Apologies for being late with the final edition of position grades until September. Yours Truly was out in Pasadena for the game and spent the next day recovering. Also, a disclaimer: My DVR recording of the game crapped out on me and I am basing these grades strictly on what I can remember from being there in person and from watching highlights on YouTube (which I only just now worked up the courage to watch).
Anyway, I’ll shut up now, and give you the grades:
Trace McSorley’s performance was the epitome of Jekyll-and-Hyde. He accounted for five total touchdowns and threw some spectacular WTF touchdown strikes to Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki, scrambling to the sideline and tossing the ball just before stepping out of bounds. Unfortunately, his first two passes resulted in interceptions, the latter of which USC turned into six points on their ensuing drive. Then of course, there were the back-to-back ill-advised throws to Gesicki and Godwin on the final drive of the game, which set up the game-winning interception and ensuing field goal for the Trojans. We all can appreciate Trace’s aggressiveness and gunslinger mentality, as it has provided some great moments this season, but we saw the harsh effects of what happens when that mentality backfires.
Running Back: A
Saquon Barkley had a pair of touchdowns and came up six yards shy of hitting the 200-yard rushing mark, which of course, included his highlight-reel worthy 79-yard touchdown scamper to give the Lions their first lead of the game early in the second half. I really wish Joe Moorhead had dialed up the patented wheel route to Barkley on 3rd and 4 late in the fourth quarter with PSU clinging to a 49-42 lead and needing perhaps just one more first down to run out the clock. Otherwise, no complaints here.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A-
Chris Godwin carried this group with his nine receptions for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a ridiculous catch off a tipped ball by a USC defender which he bobbled to secure and run into the end zone, in a play that resembled something straight out of the NCAA Football video game series. Not to mention, the amazing grab he made in the back of the end zone in the second quarter when PSU’s offense came alive. Unfortunately, aside from Mike Gesicki’s 55 yards a touchdown grab, this unit was non-existent, hence the minus to the A grade.
Offensive Line: C
The O-line was continuously mauled by USC’s defensive line, who consistently got pressure on Trace, forcing him to scramble out of the pocket almost immediately and resort early and often to his standard attempts at gunslinger heroics. While they did a nice job parting the Red Sea on Barkley’s first touchdown run and held their blocks on his second touchdown run, they did appear to be worn down by the fourth quarter when Barkley absolutely needed some holes to do damage in a manner other than a sweep to the sidelines. On the bright side, this is still a young unit that will only be more experienced and brimming even further with talent as Michael Menet and Will Fries will be off their redshirts next season.
Defensive Line: C
Not the best day for this unit from a pass-rushing perspective, as they failed to get routine pressure on Sam Darnold which made the fact that they helped keep USC’s rushing attack relatively in check (USC managed only 128 yards on the ground) a moot point.
Jason Cabinda led all defenders with 11 total tackles, but it was Brandon Bell who made this unit’s biggest play, taking an interception return all the way inside USC’s 5-yard line, where he unfortunately suffered an injury and did not return. His absence and leadership was certainly felt, as USC had an easier time moving the ball once he left the game.
Look, when your front seven is unable to routinely pressure a quarterback like Sam Darnold, your secondary is very likely to get shredded. That being said, giving up 453 yards passing is still not a very good look.
Special Teams: B-
Tyler Davis did not attempt a field goal, but remains perfect in his career on extra points. He also stepped in for an injured Joey Julius on kickoff duty, where Joey’s absence was truly felt, as only one of Davis’ eight kickoffs resulted in a touchback. Blake Gillikin was stellar, averaging nearly 51 yards on his five punts (including a long of 65 yards). Saquon Barkley had a nice 35-yard return on PSU’s final kickoff return (which unfortunately was for naught) but Miles Sanders nearly giving USC starting field position at the PSU 3-yard line on the game’s opening kickoff bumps this grade down.