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Position Grades: Northwestern

A pretty darned good day overall, but there a couple of units that could use some work.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Northwestern Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it sure was nice for once to have a comfortable win over Northwestern, no? On to the grades!

Quarterback: A

Let’s be clear, a solid A-grade (or even an A-plus, for that matter) does not mean perfection. No quarterback is going to complete all of their passes, nor are they always going to make quality throws every single passing attempt. If perfection were the baseline, there would never be a single A-grade given out in these posts.

Now that we’ve established that, Trace McSorley had himself a very solid outing, going 25-for-34 passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns (including one to his backup, Tommy Stevens), while adding a rushing TD of his own late in the game. Trace also put his name in the record books, completing a school-record 15 pass in a row, surpassing Kerry Collins’ 14 consecutive completions.

Running Back: A-

Saquon Barkley overcame a Northwestern defense that seemed hell-bent on shutting him down (at the expense of leaving gaping holes for PSU’s receivers to run through untouched), piss-poor run blocking from his offensive line, and some questionable play-calling to still finish with 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including that well-timed 53-yard TD run that effectively put the game on ice with PSU up 17-0 late in the 3rd quarter.

Wide Receivers/Tight End: A

Six different receivers caught a pass in this game, including six each from DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson. Meanwhile, Saeed Blacknall led the team in total receiving yards with 71 of them. In general, this group took advantage of Northwestern’s zeroing in on Barkley and a lack of a passing defense to get open early and often. It was nice to see Mike Gesicki back on the field after that nasty hit he took against Indiana last week, even if he had a quiet afternoon.

Offensive Line: C-

The run blocking is still downright atrocious and is something that will desperately need to get fixed between now and when Michigan visits Happy Valley. The right side of the line also remains and issue, as it allowed Trace to be sacked four times. That being said, I’m giving the line somewhat of a pass, because I think questionable play-calling also played a role in some of the issues with running the football (i.e. trying to pound the ball with Barkley when it was clear that Northwestern’s defense was selling out to stop precisely that).

Defensive Line: A+

Howdy there, Shaka Toney! Way to have your breakout game and put opposing offenses on notice for the rest of the season with your two sacks and a forced fumble that led to one of three Northwestern turnovers on the day. Shareef Miller and Curtis Cothran were also terrors on the interior, racking up a sack apiece.

It was also great to see Shane Simmons come up with a clutch stop on 4th down, corralling Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson, as Thorson tried scrambling for the first down. Kevin Givens also deserves recognition for batting down a pair of passes.

Linebackers: A

A solid all-around performance from this group in helping to bottle up Northwestern’s star running back Justin Jackson and make life difficult for anyone trying to catch passes in the middle of the field. Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith had five tackles each, and Koa Farmer had four tackles (Koa also had a tackle for a loss). Manny Bowen and Cam Brown also made life difficult for Thorson in the pocket, hurrying him a handful of times.

Secondary: A+

Amani Oruwariye’s leaping interception in the red zone on Northwestern’s opening drive of the game truly set the tone for the afternoon, as the secondary racked up eight pass breakups and two interceptions in total (Christian Campbell intercepted what looked like a too-close-for-comfort Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half). The secondary played tight man coverage all afternoon and dared Northwestern’s receivers to try to beat them one-on-one [Ron Howard voice: They didn’t]. Marcus Allen as usual, was Johnny-on-the-Spot when it came to run support, racking up five tackles.

Special Teams: B+

Much like the offensive line, the field goal kicking unit is in dire need of work during the bye week. It’s hard not to wonder if Tyler Davis is dealing with some type of injury we don’t know of, similar to when it was revealed at the end of the 2013 season that Sam Ficken had been dealing with a groin injury for the latter half of that season, explaining why he had regressed on field goals from the midway point of that season on.

Other than that though, the rest of the special teams were fine, as kick and punt coverage continues to be excellent, DeAndre Thompkins had what should have been his second punt return TD of the year called back for a holding penalty, and Blake Gillikin consistently put the Wildcats in less-than-ideal field positions.