Sean Clifford was just 11/23 through the air, but he threw a touchdown and did not throw an interception following his three INT performance in the loss at Minnesota. He did, however, lose a fumble on a play where he failed to feel the blindside pressure coming. The real damage was done with his legs. Clifford did a great job of keeping plays alive with his legs and he finished with 55 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns, including a 1-yard touchdown run with less than 2:00 remaining in the game to put it on ice. Will Levis also got in on the fun carrying the ball three times, and this including pickup up an important 1st down on a 3rd down carry during Penn State’s decisive 18-play 4th quarter drive.
Running Back: A
For a second consecutive week the Nittany Lions were without the services of Noah Cain, and for a second consecutive week the running backs still had a strong game. Journey Brown ran for a touchdown and had his third 100+ yard game of the season. Devyn Ford averaged 4.8 yards per carry on eight attempts, and even the much maligned Ricky Slade got in one the action with an 18-yard reception to convert a 3rd down.
Even though the running backs have stepped up in Cain’s absence, hopefully, the freshman will be back for Saturday’s clash with the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions will need all hands on deck in order to go into Columbus and pull the upset.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
In the second quarter Penn State lost KJ Hamler for the rest of the game. At this point, guys needed to step up and, to an extent, the call was answered.
Hamler was still the team’s leading receiver with 52 yards on a pair of receptions, but Jahan Dotson had two big catches for 30 yards. Mac Hippenhammer overcame his drop issues to make a huge grab to pick up a 1st down, his only other target was a bubble screen Clifford threw into the ground, and he threw a key block on Penn State’s 3rd quarter touchdown drive.
Tight ends were not used much, but Nick Bowers’ lone reception went for a touchdown reception and both Pat Freiermuth’s grabs went for 1st downs. Tyler Bowen’s group made the most of the opportunities they were given.
Offensive Line: B+
This group has come a long, long way this season. Clifford was sacked three times on Saturday afternoon, but at least one of them was on him. The big fellas up front paved the way to 192 rushing yards for the Nittany Lions and by the end of the game were out-physicaling the Indiana defensive line.
At times they struggled in pass protection, but they gave Clifford enough time to throw more times than not, which is the only thing costing them an ‘A’ grade. The offensive line also powered the Nittany Lions game clinching 18-play, 9+ minute drive in the 4th quarter as 16 of these 18 plays were run plays.
A tip of the cap to Rasheed Walker, Des Holmes, Steven Gonzalez, Michal Menet, CJ Thorpe, Mike Miranda, and Will Fries for their play this season. They have turned this doubter into a believer, and I doubt I’m the only one.
Defensive Line: C+
Penn State’s defensive line was not bad on Saturday, but the Wild Dogs were not quite what you would hope for either. Shaka Toney and Yetur Gross-Matos each had a sack, but YGM also missed a sack when he failed to wrap up Peyton Ramsey on a 3rd and goal where Penn State was bailed out by a dropped pass. The Nittany Lion defensive line helped hold the dangerous Stevie Scott and the IU rushing attack to just 2.9 yards per carry and harassed Ramsey a good bit, but their inability to get home with the pass rush more combined with poor tackling was frustrating.
The linebacker play was trick to judge. Per the norm Micah Parsons was flying and recorded 7 tackles, a QB hurry, he filled gaps in a hurry, and nearly picked off a screen attempt. Cam Brown had 6 tackles and Jan Johnson played a smaller role with Brent Pry going nickel heavy against Indiana’s pass heavy offense. Ellis Brooks forced a key fumble and Jesse Luketa recovered an onside kick.
Outside of Micah at times, no one really flashed. That said, no one seemed to play poorly either and they made some timely plays.
For a second consecutive week the Nittany Lions were gashed in the passing game. The seemingly 6th year junior Ramsey threw for 371 yards, including multiple chunk plays.
Once again, the team’s safety play was atrocious. It was exemplified on Indiana’s second touchdown of the game when Lamont Wade blitzed and Garrett Taylor was within two steps of the line of scrimmage at the snap. Someone was out of position on that play.
Much like the game against Minnesota the inability of the safeties to pick receivers up in coverage after the cornerbacks handed them off made the corners look worse than they were. That said, John Reid dropped an easy would be pick-six, Tariq Castro-Fields got beat for a big gain when he failed to look for the ball and missed multiple tackles, and Marquis Wilson was in the wrong coverage a few times. So, while it was not as bad as it looked, it was still a bad game for the cornerbacks.
Special Teams: A+
Joe Lorig continues to be a god send for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State’s first touchdown was set up by a 51-yard punt that went off the Indiana return man and was recovered by Jan Johnson at the Hoosier 27, and Blake Gillikin’s other two punts pinned Indiana inside the 10. Jake Pinegar was 4/4 on PATs and he connected on both of his field goal attempts. The Nittany Lions also stuffed a fake punt attempt by Indiana on a 4th and 1 in the 3rd quarter. It is just a stretch to say Penn State would not have won this game without their superb special teams play.