Well, it sure feels like less of a chore to type this post up after a win! Apparently this team still has a little bit of pride and fight left in them despite a historically abysmal start to the season. Anyway, let’s get on to the grades.
A big reason why Penn State got rid of the zero in the win column was its quarterback play. Namely, the fact that Sean Clifford was a solid game manager who made good throws, didn’t try to force passes that weren’t there (which in previous weeks led to the patented pick-six), and stayed in the pocket to work on his progressions instead of taking off and running when his primary receiver was covered. It made it easier for him to catch Michigan off-guard with the designed runs, one of which saw him race to the end zone for a touchdown with the game tied in the second quarter despite injuring his knee on the previous series.
Will Levis also was solid in his glorified fullback role, scoring a critical TD midway through the fourth quarter to give PSU what ultimately ended up being an insurmountable (for Michigan) 27-17 lead.
Running Back: A
Keyvone Lee was the first PSU back to go over 100 yards rushing this season, racking up 134 yards on 22 carries and a TD on the game’s opening drive which helped set the tone for the rest of the game. Caziah Holmes also added 34 yards on 10 carries. It’s amazing how much better everything else looks when you’ve got a ground game going.
Wide Receiver: B+
With Michigan focused on holding Jahan Dotson in check (Dotson finished with a quiet three catches for 30 yards), it was Parker Washington’s turn to shine. The freshman receiver had his best game yet, catching nine balls for 93 yards and more importantly, being a reliable set of hands who helped methodically moved the chains for the PSU offense.
Tight End: B
Theo Johnson and Brenton Strange’s contributions won’t really show up on a stat sheet, but both tight ends were instrumental from a blocking standpoint, whether it was giving Lee or Holmes another blocker to work around, or protecting Sean Clifford when he went back to pass, the first game of the post-Pat Freiermuth era was a good one for the tight ends corps.
Offensive Line: A-
I have repeatedly flamed this group during the course of the last several weeks, and I will now heap praise where it’s deserved: This was hands-down the O-line’s best performance of 2020. Clifford only being sacked once and the ground game having the success that it had speaks for itself. And how great was it seeing Juice Scruggs out there playing a key role in the O-line’s success after all that he’s been through?
Defensive Line: B-
There’s still some kinks to work out, especially with stopping the run, but this was an improved performance from prior weeks. The reason I’m giving this a B-minus as opposed to a B is due to the sheer number of times someone on the D-line was coaxed into jumping offsides. These penalties allowed Michigan to go from third-and-long to third-and-manageable situations or even pick up a first down without having to earn it. Hopefully, this is something D-line coach John Scott emphasizes during practice this week.
Similar to the D-line, they still have issues with run support. However, they did a good job not being horribly out of position most of the time. Brandon Smith had the best game of his young career with five tackles, including one for a loss.
For the first time all season long, PSU’s secondary did not give up a single passing TD and the longest passing play allowed all day was 28 yards. I don’t care how bad Michigan’s QB’s might be, we’ve seen this secondary make every opposing QB thus far look like Tom Brady and Cam Newton combined, so I’ll gladly give an A-grade to holding the Wolverines to 112 yards passing.
Special Teams: C+
On a day where many units had their best performances of the season, Jordan Stout had arguably his worst. Stout uncharacteristically booted not one, but two kickoffs out of bounds, both of them which ultimately led to scoring drives for Michigan. He also missed a 49-yard field goal attempt (which in fairness, looked like it was going to go right down the uprights until the wind blew it wide right at the last second) and averaged a paltry 37.5 yards on his four punts.
On the plus side: Jake Pinegar nailed both of his chip shot field goals and the punt coverage unit forced a pair of muffs, recovering one of them which led to the field goal right before halftime that gave the Lions a two-score lead going into the locker room.