Well, I don’t think I have much more to say other than good riddance Pitt, and thank goodness Penn State has a bye week coming up. On to the grades...
This was easily Sean Clifford’s worst outing as a Nittany Lion in his three-game starting career. Even though he threw for 222 yards, he was an inconsistent 14-for-30 passing and overthrew several deep balls where if he had put them right on the money, would’ve led to touchdowns (and perhaps a more relaxing afternoon). He did have a couple nice runs, but seemed uncomfortable in the pocket today. It was a friendly reminder that as talented as he is, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Running Back: C+
Journey Brown’s 85-yard run with PSU backed up inside their own 5-yard line was absolutely clutch, as it set up for Devyn Ford’s touchdown run a few plays later. Ricky Slade also had a critical catch and run on a screen pass that helped set up Jordan Stout’s game-tying field goal right before the half.
Outside of those plays though, Noah Cain was the most consistent runner out there, leading the best-looking drive of the day that resulted in him scampering 13 yards to the end zone to give PSU the lead again, which they ultimately would never relinquish. It’s a crime against humanity that Noah didn’t see the field again after the drive on which he scored. I understand wanting to have a rotation of backs to keep people fresh, but the coaching staff needs to realize that sometimes you just have to ride with the hot hand.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: C
We saw a return of the drops, although I feel like giving them the benefit of the doubt and say that the rain had some effect on that. KJ Hamler led the way with three catches for 68 yards, including a 53-yarder. Pat Freiermuth was only targeted twice and caught one of the targets for 16 yards in what was a very quiet afternoon for him. Much like with KJ, feeding Pat the rock as much as possible should be a top priority for Ricky Rahne, and hopefully we see a triumphant return for Pat against Maryland in two weeks.
Offensive Line: D
I really have nothing more to say. The O-line made Pitt’s depleted D-line look like world beaters in the first half and were perhaps serviceable at best in the second half. Barring an incredible turnaround in performance from this unit, Matt Limegrover is a dead coach walking (figuratively speaking). The only question is whether he will be fired at the end of the regular season or after the bowl game.
Defensive Line: B-
The run defense was solid, but the pass rush certainly left more to be desired (shout-out to Shaka Toney for earning this unit’s lone sack). I kept wondering when the pass rush would eventually get home and get a piece of Pitt QB Kenny Pickett but it did not happen nearly as much as we all would have liked. It was also a surprisingly quiet day for Yetur Gross-Matos, who was not credited with a single tackle.
Like the D-line, run defense was solid, but they had issues defending the pass. Micah Parsons sure balled out though, garnering nine tackles and leaped high in the air to get a hand on a pass that would’ve likely been a huge gain over the middle had it not been altered. Shout-out to Jan Johnson, for coming up with a clutch sack in the fourth quarter that blindsided Pickett. Ellis Brooks also blew up a delayed handoff in Pitt’s backfield, which was fun.
When they weren’t busy getting torched, the secondary was busy picking up defensive holding and pass interference penalties. Pickett had a career best 372 yards on 35-of-51 passing for the afternoon, picking on the deep middle of the field and getting a couple lovely deep balls to the sidelines. I would hate to be a safety or cornerback having to endure the next film session with Tim Banks and Terry Smith pointing out everything that went wrong. Coming up clutch in run support on that goal-line stand late in the game helped prevent this group from getting an F.
Special Teams: A
Jordan Stout easily remains the best offseason acquisition for the program. Once again, he put all of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, negating any possible big return by Pitt’s Maurice Ffrench. More importantly, he set a new school record for longest field goal by nailing a 57-yarder right as time was expiring at the end of the first half, which tied the game heading into halftime instead of Pitt holding a 10-7 lead. Blake Gillikin averaged 42 yards on his seven punts, including a long of 53. The return game was rather quiet as KJ mostly elected to fair catch on punts, returning only one for five yards, while he attempted three times to take a kickoff the distance but had a long of 24 yards.
BONUS GRADE - Referees: F
The ‘F’ of course, being for “f**k these guys.” Whether it was letting Pitt get away with holding (until ironically, the very last play of the game), refusing to flag Pitt’s players for excessively taunting and shoving PSU players long after the play was whistled dead and the players were returning to their respective huddles, not penalizing them for targeting, or the “kick catch interference” call where Dan Chisena blasted Maurice Ffrench on a punt return after the ball touched French’s hands (which could’ve led to a turnover and PSU having a chance to make it a two-score game late), this ACC crew was just flat-out garbage. They deserved every bit of scorn the fans laid upon them.