Well, that was (thankfully) far less of a nail-biter than I imagined playing at Pitt would be. The defense once again struggled for part of the game, this time in its inability to stop Pitt’s ground game in the first half. However, they tightened up nicely the second half while the offense simultaneously got things rolling. As a result, you’re going to see some solid grades across the board (for the most part - looking at you, wide receiving corps).
That’s enough out of me though, on to the grades!
Statistically-speaking, Trace McSorley has seen better days (Trace went 14-for-30 passing for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns and added 36 yards and a rushing TD). Given the poor weather conditions however, plus the fact that at least five of his incompletions can be blamed squarely on his receivers dropping the ball, he had a solid game all-around. And how sweet was it to see Sean Clifford come in late in the game and immediately toss his first collegiate TD pass to get PSU over the 50-point mark?
Running Back: A-
Memo to Ricky Rahne: FEED MILES THE ROCK. Miles Sanders had his first career 100-yard rushing game as a Nittany Lion, going for 118 yards on 16 carries, and doing so in his virtual backyard at Heinz Field. Mark Allen tacked on a TD while Ricky Slade fumbled the ball away twice, the first one coming when PSU only led 7-6 midway through the second quarter. Unfortunately, Slade’s fumbles keep me from giving this a full ‘A’ grade.
Wide Receiver: B-
Despite the shellacking, the wide receivers had their share of struggles with corralling balls that were perfectly thrown to them. Yes, the weather was to blame somewhat, but this is the second game in a row where Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins didn’t play quite up to snuff.
Meanwhile, KJ Hamler continues to show what a godsend he is to the PSU offense and special teams. KJ found the end zone on a jet sweep during PSU’s first drive and later caught his second touchdown to make it 14-6 PSU at the half. He also dazzled on special teams, taking a kick return back near midfield.
Offensive Line: A
All night long, the O-line gave Trace enough time to throw and opened up enough holes for the running backs. When nobody is talking much about the O-line, that’s when you know they’ve done a solid job.
Defensive Line: A-
This unit consistently got pressure on Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, forcing him to use his legs to make something happen. They did have issues with stuffing the run in the first half, so while a full ‘A’ grade is tempting, that kind of first half performance will result in a minus.
Similar problems stopping the run in the first half as the D-line, but they too got their act together in the second half. Micah Parsons continues to ‘wow’ everyone watching, while true freshman Jesse Luketa saw critical playing time manning the middle spot currently held by Jan Johnson. It sure would be nice to see Parsons, Luketa, and Ellis Brooks get more run as the Lions walk into their pair of tune-ups against Kent State and Illinois these next two weeks, in order to get them valuable playing experience before Ohio State comes to town at the end of the month.
Yes, Pitt’s passing attack was atrocious and they barely threw downfield. Still, allowing 55 yards passing is an impressive feat, no matter how you slice it. Amani Orurwariye once again came up with a clutch pick near the goal line when Pitt was driving early down 7-6, and threatening to take the lead.
Special Teams: A
Special Teams coach Phil Galiano celebrated his birthday this past weekend in a totally redeeming himself sort of way. DeAndre Thompkins got his first punt return TD of the year in a dagger-like fashion, putting PSU up 30-6 at the end of the third quarter, signifying to the numerous PSU fans (and empty yellow seats) that the rout was truly on. Blake Gillikin was also clutch at flipping field position with his booming punts, averaging a cool 42.6 yards per punt with his longest being a 52-yarder. Jake Pinegar did misfire on his lone field goal attempt, but a 45-yarder in the pouring rain is a lot to ask out of any kicker, let alone a freshman. All in all, a most excellent day for the special teams, in what was a huge reversal from last week’s problems.