MMQB: Grading Penn State's Non-Conference Performance

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Let's break down and discuss, albeit briefly.

Allow me to hand out some grades and then we can discuss, cool?

Offense: B+ The three-headed monster in the rushing attack that had many excited in the preseason has not let down as the combination of Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton have run for a combined 765 yards and 11 touchdowns through the first four weeks. The Ginger Avenger is leading the nation in rushing touchdowns with eight, Bill Belton has had a couple of scores where his shiftiness allowed to go untouched and the power/speed/strength/vision quartet of skills that Lynch has shown early on has to have fans ready to see what he can do when he becomes the feature back in a couple years.

Christian Hackenberg has done just about everything you can ask of a true freshman quarterback. His performance in the rain against Kent State was definitely his worst of the year, but conditions may have played a part in that. Take out that game and he was completing over 70% of his passes, albeit against the defenses of Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Central Florida. When down against the Knights, he remained poised and almost led the Lions to an incredible comeback by not giving up a big turnover in a big spot, something you may expect a signal-caller as green as the Fort Union Military Academy product is. The real test of his learning curve will come during the meat of the Big Ten schedule.

Allen Robinson has certainly helped the progress of Hackenberg. He's ridiculous, what more can you say? Brandon Felder has become a solid #2 receiver and the emergence of Geno Lewis as a big play threat and Richy Anderson as a dependable safety blanket also haven't hurt. The tight end position hasn't been de-emphasized, but with early season injuries to Matt Lehman (out for the year) and Kyle Carter, they have made less of an impact. As I said yesterday, they will play big parts coming up, especially in the matchup with the Buckeyes at the end of October.

Finally, the offensive line has shown that it can run block with the best of them, but at times, the pass blocking has left people wanting more. The Garry Gilliam experiment at right tackle hasn't totally blown anyone away, but he's been just as stable a lineman as his partner Adam Gress has. John Urschel has had lapses in his play throughout the first four weeks as well. But, Penn State has one of the best line coaches in the business in Mac McWhorter and I'm sure he was in full teaching mode during the bye week.

Defense: C+ - Yeah, the defense pitched two shutouts (Eastern Michigan and Kent State) and they held Syracuse to just 17 points in their first game out, but they left much to be desired when going up against a competent offense in UCF. Blake Bortles tore through the secondary, Storm Johnson ran rampant and there was no pressure provided by the normally vaunted Penn State D to keep any of it from happening.

Safeties are playing linebacker, Last year's top cornerback is playing safety which is his natural position but he plays better in this defense as a corner. Arguably, Penn State's top cornerback through the beginning of the year was a third-string wide receiver last year. Deion Barnes has struggled early. Outside of DaQuan Jones being an absolute monster in the middle of the defensive line and Glenn Carson being a tackling machine and the unquestioned heart and soul of the unit, there are way too many questions on this side of the ball to consider them being able to handle the top tier of the Big Ten season.

Special Teams: A- - At this point last year, who would have thought that Sam Ficken would be one of the top contenders for the Groza Award? Ficken is 7/8 on field goals for the year with his only missing coming on a 57-yarder at the end of the first half against UCF. Last year, he didn't hit anything past 39 yards. This year, he hit from 54 with room to spare. The 180-degree turn has been magnificent to watch and it all couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

The only reason that this category doesn't get an A or A+ is because Alex Butterworth is still wildly inconsistent with his punting, even with the encouragement and excitement of our own Cari Greene. Sure, you'll get a 50-yard boomer every once in a while, but you'll have to deal with the five 33-yarders in between.

The return game has been consistent, if not, unspectacular. I don't mind not raving about a long touchdown run if that means I'm not ranting about a muffed punt to put the opposition in scoring range.

What do you think, BSDers? Give us your offensive, defensive and special teams grades so far in the comments.

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