It's been a long time since I have seen a Penn State defense this painful to watch. The fabulous defenses of the past few years have spoiled us. We're used to seeing domination. When a big stop was needed, they usually came through. But not this year. Too often they gave us a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we watched them getting run over again and again. This team has a lot of work to do to get ready for a bowl game, and they have a long offseason ahead of them with a lot of questions to answer. Let's just get to the grades and close out this disasterous defensive season.
It was basically the same story we've seen all year. Ollie Ogbu is the only one worth a damn trying to fight through constant double teams. Devon Still and Jack Crawford have no answers for cut blocks. Still single handedly gave the Spartans 20 yards by roughing the passer and punter on two devastating penalties. The defensive ends get shoved around like Walmart shopping carts on Black Friday.
The good news is that everyone but Ogbu comes back next year. The bad news is they need to show a lot of improvement. I'm not expecting much from Eric Latimore, Jack Crawford and Devon Still since those guys have been in the system for over three years now. They are what they are at this point, which means they are solid players, but not play makers. We're pinning our hopes on guys like Pete Massaro, Jordan Hill, DaQuan Jones, C.J. Olaniyan, and Evan Hailes to mature, bulk up, and become the stars we expect them to become. It would also be nice if Brandon Ware could maybe put down the iPhone once in a while, stop tweeting and maybe ran a few minutes on the tread mill or watched a little film. What a waste of a scholarship.
This post is starting to take an ugly turn, so I'll move on.
Final Grade: D
I'm not sure any team has exposed Penn State's poor linebacker play as well as the Spartans did. They gobbled them up in the running game, and Kirk Cousins was hitting his tight ends for 20 yards over the middle seemingly at will. Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are wonderful kids that gave it all and kept their noses clean, but man will I not miss those guys next year. The former is always a step slow, and the latter is always a step in the wrong direction. Gbadyu had a few good plays on Saturday, but every time the running back gave a shoulder fake inside, Gbadyu got sucked in and sealed completely giving up containment.
At one point someone on twitter asked me directly why they don't pull Bani. In response I asked, "Who would you replace him with?" to which they responded "Hodges, Carson, Van Fleet...anyone would be better."
Well, that's a freshman, a walk on, and a kid that has a ton of physical tools, but like Bani, can't seem to figure out what he's supposed to be doing out there. So, sadly, in the absense of Michael Mauti, Gbadyu was the best option.
On the plus side, Nate Stupar played one of his best games of the year leading the team with 10 tackles. He's showing signs of getting it, but he's not quite there yet. I still cover my eyes and peek through the cracks when he has to make an open field tackle. But he's the best blitzing linebacker we have, and he has a knack for getting his hands on the ball in pass coverage. Sometimes he even catches it. It was Stupar that caused the critical fumble at the end when there were two minutes to go and Penn State had exhausted all of their timeouts.
Looking ahead to next year they have to replace two linebackers. You have to figure Mauti will start in the middle and Stupar will likely be the other starter. Khairi Fortt and Gerald Hodges will duke it out for the last spot while Glenn Carson and Mike Hull should make capable backups. I'm not feeling great about that lineup to start the year, but there is a ton of potential there.
Final Grade: D (Stupar gets an A)
These guys weren't tested often as Michigan State had a comfortable lead for most of the game and was content to just run the ball. And a lot of the time the Spartans attacked the linebackers with the tight end. But when they were tested the secondary mostly failed. Cousins comlpeted 17-of-22 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Malcolm Willis had two boneheaded plays. The first came when he failed to cover B.J. Cunningham when D'Anton Lynn left him to blitz. Then late in the game he hit a ball carrier after the guy took about five steps out of bounds.
I don't know what happened to Stephon Morris. The guy looked so aggressive last year. Now it's like he's afraid of contact. And now that teams have noticed he's only four feet tall, they love to line up their tallest guy on him. The fact that he has lost the starting job to a guy that played wide receiver last year speaks volumes. He's got to get his swagger back somehow. If he could grow about five inches that would be cool too.
Chaz Powell got absolutely torched by about five steps. He's just lucky Cousins overthrew his guy by about one foot or that would have been a touchdown.
Final Grade: D
Man do we miss Anthony Fera. Collin Wagner's kickoffs only averaged 62 yards not factoring in the onsides kick. Anthony Butterworth's punts averaged 34 yards. Michigan State was averaging 46 yards on their punts meaning Penn State was giving up 12 yards per punt exchange. That's not helping your offense or defense. Penn State averaged a pathetic 16.4 yards on their kick returns. It was an all around special teams FAIL. Utterly disappointing considering special teams was a strength of the team in the early part of the season.
Final Grade: F