So...Let’s just go ahead and rip the band-aid off this one, shall we?
Yes, Sean Clifford did throw for 340 yards, including a touchdown strike to Nick Bowers. However, there’s no looking past those three brutal interceptions, especially that first one, which was an attempt at an early TD bomb to quiet the crowd on the game’s opening drive and instead led to a 95-yard TD drive the other way for the Gophers. In fairness to Cliff on the other two interceptions, the referees inexplicably missed pass interference penalties.
That being said, it’s not Cliff’s fault that his receivers outside of KJ Hamler, Pat Freiermuth, and Jahan Dotson were dropping passes like hot potatoes. Still, this is going to go down as one of, if not his worst performance of the year. Here’s to hoping he uses this game as fuel to go off like a bat out of hell on Indiana next weekend.
Running Back: A-
For all the issues that plagued the team yesterday, this was one of the few units where I find it hard to find any faults. Journey Brown stepped up in place of an injured Noah Cain with 124 yards and a pair of TD’s on 14 carries. Devyn Ford and Ricky Slade also saw some brief action, but neither back did anything notable.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: C+
Nick Bowers having the team’s lone TD reception, along with Hamler and Freiermuth both going over 100 yards receiving, as well as Dotson’s critical yards after the catch on PSU’s potential game-winning drive keep this grade from being much lower, because good lord, with all the dropped passes, it felt like 2018 redux out there yesterday. All of the fans who were clamoring for more targets for Justin Shorter finally learned why he hadn’t been targeted as frequently. At 6’4” going up against a 5’10” Antoine Winfield Jr. on a 50/50, there is no excuse for that to end up with Winfield coming away with a pick. Shorter has to attempt to make a play on that ball, the same way Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, or Mike Gesicki would’ve done.
Then of course, you had Daniel George’s drops and untimely, costly, offensive pass interference on PSU’s final drive (which quite frankly, was a ticky-tack call that shouldn’t have been called if the refs were going to keep the flags in their pants prior to that) which was no bueno.
Offensive Line: B
Yes, Clifford got sacked twice, but I didn’t watch the game yesterday thinking the O-line was truly a problem. The offensive woes can mostly be marked to some poor decision-making by Clifford, drops from the receivers, and questionable red zone play-calling. They also did a nice job opening up space for Journey to run through and get to the next level, which was somewhat of a pleasant surprise.
Defensive Line: F
The Wild Dogs had arguably their worst performance in a long time, getting absolutely zilch for pressure on Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan, which allowed him all the time in the world to hit his stud receivers for big gains and TD’s the entire afternoon. In fact, Morgan had fewer incompletions (two) than he did passing TD’s (three). I realize Minnesota’s O-line was the beefiest front they have faced, but this was an absolutely pathetic performance, given the D-line’s reputation coming into the game.
Now, with that being said: This also falls partially on the referees, who didn’t bother calling Minnesota for a single hold the entire game.
This was the lone bright spot on the defense, as Micah Parsons and Jan Johnson both had 11 tackles apiece and a combined five tackles for loss to lead the team. Micah also garnered the team’s lone sack of the day. Minnesota’s three-headed tailback monster did get a few big gains, but were not allowed to run wild (not that it mattered much, since Minnesota’s aerial attack was so potent).
This wasn’t the first game where the secondary got exposed, but the dam broke in spectacular fashion when Rashod Bateman went for over 200 yards receiving and a TD, while Tyler Johnson also went over 100 yards with a TD to his name, and Chris Autman-Bell also tacked on a TD. From being slow with safety help, to taking poor angles, to just getting beat on 50/50 balls, to a certain 5th-year senior corner committing an idiotic pass interference penalty on 3rd and long when Minnesota was about to be forced to punt from their own end zone, this was one of the worst performances I’ve seen from a PSU secondary in quite some time.
Special Teams: B
Blake Gillikin was only called upon twice, but was solid per usual, with a long of 51 yards. Jake Pinegar nailed a pair of chip-shot field goals, and Jordan Stout put three of his five kickoffs in for touchbacks. The return game featured a near-disaster on a punt return from midfield on what would ultimately be PSU’s final drive, when Isaac Lutz got in KJ Hamler’s way, causing a muffed punt that Ellis Brooks recovered back at PSU’s own 30. Who knows how things would’ve gone had PSU been able to start that final drive closer to midfield?