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Position Grades (Michigan): Running Backs Falter


Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback: C

This was one of those games where we look back and feel sad. Christian Hackenberg didn't usually have too much time to throw, and when he did, Michigan's secondary had everyone in Penn State's receiving game locked down. He fired off some really gorgeous passes, and his touchdown throw to Saeed Blacknall was impressive, but he sometimes held onto the ball too long and got hit a ton. If this is indeed Hackenberg's last home game in State College, it was a painful way to go out.

Running Back: D+

There were just no holes for Saquon Barkley to attack. It's not even a case of he couldn't make guys miss, as Michigan plugged up every hole – both the ones he was supposed to hit and his cutback lanes – basically all afternoon. After a 56-yard carry early on, Barkley ended the game with 68 total yards on the ground. No other Penn State running back recorded a carry.

Wide Receiver/Tight End: C-

The receivers struggled at times to get open, but Michigan has an outstanding secondary and when the receivers had to make big plays, they seemed to come through. A special shoutout goes to Blacknall, who hauled in Penn State's only touchdown on the afternoon. As for the tight ends, the blocking was what we'd expect, but all three of the usual suspects hauled in a pass. Brent Wilkerson's three receptions tied for the most on the team, which was really cool to see.

Offensive Line: D

Michigan has one of the best defenses in America, so it's not a surprise that the Penn State line struggled. The weird thing is, I don't think it was a case of one or two guys having particularly rough games, as the Wolverines just seemed to push Penn State around in the trenches all afternoon. This was especially evident whenever Barkley tried to run the ball – he was just met by a wall of UM defenders.

Defensive Line: B-

First off, we all hope that whatever Carl Nassib's issue is, ends up getting fixed. That being said, the unit was generally fine today, but you could tell that it was missing its star defensive end on passing downs. To their credit, guys like Torrence Brown and Evan Schwan played well in relief, especially Brown, who may or may not have broken every bone in Jake Rudock's body with a big hit in the first half. Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson did their usual good stuff up the middle. It was hardly Penn State's best performance up front, but that's mostly because the unit has been lights out for most of the year.

Linebackers: B+

This was Penn State's best unit of the afternoon by a mile. Jason Cabinda was solid, Troy Reeder had himself a pretty good ballgame, and Brandon Bell may be the greatest football player of all time. Ok, that's hyperbole, but I'm not convinced that Bell isn't a top-10 football player ever. That dude rules so hard.

Defensive Backs: C-

The unit can almost certainly use an entire week or two where it just works on tackling. That's been a problem all year, and we especially saw it on display against Michigan. Coverage wasn't otherworldly, but for the most part, it wasn't bad. The long and the short of it is that you can see that this is a really young group of players.

Special Teams: B-

Sure, Michigan ripped off a big return, but for the most part, the coverage teams did an alright job getting down the field. The punting game was good enough and Tyler Davis looked good on field goals. Returning the ball wasn't spectacular, and DeAndre Thompkins may have lost his job as punt returner with a muffed punt on the afternoon. Maybe the most subpar part was Joey Julius on kickoffs – we've seen how far he can kick a football, but the Wolverines kept fielding the ball in front of their end zone. He is better than that, and after not playing for a few weeks, you could see a little rust.

Coaching: D-

The usual script: defense looks good, offense doesn't, special teams have its moments. Some of the decision making got shredded, namely the decision to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter down 21-13 on 4th-and-Goal from Michigan's 1. Knowing when to use time outs and when to save them also seems like it's frequently biting the Nittany Lions in the butt.