No lengthy opening paragraph from me this week. As several folks on the team have been saying, “back to the basics.”
The Good: Trace threw for 381 yards and a hat trick of touchdowns en route to breaking a school record for TD passes (49).
The Bad: Everything else. The arm strength appeared to be lacking at critical moments, which led to a hat trick of interceptions. Perhaps it was the field conditions, but he also wasn’t much of a threat with his legs when attempting to take off.
Running Back: C+
For the first time since the Ohio State game last year, Saquon Barkley was kept out of the end zone, breaking a 14-game streak of having at least one TD. With little help from his O-line, Barkley only managed 63 yards on the ground while picking up an additional 33 receiving. At least we got to witness his passing skills once again, as he threw a dart to Mike Gesicki on PSU’s first scoring drive of the game. As much as I hate to paraphrase Chris Fowler in these circumstances, you can ‘Say bye-bye’ to Saquon’s Heisman hopes after this past weekend. Be satisfied if he still gets an invite to New York City at this point.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: B
Normally, a unit that produces two 100-plus yard receivers (DaeSean Hamilton had 112 yards and a TD, DeAndre Thompkins had 102 yards and a TD) plus their tight end damn near making it three (Mike Gesicki hauled in eight catches for 89 yards) would be subject to an A-level grade. Sadly, not in this case. It seemed during the broadcast that I was about to run out of fingers to count the number of dropped passes, including the most critical dropped pass of the game by Thompkins on a 4th and 3 with the game tied and PSU looking to at the very least, go back ahead with a field goal.
Offensive Line: D
As is the recurring theme throughout the season, this unit can’t run block to save their own hides, and until they are able to do so, PSU’s offense will live or die by slinging the ball across the yard.
Defensive Line: C
Kevin Givens was solid in spelling for an injured Ryan Buchholz, garnering four tackles while Tyrell Chavis and Yetur Gross-Matos teamed up for a sack and Shane Simmons got a sack all by himself. Unfortunately, when it came to pass rushing, this unit just had trouble bringing Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke down despite hurrying him out of the pocket several times, buying Lewerke enough time to make a big-time throw to one of his receivers.
While they teamed up with the D-line to hold MSU’s LJ Scott to just 43 yards on the ground, the linebackers were routinely torched through the middle of the field by Lewerke and the Sparty receivers. With the D-line unable to garner a pass rush by themselves, Brent Pry dialed up numerous blitzes with the linebackers, but still couldn’t get consistent pressure on Lewerke.
Giving up 400 yards passing to an opponent in the rain and topping it off with one of the dumbest roughing the passer penalties imaginable to seal your team’s fate speaks for itself. Amani Oruwariye’s acrobatic interception off a tipped ball from the sideline mid-fourth quarter to give PSU another shot at breaking the tie was the lone bright spot from this unit.
Special Teams: C
Tyler Davis nailed his lone field goal attempt and has now converted consecutive field goals (baby steps, folks). Blake Gillikin’s punts weren’t quite as booming as we’re used to, but the weather conditions were obviously less than ideal. Even though Blake averaged only 39 yards on his four punts, he still had a long of 52. Saquon only returned two kickoffs, with a long of 11 yards, while DeAndre Thompkins never had a shot at a punt return. The kickoff coverage was rather spotty, allowing some decent returns by Michigan State’s kick returners, and picking up dumb late-hit penalties.