Well, it’s good to see the team prove me wrong in thinking they’d be susceptible to getting taken down by a hungry, feisty, Rutgers squad by actually showing up and utilizing their superior talent advantage (as opposed to just sleepwalking through another uninspiring two touchdown win). Let’s see how that graded out, shall we?
Penn State looked like the Penn State of the 1970’s, pounding the rock a total of 57 times to only 22 passes thrown. Given the weather conditions yesterday with high winds and a little rain, it was the right call. Sean Clifford didn’t do anything spectacular, but he did throw a nice TD strike to Parker Washington to open up the scoring and also ripped off a 16-yard run. It’s hard to put too much blame on him for the interception, given that it was a tipped ball.
Will Levis managed to get 70 yards on the ground on 17 carries, despite Rutgers knowing exactly what was coming anytime he checked in at QB. It was incredibly frustrating though to see an entire series devoted to just running Levis three straight times and not even attempt to throw a pass. We’ve seen him throw the ball before and we know he’s capable of doing so. Even James Franklin said in his post-game presser that they needed to start having him throw in order to keep defenses more honest.
Running Back: B+
Devyn Ford has been through a lot lately, so it was great to see him bounce back by rushing for 69 yards and a TD on just 11 carries. He did unfortunately, give up a fumble, which bumps what would’ve been an A-minus grade down to B-plus for this unit. Keyvone Lee nearly hit 100 yards for the second straight week, but came up a tad shy at 95. He was his usual steady, pile-pushing self though. It’s good to have both of these running backs back in the fold as they both bring their own unique skill sets and allow for a change of pace to the ground game.
Wide Receiver: B
Parker Washington had only one catch yesterday, but it was arguably the most important one since it finished in the end zone. He did drop a pass later on in the red zone that may have led to another TD (PSU settled for a field goal, instead), but in fairness, the pass was thrown a little too high. Jahan Dotson and KeAndre Lambert-Smith both led the way in receptions with four apiece and Isaac Lutz also got involved with a couple catches himself.
Tight End: B
Brenton Strange had three catches for 23 yards and looked like a solid receiving option to move the chains. Once again, it was the little things they did (i.e. blocking) that helped the team out.
Offensive Line: B+
Cliff and Levis did get sacked a couple of times, but the line did a good job asserting themselves in run blocking especially. Hard to find any complaints, here.
Defensive Line: A-
When your defense allows just over 200 total offensive yards, it typically means solid grades are abound. The tone was set early by the big guys up front. Twice, on fourth and one, Rutgers sent in their version of Will Levis in Johnny Langan to try and pick up the first down. Twice, Langan got stuffed, giving PSU solid field position to take over. Shout-out to D’Von Ellies for picking up a sack.
The A-minus is for some instances of sloppy tackling. However, it was once again a solid day for the linebacking corps. Ellis Brooks forced a fumble on Rutgers’ opening drive of the second half, which set up a field goal and also got pressure a couple times on Rutgers QB Noah Vedral. Jesse Luketa had ten tackles, including one for a loss. Brandon Smith also had some timely pressure on Vedral, forcing Rutgers out of rhythm.
Rutgers only threw for 122 yards in total as this unit garnered four pass break-ups (one each for Keaton Ellis, Jaquan Brisker, Daquan Hardy, and Jonathan Sutherland) and a sack (hello again, Hardy). Still, I have to attach a minus to the A based on allowing Vedral’s fourth and goal desperation heave into the end zone (while being hurried to the sideline) to be caught uncontested by Bo Melton. There seemed to be at least three different players in the vicinity who could have at least tried to get a hand on the ball. Small gripe I suppose, since all it ended up doing in the end was ruining the shutout, but it felt at the time like Rutgers might have had a little bit of life when they otherwise shouldn’t have.
Special Teams: B+
Between Jake Pinegar and Jordan Stout, the kickers were a combined 3-for-3 on field goals. Stout nailed a clutch 47-yard field goal on PSU’s opening drive of the second half, taking advantage of a forced fumble recovery in Rutgers territory.
Stout also stuck four of his six kickoffs for touchbacks. The only two kickoffs that didn’t go for touchbacks, Stout was kicking directly into heavy winds. His punting game left more to be desired though, averaging only 38 yards per punt and badly shanking a punt.
Understandably, the ball was probably slippery due to weather conditions, but seeing Devyn Ford muff the opening kickoff brought back harsh memories of Rutgers recovering the opening kickoff in 2016 and 2017 (which they thankfully, couldn’t make anything out of).