Is it possible to shut out a team and feel like it still could have been a little better? Asking for a friend...
Anyway, on to the grades!
Did Sean Clifford seem a bit off at times? Yes. Was his interception the first one this season that was actually his fault? Yes. Did he still throw for a hat trick of touchdowns and use his legs to pick up first downs after all his check-down options were covered? Yes. Was his performance more than enough on a night where the defense was keeping the opponent completely in check? Also, yes.
Running Back: B-
Oh, look...Penn State had some semblance of a ground game! Keyvone Lee was the most efficient of all the running backs, totaling 74 yards on eight carries, including a 44-yarder up the gut that set up PSU’s second TD of the night. John Lovett also added 44 yards on 10 carries. Noah Cain for some reason continued to see action, even though it was clear he lacked any type of burst and is playing at less than 100 percent. Obviously, there is still a lot to be desired from this group, but after that putrid performance against Villanova last week, this was a step up.
That being said, it is long past time for the coaching staff to pick two backs and ride with them, as this constant rotation between four backs is not allowing anyone to get into a rhythm. Find your top two backs and stick with them.
Wide Receiver: B+
Jahan Dotson dazzled per usual with his eight catches for 84 yards and a pair of TD’s and once again moonlighted as quarterback, throwing a completion to Parker Washington on a trick play. Speaking of Mr. Washington: He had some uncharacteristic drops and the rest of the unit was rather quiet, but it was clearly more than enough.
Tight End: B
Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson may have only had one catch each, but they were impressive ones, as Strange’s went for a TD, and Theo helped move the chains while drag. They left a lot to be desired though in the run blocking category, and every subsequent Tyler Warren wildcat formation after the original has followed the trend of movie sequels being awful. It was cute the first time it worked, but it’s long past time to scrap the “Wild Warren” package.
Offensive Line: B
The run blocking is still a work in progress, but was better than last week. Pass protection overall was fine, especially with Indiana failing to garner a single sack against Cliff. It goes without saying that next week will be another stiff test against a ferocious Iowa front seven.
Defensive Line: A
When the defense pitches a shutout, you can probably predict that each of these units will be getting ‘A’ grades. PJ Mustipher led the way in tackles with six of them, including one for a loss, while Arnold Ebiketie had the play of the night for the D-line with a very timely sack of Indiana backup QB Jack Tuttle, who had just entered the game for an injured Michael Penix Jr. Jesse Luketa also continues to thrive in his hybrid DE/LB role, getting a few tackles and hurrying the QB. The pass rush was consistent, even if it only totaled two sacks, as Penix (and later Tuttle) struggled to get into any kind of rhythm throughout the night.
Racking up tackles, sacking the QB, breaking up a pass, and even blocking a field goal...what can’t Brandon Smith do? Ellis Brooks led the unit in tackles with eight of them, while Curtis Jacobs also had himself a good night.
While they did give up a few chunk pass plays, you can’t expect even the best of secondaries to be flawless in those regards. The interception from Joey Porter Jr. who slid in there like an outfielder catching a short pop fly to end one of IU’s most promising drives was clutch, and Ji’Ayir Brown padded his stats with yet another pick, and now leads the team with three picks on the season. Once again, the shutout speaks for itself.
Special Teams: A
Jordan Stout was clutch in every facet of his game, whether it was consistently pinning the Hoosiers inside their own 20 on his punts, booting four of his five kickoffs for touchbacks, no missed extra points, and even more importantly, showing that he still has something with the deep field goals, nailing a 50-yarder to put PSU up 24-0 in the fourth quarter and hammer the final nail in IU’s coffin. Jahan Dotson even had himself a clutch punt return in the fourth quarter that set PSU up near Indiana’s 30, which led to Stout’s field goal.