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Position Grades: Indiana

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Well, this ought to be interesting...

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s performances like yesterday’s against Indiana that make doing certain position grades a far more difficult task. Case in point being at running back: Saquon Barkley had another great all-around performance, taking the opening kickoff 98 yards to the house, catching a one-handed screen pass and juking IU’s stud linebacker Tegray Scales out of his shoes en-route to a 36-yard gain, and then there was Saquon’s Tim Tebow impersonation with his jump-pass touchdown to DaeSean Hamilton. Overall, Barkley finished with 221 all-purpose yards (GOPSUSports.com says 205 yards, but for some reason, they don’t include his 16-yard TD pass). The problem however, is that Barkley only amassed 56 yards rushing on 20 carries, which really puts one in a conundrum when trying to decide on an overall grade for the running back position. I guess that’s what the comments section is for, though.

Anyway, apologies for the rant. Now, for the part you really clicked on this article for:

Quarterback: B

Was it Trace McSorley’s best, most consistent, performance? Nope. Did he once again, overshoot his receivers at times and throw an ill-timed interception that allowed the opponent to score a touchdown and give themselves some hope? Yep. With that being said, however: Trace did finish 315 yards passing and two touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown, which has to count for something. Hence, the B grade.

Running Back: B+

This grade only takes into account Barkley’s contributions when the offense was on the field. As mentioned in the intro to this post, his rushing yards were nothing to write home about, but 51 receiving yards, his TD pass, and pass protection showcased his ability to contribute in other ways.

Wide Receiver/Tight End: B+

Admittedly, DaeSean Hamilton’s career day of nine catches for 122 yards and a hat trick of TD’s helps to inflate this position’s grade. Juwan Johnson also caught four balls for a cool 63 yards, having himself another quietly solid game. Also, let’s all hope that Mike Gesicki’s injury isn’t a serious one that will cause him to miss extensive playing time.

Offensive Line: D+

At this point, we’re seeing a disturbing pattern here of the offensive line not being able to get the push needed in their run blocking, not to mention the leaky pass protection that allowed Trace to be sacked five times yesterday. This unit is not the tire fire that it was in 2014 and 2015, but considering how they seemed to gel together over the course of last season and the experience/talent returning, this group has been a major disappointment. If PSU is to harbor any hopes of repeating as Big Ten champions and making the playoffs, this unit will need to improve in a hurry, as the brutal late October/early November stretch looms ahead.

Defensive Line: B

They were fine at stopping the run, but left more to be desired when it came to rushing the quarterback. Not much else to add here, this week.

Linebacker: A

I guess Jason Cabinda must read these posts, because he certainly stepped up this week, tying his career-high 14 tackles and recovering a fumble during the first quarter onslaught. Shout-outs also go to Manny Bowen and Brandon Smith, who recorded eight and seven tackles, respectively. This unit did a solid job of being in the right position to help contain Indiana’s rushing attack led by Morgan Ellison (Ellison only managed 53 yards on the ground and fumbled) and also got some pressure on Indiana’s QB’s when Brent Pry dialed up the blitzes.

Secondary: A

What more can we say about the best unit on the defensive side of the ball? Marcus Allen was the hard-hitting, ball-hawking, run-supporting beast we’ve come to know and love, the unit contained the IU passing attack, holding the Hoosiers to under 200 yards passing. Amani Oruwariye also had a critical interception on IU’s opening drive of the second half, with the Hoosiers having cut PSU’s lead in half to 28-14 and having all of the momentum at halftime.

Special Teams: A-

If not for another shaky performance by the field goal team, this unit would have gotten an ‘A.’ Tyler Davis inexplicably shanked a 21-yard chip shot before nailing a 45-yarder and subsequently had a 42-yard attempt blocked. I’m old enough to remember when Davis was automatic when his attempts weren’t blocked, and these shanks are becoming more concerning with each game. At some point this season, his leg will be relied upon to get PSU some critical points in a tight game against Michigan or Ohio State, so here’s to hoping we see significant progress on this front.

Now, to the fun part: Obviously, there was Saquon’s kickoff return, but kickoff and punt coverage in general, was solid for the Nittany Lions, with Nick Scott’s fubmled punt return into the end zone being Exhibit A. Blake Gillikin was a beast punting the ball, averaging a solid 46.5 yards over six punts, including a long of 57 yards, and flipping the field position in favor of the good guys.

This brings me to another rant: I will never understand those who brush off special teams TD’s by saying things along the lines of: “Well, take away Barkley’s kickoff return and that fumble recovery TD, and this game is a nail-biter.” Special Teams are very much a part of any football game, just like the offense and defense. They are very much a reason why PSU has seen itself thrusted back into the national spotlight as a program. It wasn’t that long ago, that this team lacked a reliable punter who could flip position, a game-breaking returner on kickoffs (Barkley) and punts (DeAndre Thompkins), and solid kick coverage that you could count on to prevent a big return.

I can off the top of my head, say that the Nebraska game in 2013 would have likely been a win, if not for giving up a kickoff return for a TD right after re-taking the lead in the second half and getting back momentum. I can also recall the 2014 Maryland game could have had a different outcome if PSU had a Gillikin-caliber punter who could boom the ball deep into Maryland territory, forcing them to have to drive much further down the field to get into position to kick a game-winning field goal. What I’m trying to emphasize here is, special teams matter.