Penn State is 0-4. Everything sucks. Let’s hand out some position grades for their latest loss, this one coming against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
We’re going to hand out two grades for the quarterback position. One for Sean Clifford who started the game and one for Will Levis who replaced him.
Clifford gets an F. He threw an interception on Penn State’s first drive of the game which led to a Nebraska field goal. Then on the following drive, he failed to see a WIDE OPEN Brenton Strange in the end zone on third down before throwing the ball away. On his final drive of the game, he fumbled and Nebraska returned it for a touchdown to give the Huskers a 24-3 lead.
Following the fumble, which was Clifford’s seventh turnover in 14 quarters played this season, he was finally benched for Levis.
Once Levis was inserted into the game, Penn State’s offense looked completely different. Levis threw for 219 yards, rushed for 61 and, most improtantly, he did not turn the ball over. The offensive line also look rejuvenated with Levis in the game. While Levis completed less than 50% of his passes and a poor read on a 3rd and goal run on Penn State’s penultimate drive cost him a game-tying touchdown, his play was head and shoulders above Clifford. Had Levis started the game, Penn State wins.
Running Back: A
Honoring Journey Brown, this was the best game the Lawn Boyz have played all season. Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes all flashed some good things. Ford made people miss like he hasn’t done all year, Lee ran over and past defenders and Holmes should some terrific burst. These three back rushed for 165 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
Hopefully, this was the start of the running backs finally getting into gear. After all, these three backs are all former high four-star recruits who are not lacking talent.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
Pat Freiermuth led Penn State with 7 receptions and 113 receiving yards. True freshmen Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith continue to flash good things, combining to haul in 8 passes for 105 yards. This included a clutch grab by Washington on Penn State’s final drive. However, it also included a costly drop by KLS.
Jahan Dotson was kept in check. After entering the game as the Big Ten’s leader in receiving yards and touchdown, the Huskers held Dotson to just 2 receptions for 27 yards. Daniel George also added a catch for 6 yards.
Offensive Line: C
Saturday was Penn State’s best day running the football since the season opener against Indiana. However, the offensive line struggled in pass protection. While the offensive line only allowed two sacks, Nittany Lion quarterbacks were often pressured. This included Levis being sacked on Penn State penultimate play and him heaving the ball in desperation as he was being thrown to the grown on their last.
Despite the good run blocking, the offensive line does not get a good grade due to problems in pass protection. It should be noted that Penn State made a change on the offensive line on Saturday afternoon with redshirt senior Will Fries starting at right guard instead of right tackle, while redshirt freshman Caedan Wallace made his first career start at right tackle.
Defensive Line: C
Defensive ends struggled to keep contain on QB runs by Luke McCaffrey. While they held up well against Nebraska running backs, runners not named McCaffrey averaged just 3.0 yards per carry, Penn State’s lone sack was by linebacker Ellis Brooks. Outside of PJ Mustipher no one on the defensive line really flashed in Saturday’s loss.
Jesse Luketa was second on the team in tackles, including a tackle for a loss. Brooks had one less tackle than Luketa, including Penn State’s lone sack. Brandon Smith played his best game of the season, which included an interception. Lance Dixon had a TFL for the Nittany Lions.
However, too often the middle of the field was open for Nebraska. Smith also lost a man in coverage on Nebraska’s second drive which left a Cornhusker receiver wide open in the end zone. Thankfully, the pass was dropped.
Saturday afternoon Penn State’s linebackers were better than they have been this season, but they still were not good enough.
While the secondary managed to avoid getting an F grade, it was still another poor weekend for the Nittany Lion secondary. Five Nebraska receivers averaged at least 13 yards per reception, including a pair that averaged over 20 yards per reception. Penn State’s secondary allowed three more completions of 25+ yards in the game. It is time to start to question the job security of Terry Smith and Tim Banks.
Special Teams: A
It was not a super flash day for Penn State’s special teams units, they just went about their jobs and did them well. Jake Pinegar was 3/3 on extra points and field goals. Each of Jordan Stout’s kick offs went for touchbacks and the lone punt Dotson returned picked up 21 yards. Now, yes, Stout missed a field goal, but it was a 50+ yarder going into the wind while Penn State was trailing 27-6. AKA, a kick that never should have been attempted.