Well, that was some way to open this strange, abbreviated (and at this point, hopefully COVID-cancelled) season. To paraphrase Will Ferrell in Anchorman: “I’m not even mad, I’m impressed.” When it came to watching football teams blow games in creative fashion, I thought I had seen it all, but you proved me wrong, Penn State. Well done!
Anyway, let’s get on with the grades..
I know some of you are going to think this is too generous, and you may have a point. Yes, he had a pair of absolutely inexcusable interceptions and a few other awful throws, as well as lacking pocket awareness at times. However, he did spark PSU’s offense with his ridiculous 35-yard zig-zagging touchdown run to cut the deficit to three points and later threw a lovely bomb to Jahan Dotson to give PSU the lead, as well as had the roll-out pass to Parker Washington in the overtime period. It certainly wasn’t a good game for Cliff, but throwing for three TD’s and 238 yards and rushing for 119 yards and another TD, I have to give him credit where it’s due.
Running Back: D
Losing Journey Brown was tough enough, but seeing Noah Cain go down on the game’s first possession was a bad omen. Devyn Ford is clearly not a guy who is capable of handling the bulk of the team’s carries. Keyvone Lee did an admirable job trying to fill in Cain’s role as the road grinder, but seeing him get stuffed short on that fourth and one in the second half was brutal. Caziah Holmes also got a handful carries but didn’t do anything notable. Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense is heavily predicated on being able to establish a ground game, and it’s going to be a brutal season if somebody doesn’t step up (absent of Cain or Brown returning).
Wide Receivers/Tight End: B-
Pat Freiermuth got his with seven catches for 60 yards and the opening drive TD. Dotson certainly looked like the best of the wide receiver bunch, as was to be expected. Daniel George had a few catches, but didn’t step up as the No. 2 guy like we hoped he would. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith had their moments during their freshman debuts, especially with Washington earning his first collegiate touchdown in dramatic fashion.
Offensive Line: C
Until it’s proven otherwise, just going into every offseason assuming the O-line will be mediocre at best. Not even hiring Phil Trautwein nor returning the most veteran bunch of the Franklin era seems to be a remedy to this problem.
Defensive Line: B-
Shaka Toney had a pair of sacks on what should’ve been the game-sealing defensive stand. Jayson Oweh almost got home on the rush several times while being held (and never drawing a flag, somehow). However, this group had some issues at times with allowing themselves to get pushed around in the early going, especially when Indiana scored off a pair of PSU turnovers.
Ellis Brooks had five tackles including one for a loss and a forced fumble, while Jesse Luketa had three tackles before getting ejected for targeting. Lance Dixon saw his share of action, while Brandon Smith was absent for noticeable stretches of the game, as neither highly-touted player garnered any stats.
If Michael Penix had been more accurate throughout the game, Indiana would’ve had a couple more TD’s and the Hoosiers would have won going away. I lost count just how many times a receiver either dropped a pass with plenty of real estate ahead, or Penix overshot his landing zone. Lamont Wade had a fumble recovery and a pick, and Joey Porter Jr. showed why he won the starting job opposite Tariq Castro-Fields with his sack on a corner blitz. When it mattered most unfortunately, they were unable to make a play on Indiana’s game-tying drive or in OT.
Special Teams: D
This would’ve been an ‘F’ if not for Jordan Stout booting each of his kickoffs into the end zone. Did Phil Galiano kidnap Joe Lorig and lock him in a closet before the game? Because that’s the only explanation I can think of for how a unit that was so damn clutch through most of 2019 was a major factor in ultimately losing this game. At least we all got to learn just how loud a doinked field goal truly sounds.