Christian Hackeberg threw for 139 yards in the first half before leaving the game due to injury. His 8 for 14 start was admirable, including a nice touch-pass to Hamilton to continue a drive on third down early in the game. Once Hackenberg left the game and McSorley entered, the play from the quarterback position was noticeably less effective initially. It was a tough spot for the young backup quarterback to enter, midway through a game versus the best pass defense in the country. When McSorely was able to throw on rhythm he was able to complete passes, finishing with 142 yards and two touchdowns. McSorley also ran for 31 yards, including a huge 4th down conversion on the final drive of the game.
Running Back: A-
It's very hard to critique the backs since the offensive line didn't provide much running room. A couple of Barkley's plus yardage runs would have been for negative yards were he not superhuman. The team finished with a 3.8 yard per carry average with Barkley finishing with 69 nice yards on 17 carries. Nearly half of Barkley's yards came on a 29 yard run, so for much of the day he was running uphill against eleven boulders rolling downhill toward him.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: B+
Hamilton had a drop on a third and one in the first quarter that would have continued a drive. He later came back to catch a pass for a critical first down early in the game. Chris Godwin continued to show his talent, grabbing four balls in the first half for 94 yards. Godwin caught Trace McSorley's first complete pass downfield in the second half for a 19 yard gain, which took the team from completely dead in the water on offense to showing signs of life. Godwin would finish with 133 yards on six receptions. Hamilton finished with 71 yards on 5 catches with a touchdown. Geno Lewis had 53 yards on 3 receptions including a touchdown. The group made it easier for McSorley to settle down toward the end of the game, running precise routes and catching balls in traffic. Kyle Carter was the only tight end to crack the stat sheet, catching one ball for three yards in the first half.
Offensive Line: C-
While there is still a lot of room for improvement from our guys in the trenches, the group held it together enough to allow a chance for a late comeback. To their credit, the line did not allow a sack. There was little to no running room for three and a half quarters of the game. Late in the fourth quarter as Penn State was making an attempt to tie the game, the line provided just enough room to allow PSU to run an offense.
Defensive Line: B+
Anthony Zettel broke up a pass to kill the first drive of the second half while dropping back in coverage. On the next drive Zettel had a sack for a loss of nine that knocked Georgia out to 48 yards on the ensuing field goal attempt, which was missed. Austin Johnson had a huge sack to end a drive in the fourth quarter following Penn State's first touchdown that cut the lead to 24-10. When the team needed a pass rush, the line got one. When the team needed a critical stop on 4th and 2 which was essentially the ball game, it held strong. Georgia rushed for over 200 yards so that detracts a little from the overall score. However, at the end of the game, when Penn State needed a stop to garner a last-second drive on offense, the squad played huge. Garret Sickels had a huge three-yard tackle for a loss on 4th and 2 on the Bulldog's final play from scrimmage which gave the team a chance on offense.
Jason Cabinda, Jake Cooper and Brandon Bell played solid games. The group finished with a combined 25 tackles while aiding the secondary in coverage that allowed only 171 passing. While the overall rush yardage allowed was not stellar (208), the group held strong enough to keep the game from getting out of hand. It's encouraging that the entire starting unit will return next season and will get a shot in the arm when Nyeem Wartman-White comes back from injury.
Defensive Backs: B-
Malik Golden got beat on a touchdown pass in the first half when he blew his coverage. The play was a direct snap to Terry Godwin in the wildcat formation, and then Godwin threw the ball deep past Golden for the touchdown to Malcom Mitchell. Golden would later redeem that mistake with a clutch tackle on 3rd down during Georgia's final series on offense. Grant Haley made a great open-field tackle on a critical 3rd down following a Penn State failed fake punt. Had Haley not been able to make the tackle the play would have continued a drive inside PSU's 30 yard line and likely led to points. Overall the tackling was much more solid than it had been at times earlier in the year. Outside of the 44 yard pass to Mitchell on what was a mistake by one player, the unit held Georgia to only 115 yards through the air.
Special Teams: B
On the first field goal attempt of the game Carl Nassib went offside, shortening the attempt by five yards. The ensuing kick was off line but hit the goal post and went through for three points. The kick would not have been good from five yards further back. Pasquierello had a punt that traveled 35 yards and came to rest inside the five yard line in the first half and averaged 36.5 yards on six kicks. Brandon Polk had a nice 33 yard kickoff return out to the 37 yard line but was otherwise stuffed, averaging 18 yards on his other two returns. Tyler Davis made a 37 yard field goal to tie the game in the first half 3-3. Outside of one punt that was kicked to the middle of the field, allowing a 37 yard return, and a short kickoff by Joe Julius, the special teams were solid.
While it is easy to criticize Ricky Rahne for some of the passive play calls early in the game, it's clear that he was not dealt a very strong hand to play. With Hackenberg in the game early, the offense struggled in the same areas that it had all season. There was little pass protection and few holes to run through. After the injury Hackenberg, it appeared that PSU would not be able to move the ball an inch for the first few possessions. Trailing by 21, Rahne opened up the play-calling and McSorley and company started making plays.
Coach Franklin chose to go for it on 4th and 12 on a play that led to Penn State's first touchdown, a critical risk that paid off. Franklin's aggressiveness in the second half allowed the team a chance to possess the ball, down one touchdown, with a chance to tie the game. There was ample opportunity for Franklin to throw in the towel late in the game facing a huge deficit, but to his credit he did not.
The defense played a solid game and at crucial moments Johnson and Zettel were positioned to make big plays. As usual, coach Shoop called a great game. The unit bent but ultimately did not break, keeping the game close enough to allow the offense a shot to tie at the end of the game.