Eric McCoo rushed for 206 yards, and David Macklin and Anthony King returned interceptions for touchdowns as No. 23 Penn State beat Michigan State 51-28 Saturday to strengthen its case for an eighth straight Jan. 1 bowl.
McCoo also scored a touchdown and Travis Forney kicked a career-high five field goals for the Lions (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten), who now have a chance to go to the Outback Bowl after finishing their home schedule unbeaten for the first time since 1994.
"This wasn't our goal, to be 8-3. We're just anxious to get a New Year's Day bowl game, get a good opponent and just give a good showing," said center Eric Cole.
Coach Joe Paterno said the Lions wanted to make amends for last year's rout.
"I think their pride was hurt last year, particularly the defensive kids," Paterno said. "We were more aggressive and we were able to do a better job of stopping the run. They've played with a lot of emotion."
Michigan State (6-6, 4-4) needed a win to become bowl eligible.
"We're not a 6-6 team," said Sedrick Irvin, who rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown. "People might think I'm crazy for saying this, but this is a Top 15 team. The ball just didn't bounce our way this season."
Macklin picked off a pass by Bill Burke and ran it back 55 yards for his first career TD in the first quarter to put Penn State ahead 21-7. King's 25-yard interception return came on Michigan State's first series of the second half and put the Lions in front 42-14.
"Their rush and the hits they made affected him," Spartans coach Nick Saban said of Burke. "When you affect the quarterback like they did today, sometimes it gets you out of synch."
Macklin has six interceptions this season, tied for the Big Ten lead.
"Anytime you put that kind of pressure on the quarterback, he's going to be protective of himself a lttle more. He's going to be a little more anxious to get rid of the ball," he said.
LaVar Arrington tipped another pass by Burke in the first quarter, and Brandon Short picked it off to set up the first of Mike Cerimele's two touchdowns.
Courtney Brown and Mac Morrison each had two of Penn State's seven sacks. Brown has 11½ for the year, and Penn State's 47 this season leads the conference and ties the school record.
Burke finished 17-of-44 for 286 yards and two touchdowns, but most of that came with the game decided. Sedrick Irvin rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown against a defense that has not allowed a back to rush for 100 yards this season.
| Brandon Short returns one of three Penn State interceptions Saturday. (AP) |
Cerimele's TD runs covered 2 and 31 yards. Forney booted a pair of 37-yard field goals along with kicks from 22, 40 and 23 yards.
Penn State's offense, ineffective much of the first half, came through with a 70-yard TD drive right after Burke connected with Plaxico Burress on a 61-yard TD to cut the lead to 21-14. Thompson was 4-for-4 for 52-yards on the drive and McCoo scored from the 5.
"Aric Morris hit him as flush as you can, but he broke out," Saban said. "He showed good speed today acceleration on the corner and the ability to break tackles."
Thompson was 8-of-16 for 103 yards and no interceptions in just over a half.
Julian Peterson scored Michigan State's third touchdown by returning a fumble 40 yards, and Chris Baker caught a 6-yard TD pass from Burke late in the fourth quarter.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved