Okay, raise your hand if you had Penn State getting through this recent three-game gauntlet undefeated before the season started. Put your hand down, liar!
Much like the weather yesterday, let’s just get these grades over with and move on to the bye week...
I don’t care how you slice it: Sean Clifford’s four touchdown passes in the driving rain is a very impressive feat. Yes, he also had the worst throw of his young career that resulted in an interception (which combined with taking a couple of sacks is why there’s a minus next to the A grade), but he will learn to just simply throw those types of balls out of bounds instead of forcing them. More importantly, Cliff looks increasingly comfortable in the pocket with each game and you can sense the offense as a whole starting to gel a little more, as a result.
Running Back: C
All four running backs saw action once again, but it was nice to see Noah Cain finally get the start he deserved. It’s truly unfortunate for Noah though, that he got injured in the first quarter, as he likely would’ve handled the bulk of the carries. Journey Brown, Devyn Ford, and Ricky Slade each popped off a nice gain or two. More importantly, none of the backs fumbled the ball once in spite of the awful conditions. It wasn’t a performance to write home about, but it wasn’t bad, either. We’ll just go ahead and give it a C grade for satisfactory performance.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A
Pat Freiermuth had a career-best hat trick of TD’s and KJ Hamler also added a TD, as both players caught five balls, each. Nick Bowers had a pair of catches, with one going for 38 yards. Jahan Dotson, Daniel George, and Justin Shorter also came up with a catch or two, themselves. I realize I’m beating the dead horse at this point, but highly impressive considering the weather.
Offensive Line: B+
Not much to write about this unit this week, and that’s a good thing. It wasn’t a dominating performance, but Michigan State’s defensive line is no joke, and they did a good job of not allowing Sparty’s front four to dictate things in the backfield, for the most part.
Defensive Line: A-
I would’ve liked to have seen the pass rush get home a little more, but Jayson Oweh’s two sacks were a thing of beauty, the second one in particular, since that forced a fumble recovery when Sparty was driving down 28-7 and looking to make things semi-interesting. They also did a good job of making Elijah Collins and Michigan State’s other ball carriers have to earn every yard. Shout-out to Shaka Toney and his clutch blocked field goal.
Micah Parsons was straight ballin’ once again, recording a team-high 12 tackles and nearly intercepting a pass that could have very well preserved a shutout (Michigan State went on to score on the same drive). Cam Brown and Jan Johnson added six tackles and a pass breakup, apiece, while Ellis Brooks recovered a fumble. Along with the D-line, they played a big role in never allowing Sparty’s run game to ever get going.
The secondary gave up a few too many 3rd and long completions and got beat badly on a deep ball that led to Sparty’s lone points of the afternoon. However, the clutch interception by Marquis Wilson on the play immediately following Clifford’s arm punt and another pick by Jaquan Brisker were both major positives. Shout-out to Lamont Wade with a unit-high six tackles and two pass breakups.
Special Teams: A-
Blake Gillikin was one of the more clutch players on the field yesterday, putting five of his eight punts inside Sparty’s 20-yard line and with a long of 58 yards. Everyone knew that winning the field position battle would be of utmost importance in this game and Blake clearly delivered in that category. Jake Pinegar’s missed extra point was no bueno, but thankfully, the team made up for it later by successfully converting a two-pointer. Jordan Stout put one kickoff out of bounds and a couple others came up short of the end zone, but perhaps you can blame it on the rain.
For the second week in a row, KJ Hamler had a return for a TD called back. This time on a very ticky-tack “running into the kicker” call on a punt return. Major shout-out to Dan Chisena though, for totally redeeming himself from dropping a deep ball when he didn’t have a defender within 20 yards of him and recovering a muffed punt early in the second half inside Sparty’s five-yard line, which led to Freiermuth’s third TD catch the very next play.