It wasn’t always pretty, and the stat sheet won’t show it, but Trace McSorley did what he needed to do down the stretch to put Penn State in position to win. Down 21-7 in the fourth quarter, McSorley engineered a five-play, 90-yard touchdown drive capped by his bomb to Saeed Blacknall, and his quick feet for the score.
Running Backs: B+
No, Saquon Barkley didn’t run all over Ohio State the way he did last season at the ‘Shoe. What he did, however, is get continuous positive yardage while breaking free for a few 20+ runs when his team needed him most. He made no mistakes in this game and simply kept the Lions within striking distance the entire way. His lack of scoring keeps his grade from being higher.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
This is another instance of “weren’t all that great for most of the game, but did just enough to keep us in it.” In fairness to the unit, Mike Gesicki was doing pretty well until he went out with an injury, and was still able to do just enough when he came back in. Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, and DaeSean Hamilton had three huge catches at different points in the game as well.
Offensive Line: A-
Penn State’s offensive line allowed one sack against the number two team in the nation. Who would have thought that this line would come this far after just one offseason? Better yet, who would have thought this line would perform this well after one of their most experienced linemen went down with injury two weeks ago? If it weren’t for a few tackles for loss this grade would have been a straight up A.
Welcome back, Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell. The weakest unit on the entire team a month ago has returned to form, and in what way. Bell, Cabinda, and Manny Bowen combined for 42 of the team’s 102 tackles Saturday (yes, Penn State had ONE HUNDRED TWO tackles in this game). Ohio State’s running game had very little room to operate, and that was mainly due to a relentless game from the linebackers.
This was a solid effort by the secondary. I’m grading them on a negative curve here, because they were kind of expected to have this type of game against an Ohio State passing attack that hasn’t been all that potent as of late. The team that scored 77 on Bowling Green, mostly through the air, seems to be long gone for the Buckeyes.
Defensive Line: A
Brent Pry wasn’t shy about dialing up blitzes to keep the pressure on J.T. Barrett late in the game, but even when he didn’t, this unit made the Ohio State quarterback uncomfortable by winning one-on-one battles up front. Garrett Sickels, Evan Schwan, and Kevin Givens combined for four of Penn State’s six sacks on the night. In run defense, the line wasn’t moved as easily as it was against Michigan and Pittsburgh, and that played a big part in Penn State staying in this game before the furious fourth-quarter comeback.
Special Teams: B-
Special teams had two F-worthy mistakes in the first three quarters, but they counterbalanced those with two A+ worthy plays in the fourth. Special teams are the reason Penn State won this game, but they could have easily been the reason the Nittany Lions would have lost it too. The grade reflects that.