized this Penn State experience in a way that I hope more of our guys do,” Franklin said.
When reflecting on his impact at Penn State, super senior safety Ji’Ayir “Tig” Brown emphasized building a legacy “where people remember who number 16 was,” according to Brown.
Known for setting major goals for himself as an athlete and leader, the defensive captain said that his focus this week revolves around absorbing the moment rather than focusing on the future.
Being coachable and staying humble are Brown’s biggest pieces of advice for younger athletes on the Penn State roster. Regarding his own game, Brown said that he strives for perfection as a way to stay grounded and control his game.
When addressing the matchup with Michigan State, Brown said that the blue and white have more at stake with the Land-Grant Trophy on the line.
“It’s been a great battle these last couple of years playing Michigan State for that trophy,” Tig said. “It brings more than just playing a regular game, it's playing for a prize.”
Looking to break even on their regular season, the Spartans travel to Happy Valley looking to capitalize on its series trend, winning six of the last nine matchups with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State’s offense faces Michigan State linebacker Cal Haladay, who leads the Big Ten with 109 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Haladay will be looking to disrupt the pocket as much as possible for the Spartans’ benefit.
Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne’s connection in the red zone with wide receiver Keon Coleman should be noted as well. Coleman ranks fifth in Big Ten receiving with seven touchdowns.
He is just above Penn State wide receiver Parker Washington, who has 96 fewer yards but two touchdowns.
Since its debut in 1993, the Land-Grant Trophy symbolizes Penn State and Michigan State’s connection as the first two land-grant institutions in the United States. Both universities were founded in 1855 just 10 days apart.
“It’s something that we definitely want back in our locker room,” Clifford said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get it here.”
Emma Holtz is a junior majoring in public relations. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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