Let’s be clear about one thing: Penn State absolutely destroyed Nebraska when it truly mattered. That 42-10 halftime lead was all on the first team. It wasn’t until the second half when the second and third stringers started to trickle into the lineup while Nebraska kept their starters in that Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee began to look like a Heisman Trophy contender and the running backs and wide receivers suddenly looked like Lawrence Phillips and Johnny Rodgers.
This in turn, creates a bit of a dilemma when putting together these grades: How much weight do we give to backups getting torched by starters? Let’s just say, the defensive grades were done with somewhat of a curve. Feel free to bitch about them all you want in the comments section below.
It was just another day in the office for Trace McSorley as he threw for 325 yards and a hat trick of touchdowns while also running nine times for 50 yards and another TD. Tommy Stevens saw a few series in the fourth quarter, rushing for 31 yards on five carries and tossing a TD of his own.
Running Back: A
Okay, I guess people on the Internets weren’t kidding when they said Nebraska’s defense is the cure to your team’s running game woes. Saquon Barkley racked up a hat trick of TD’s in the first half, and probably would’ve had a fourth if he hadn’t had his feet taken out from under him by the last line of defense on a 30-yard carry. Overall, Saquon had a pretty solid 158 yards rushing and 66 receiving, easily his best game since Michigan. Miles Sanders looked pretty fluid in his limited action, garnering 28 yards on four carries and looking more confident out there as he prepares to take over Saquon’s starting spot in 2018.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A
DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki, and Saeed Blacknall may have gotten the top honors pre-game, but it was Juwan Johnson who led the way in terms of yardage, garnering 105 on five catches. Gesicki caught two TD’s, while DeAndre Thompkins and backup tight end Nick Bowers also had a TD, each.
Offensive Line: A
Yes, it was against Nebraska’s defense, but considering how shaky they looked against Rutgers last week, it was a welcome sight to see this group able to open up running lanes for Saquon to run through and they kept Trace mostly upright throughout the game. For that, they are getting a deserved positive grade, for once.
Defensive Line: B+
The regular rotating unit combined for a total 3.5 sacks on Lee (shout-outs to Tyrell Chavis, Robert Windsor, Shareef Miller, and Kevin Givens) and along with the linebacking corps, made sure that Nebraska’s running backs had little room to operate.
It’s quite fitting that on Senior Day, Brandon Smith (13 tackles) and Jason Cabinda (7 tackles, two pass break-ups, and half a sack) were the ones piling up most of the defensive stats. They did a solid job shutting down Nebraska’s running game until the second half when things got a little lackadaisical. Overall though, this was probably the best defensive unit on the field last Saturday.
This where I’m grading ‘somewhat on a curve.’ I realize that it was mostly backups that were getting torched in the second half, but still, giving up nearly 200 yards to one receiver (Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan Jr.) and nearly 400 yards through the air is not something I can simply ignore altogether, hence the C-minus grade (as opposed to a D). Marcus Allen only had two tackles and had a somewhat quiet Senior Day and the unit failed to garner any interceptions. Troy Apke also got himself ejected on a targeting call in the second half that will cause him to miss the first half of the Maryland game next week.
Special Teams: C-
If not for a pair of special teams miscues in the first quarter (Zech McPhearson not getting out of the way of a punt that hit his foot, and Blake Gillikin having an uncharacteristic shanked punt), PSU may have been shutting out the Huskers at halftime. Tyler Davis did nail all of his extra points, but continues to have problems putting kickoffs into the end zone and keeping them from going out of bounds. Kickoff coverage was also shaky at times, allowing a couple of decent returns (although, nothing that gave Nebraska superb field position).