It was a crazy game where Penn State dominated just about every possible statistic imaginable, but it did not reflect that in the scoreboard. Like always there's some good stuff and some bad stuff. Let's see how the Nittany Lions grade out after playing Temple.
Any time you break in a new quarterback you never know what you have until he has his back against the wall and he has no choice but to perform or fail. We got our first look at Rob Bolden in that situation against the Owls, and it's hard to imagine he could have performed any better.
Penn State was clinging to a 15-13 lead with just over nine minutes to go. They were backed up on their own four yard line with the game on the line. At the bare minimum, Penn State needed a few first downs to swing the field position. The absolute worst case scenario would be a three-and-out or a turnover setting up the Owls for an easy score. After two short runs, Penn State faced a 3rd-and-6. The fate of the game, and possibly the season, was in Bolden's hands.
The freshman quarterback took the snap and rolled left. With the defense barreling down on him, he found Graham Zugopen down the sideline. Bolden spun himself around and threw across his body just as the defender arrived to put a lick on him. But the pass found its mark for a 19-yard gain.
A few plays later the Lions faced a 3rd-and-8 at their own 41. This time he stood in the pocket and scanned the field showing tremendous poise. He made a perfect lob pass to Justin Brown down the left sideline for a 27-yard gain. Once again he got leveled by a defender just after releasing the ball.
Sometimes it's easy to forget Bolden is a true freshman. I've seen many veteran Penn State quarterbacks fail on drives like that. But Bolden was calm and cool and did what he had to do. There's no doubt he has the "it" factor, and he's only going to get better as his command of the offense grows.
All of that being said, he was far from perfect on the day. He completed 18-of-28 passes for 223 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He still makes some ill-advised throws into coverage from time to time, and his trajectory and timing on some of the fade routes wasn't there on Saturday. But overall it was an outstanding performance for a true freshman.
Final Grade: B+
Evan Royster had his best game of the year and the highest yardage total of his career with 187 yards on 26 carries. He looked like the Evan Royster of old making decisive cuts, bursting through the hole, and fighting for the extra yard. He looked like a guy that was running pissed off, and after the game he pretty much confirmed that he was in a pissed off mood all week.
Stephfon Green was the one having trouble finding room to run and finished with only 15 yards on 11 carries. Most of it was the offensive line just not opening up for him, but it also looked like he was pressing a little too hard to me. I think he's trying to prove he can be a disciplined running back. He's going to hit the assigned hole whether it's there or not. Maybe he should be afraid to improvise and bounce it outside when the gap isn't there. I'd almost rather see him lose two yards trying to make something happen than watch him endlessly run up Stefen Wisniewski's back for no gains.
To end on a positive note, let's give some love to the fullback. Mike Zordich was largely responsible for Penn State's final touchdown. All day long Penn State struggled to get yards on first down in the redzone. But on their final trip they handed Zordich the ball on first down and he carried multiple defenders on his back for an eight yard gain. He gained a first down on his next carry, and two plays later he punched it in the endzone. I'd say he has earned himself more carries in the future.
Final Grade: B
Justin Brown is right on the verge of becoming a dominant player. He finished with four catches for 84 yards including the huge 3rd down conversion mentioned before. On top of that he's a good downfield blocker and was still pushing his guy around 50 yards down field on Royster's big run to start the game.
Overall I can't find anything to complain about with these guys. They were getting open, catching the ball, and blocking well in the running game. This is the kind of play we need with a freshman quarterback.
Final Grade: A
And now the review takes an ugly turn. These guys just don't get a good push. They don't seem capable of blowing anyone off of the line. If a defender is determined he's going to hit a gap, they are pretty good at turning him and riding him out of the play. But if a defensive tackle decides he's just going to hit them head on and take up space, our guys pretty much let them do that. Nothing demonstrated this more than when Bolden got stuffed on the 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak. Still, it's hard to complain too much on a day when Penn State rushed for over 200 yards.
On the plus side, this group has proven themselves to be pretty good in pass protection. They gave up their first sack of the year, and that was really tight end Garry Gilliam's fault. He got destroyed by Tahir Whitehead on an inside move.
We're at the point now in the season where I don't expect things to get any better. What you see is what you get, and with the loss of Lou Eliadies for the season, it may actually get worse. Though Chima Okoli did play well in his place. Okoli got good push, sealed the edge, and moved on to the second level to spring Royster's 17-yard run on the late touchdown drive.
Final Grade: C+
This is where I place most of the blame for the stuggles in the redzone. Looking at the play-by-play, Penn State had five first downs in the redzone. (I'm not counting one trip to the redzone where PSU just crossed the 20-yard line on third down and kicked a FG on fourth down.) They rushed on every single first down in the redzone. The first three rushes gained a total of four yards. The fourth one was Zordich's eight yard gain, and the last first down attempt in the redzone was two plays after Zordich's big run when Royster moved the ball from the five down to the one. So taking those last two plays out, Penn State basically started every other trip to the redzone by getting stuffed on first down.
Now let's focus on second down for the first three trips and not look at the Zordich touchdown drive. On their first trip, after getting stuffed for no gain on first down, Bolden tried a fade pass to Moye that had no chance of being completed. On the next trip, after gaining just two yards on first down they stubbornly rain Stephfon Green for no gain on second down. And on the third trip, after gaining just two yards on first down, they threw an incomplete pass to Joe Suhey that had no chance of going anywhere.
So in each of these cases they blew it on first and second down and left it for Bolden to try to do something on 3rd and long. They never tried a pass on first down, and most of the passes they tried in the redzone were fade patterns that weren't anywhere close to being completed. To me, this is terrible play calling. There is just no originality there. It's time to give up hope that this offensive line is going to plow a path for Royster and Green to walk into the endzone. The coaches are going to have to devise other means to score.
The post pattern to Brackett has proven pretty effective, and Bolden obviously has confidence in him. Try some play action to open that up. An end around or crossing pattern to Devon Smith could be effective. Just get him the ball in space and see if he can make something out of it. Or here's another thought: Why not bring in Kevin Newsome for a play and try a zone read option. Just do something other than ram it up the middle on first down and put your freshman quarterback in a situation where he has to face a 3rd and 8 in the redzone.
Final Grade: D