Well, here’s to hoping that this time next week, I’m finally grading the positions after a win for the first time in a month....
It’s a shame we didn’t get this healthy of a Sean Clifford last week against Illinois. Cliff looked like the Cliff we saw during the first five-and-one-quarter games of the season, being patient in the pocket and delivering strikes to his targets, scrambling out of trouble when the pocket collapsed, and playing like a guy who wanted to get a world-shocking dub in his home state. His 361 passing yards on 35-of-52 and one touchdown speaks for itself, although he would certainly love to have that interception back as well as that fumble that resulted in a scoop-and-score, though it’s hard to blame Cliff for that one, since the O-line was getting swallowed up by the pressure from the OSU defense on that play.
Running Back: C-
The running game is what it is at this point. Noah Cain fumbling the ball right back after PSU stripped it away on OSU’s opening drive was brutal. That being said, after seeing these guys struggle in short-yardage situations all year long, it sure was nice to see Keyvone Lee follow his blockers and punch it in from the goal line. John Lovett also had a wheel route that would have been for a touchdown and possible game-leading extra point late in the fourth quarter called back due to a questionable “illegal touching” call that became even more outrageous in hindsight when Lovett in his post-game interview said that the Ohio State defender who was guarding him admitted to pushing him out of bounds. Just whack me with a shovel, already.
Wide Receiver: A
Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington both went over 100 yards receiving and combined for 20 total catches between them (11 for Dotson, 9 for Washington), and Dotson even had a rushing TD out of the “Wild Warren” formation (which was a nice new wrinkle thrown in there by Mike Yurcich). KeAndre Lambert-Smith also had a few nice catches to move the chains. This unit had arguably one of their best performances of the season in Columbus and if they can come close to replicating this performance going forward, PSU could still turn things around in the month of November.
Tight End: B
The tight ends couldn’t have learned to run block at a better time. It was especially crucial on the two rushing TD’s in the red zone and Brenton Strange also stepped up by hanging onto the ball for PSU’s first TD of the night (although he did have a drop he would certainly like to have back, once again). Theo Johnson stepped up with four catches for 41 yards, himself. Certainly one of the better performances this unit has had all season.
Offensive Line: C-
No need to get into run blocking, it is what it is at this point. The O-line seemed like they were trying to hang on against that Buckeye pressure and while they did protect Cliff adequately enough at times in the pass game, they also allowed OSU to get a scoop-and-score when PSU was driving down only three to either tie or potentially reclaim the lead, which adds up in a close enough game like yesterday’s.
Defensive Line: B
Although the D-line wasn’t able to garner a sack, they did do a decent job at times of getting pressure on C.J. Stroud. Outside of a couple big run plays, they did a good job of not allowing TreyVeon Henderson and the OSU rushing attack to continually gash them.
Along with the D-line, this unit did a good job of limiting the explosive plays from the Buckeye offense. Brandon Smith led the entire defense in tackles with eight of them while Ellis Brooks and Curtis Jacobs both had seven tackles each and combined for 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Ji’Ayir Brown had a tremendous snatching of the ball from OSU’s Jeremy Ruckert’s hands as Ruckert was trying to fight towards the first down marker after a catch. Unfortunately, it was for naught after Cain fumbled it away the very next snap. Knowing how lethal OSU’s receiving corps is, the fact they only gave up two major pass plays (one being a TD strike from Stroud to Chris Olave, the other being a 58-yard reception by Jaxon Smith-Njigba) is impressive and along with the other defensive units, gave PSU a puncher’s chance to steal this game in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams: B
Jordan Stout once again booted all of his kickoffs for touchbacks and was tremendous in punting the ball, averaging 49 yards on his four punts. He did however, split his field goals once again, nailing a 47-yarder at the halftime buzzer to cut PSU’s deficit back to one score but missing a 49-yarder late in the game with PSU down nine and looking to make it a one score game again with hopes of recovering an onside kick.
Aside from the missed field goal, my only other gripe is the coaching staff not allowing PSU’s kick returners to try and return a kickoff at any point in the second half when they didn’t go to the end zone. Considering how vital special teams were to PSU’s last victory over OSU and that PSU was playing with house money, you’d think the staff would’ve green-lighted someone to try and take one back to the house (or at least set up PSU with excellent field position).