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Position Grades: Michigan State

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UPDATE: These are still fun to put together!

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Well, what a difference a few weeks makes! It wasn’t that long ago that we were staring down the barrel of a winless season, wondering if the team had simply given up on the season. Now, we’re sitting here having won three straight and anxiously awaiting who that mysterious ninth opponent will end up being.

Anyway, on to the grades!

Quarterback: B

Penn State’s 39 points scored were its highest of the season, and that is in part due to the play of Sean Clifford and Will Levis. Cliff still has issues with high-balling his throws and there were a couple instances where if he had been more in sync with his receiver, would’ve easily had more than the 232 yards he ended up throwing for. That being said, Cliff did account for three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), which included a pair of lovely strikes to Parker Washington.

Will Levis ran 15 times for 38 yards, picking up critical first downs in third and short situations and also finishing a drive in the end zone. He even threw the ball three times, completing all three of his pass attempts, including a 36-yarder to Jahan Dotson.

In addition to the above, perhaps most importantly: Neither QB turned the ball over.

Running Back: D

It was rather quiet on the running back front, as Keyvone Lee managed only 32 yards on 12 rushes and Caziah Holmes only picked up 8 yards on his pair of carries. Devyn Ford was dressed, but did not see any action today.

Wide Receiver: A

It was the Parker Washington show once again, as the true freshman racked up two TD’s to go with his 95 yards receiving. Jahan Dotson meanwhile, added 108 yards receiving on eight catches, as well as an 81-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that effectively put Sparty away. KeAndre Lambert-Smith also added a few catches for 24 yards.

Tight End: B

Brenton Strange had three catches for 45 yards, as he and Theo Johnson continued to provide that extra blocking in run situations. Not a whole lot to write about here, but unlike at other positions, that doesn’t necessarily mean things were bad with this unit.

Offensive Line: B

The unit did have its issues trying to run block against the massive Sparty defensive line, but props to this group (which included a pair of seniors in Michal Menet and Will Fries playing their final game at Beaver Stadium) for not allowing a single sack on Cliff or Levis.

Defensive Line: B

They had a rough go of it early on, but were able to start getting more pressure on Michigan State QB Payton Thorne in the second half, rattling him enough to get him off the rhythm he displayed throughout the 21-point second quarter Sparty put up. Fifth-year senior Shane Simmons saved his best game for last as he filled in for an unavailable Jayson Oweh, picking up a career high seven tackles and 1.5 sacks with a pass breakup. Shaka Toney also had five tackles, including one for a loss, and Antonio Shelton also added 1.5 sacks, while Adisa Isaac added a half-sack.

Linebacker: C

Still too many issues with poor open field tackling. Thankfully, it didn’t cost them dearly like it has throughout this season. This will be an issue that desperately needs addressing during what will hopefully be a more normal-looking offseason.

Secondary: C

Another senior having the best game of his career was Jaquan Brisker, who led the team in tackles with nine of them and was solid in run support, as well as getting some pressure on Thorne. He also garnered an interception on the game’s first possession, which he subsequently fumbled right back to Sparty (in what was a perfect metaphor for 2020). Although they did a much better job in the second half, particularly with dialing up pressure on Thorne, the secondary getting torched in the second quarter for three touchdowns is what keeps this grade down in C territory.

Special Teams: A

Jordan Stout put all but one of his seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks (and nothing out of bounds) and had a long of 53 on his five punts (although Stout’s average was only 41.8 yards per punt). Jake Pinegar also nailed a short field goal on PSU’s opening drive.

Dotson taking a punt to the house however, vaults this group’s grade to an A. That A-grade is maintained by Lamont Wade having a couple decent kickoff returns (including one that went for 37 yards), as well as the brilliant move by the punt unit to all run up to the line of scrimmage from their punt formation, getting Sparty excited and confused enough to jump offsides in a fourth-and-one situation, allowing PSU a fresh set of downs to eat up more precious clock in the fourth quarter.