Well, that sure was a fun and relatively stress-free way to open the football season, eh? This means of course, that the first set of position grades for the 2017 season will indeed be quite positive and generous. Anyway, on to the good stuff:
Interception in the end zone on what was a very promising opening drive aside, Trace McSorley was his usual wizard self, going for a smooth 18-for-25 for 280 yards passing with two touchdowns. More importantly, Trace ran the ball 12 times for 48 yards and picked up a TD on the ground. It was clear that Joe Moorhead was sending a message to opposing defensive coordinators that they will not be able to key in on Saquon Barkley without getting burned by letting Trace take off and run as frequently as he did.
Tommy Stevens also got in on the action, whether it was appearing in the backfield next to Trace in a 2 QB set or with his solid play in garbage time, including a rushing touchdown. It is pretty clear that despite being the backup QB, Tommy will be a significant presence on the field.
Running Back: A+
Saquon Barkley didn’t touch the ball until the 10th offensive play for Penn State. Once he did though, he got going rather quickly. In just 14 carries, he rattled off 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns (which really should’ve been a hat trick if not for being called out of bounds at the Akron 7-yard line on his game-long 80-yard run). Miles Sanders also had a nice 16-yard sweep left on his lone carry.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A
DaeSean Hamilton had a few drops (including at least one that would’ve went for a touchdown), but Juwan Johnson’s 84 yards on four catches and Mike Gesicki’s 58 yards and pair of TD grabs on six catches more than made up it.
Offensive Line: A-
The O-line allowed Akron to get a little more penetration in the backfield and pressure on Trace than they probably should’ve. Other than that, there isn’t much to complain about with this unit. There is certainly room for improvement, but they are in a better starting spot than they were this time a year ago.
Defensive Line: A
When a particular unit is mostly responsible for holding a team to 73 net yards rushing and picking up a pair of sacks in the process, they are getting nothing short of an ‘A’ grade. Shout-out to Tyrell Chavis and his team-leading three tackles for losses.
See my comments about the defensive line, above. While this unit didn’t produce any sacks, they did a solid job of wrapping up any Akron player who had the ball in their hands. Manny Bowen and his five tackles led the way for the linebacking crew.
Not only did the secondary hold Akron under 100 yards passing (the Zips only managed 86 yards through the air), but they also had an interception via Amani Oruwaryie, who also had a clutch pass break-up in the second quarter that prevented what would have been a sure-fire touchdown, which ultimately helped preserve the shutout. Marcus Allen also continues to be a beastly hard-hitter. Overall, a great day for this unit.
Special Teams: A
Tyler Davis had his first career shanked field goal (all of his prior missed FG’s had been blocked) but did redeem himself later on by nailing a career-long 48-yarder. His kickoffs made us reminisce at times for Joey Julius’ booming leg, but otherwise put them in the end zone more often than not. Blake Gillikin only punted twice today, but made the most of it by booming a 56 and 44-yarder to average 50 yards on the day.
The real star of the special teams though, was DeAndre Thompkins. It’s pretty clear that he’s gotten over his case of the drops that plagued him during the 2015 campaign, taking a punt return 61 yards to the house to open up the scoring in the game. Not only was it PSU’s first punt return TD since Derrick Williams against Wisconsin 2008, but it also lit a collective spark under a team that saw a promising opening drive end with an interception in the end zone. Thompkins overall had 127 yards returning four punts and has established himself as PSU’s biggest return game threat since D-Will. You know, the type of player that coaches of future opponents will instruct their punters to punt the ball away from.