Welcome back! I would be lying if I told you that I anticipated as comfortable of a beating as Penn State laid upon the defending MAC champions yesterday, so it’s always nice to give your blood pressure some reprieve. Anyway, here’s how we decided to grade it out this week...
Sean Clifford continues to look like a much-improved version of himself over the last couple of years. Even though he had a couple of overthrown balls that could’ve been touchdown strikes or huge gains, he was a solid 21-for-29 chucking the rock for 230 yards and a TD. He also utilized his legs to gain 66 yards on the ground, even he ran a tad more than I would’ve liked (11 total carries). Most importantly, Cliff did not make any boneheaded decisions that resulted in a turnover, as he was privy to do in prior seasons. Shout-out to TaQuan Roberson, who earned his first-ever collegiate TD pass in garbage time.
Running Back: A-
Mike Yurcich was hoping to set the tone for the day with a balanced attack that included plenty of Noah Cain and Keyvone Lee pounding the rock. Cain racked up a nice 69 yards with a TD on PSU’s opening drive and also caught three passes for 30 yards. Lee meanwhile, got it going with eight carries for 68 yards and did a tremendous Saquon Barkley impersonation by catching a pass out of the wheel route. Lee did put the ball on the ground though, which will need to get cleaned up before next Saturday. Devyn Ford also saw several carries, getting 32 yards on six carries.
Wide Receiver: A
Parker Washington led the way in receptions with six of them, including an incredible hauling in of a pair of catches by the tips of his fingers while running crossing routes. Jahan Dotson did his usual thing, scoring a TD on a bubble screen that put PSU up 24-3 late in the first half and really put Ball State’s upset hopes on ice. KeAndre Lambert-Smith had only one reception, but probably would’ve had a TD in the corner of the end zone had Cliff put better touch on his pass. It was also nice seeing Cam Sullivan-Brown and Marquis Wilson get on the stat sheet with a catch each, especially with Wilson being a two-way player.
Tight End: B
Hey, look! The tight ends caught balls today! Brenton Strange caught a pass and then proceeded to dive about seven yards to pick up the first down, while Theo Johnson caught his first collegiate TD during garbage time, reaching out nicely to haul in the pass from Roberson. This unit was pretty good with their blocking, as well.
Offensive Line: B
The pass blocking was suspect at times, as Cliff looked to be ready to wind up and drop a bomb towards Dotson but then had to bail when the pressure came early. With the offense putting up 37 points and having a balanced attack overall though, some credit does have to go to the guys in the trenches. Still have some concerns about the interior part of the line, though.
Defensive Line: A
After going up against Wisconsin’s offensive line last week, going up against Ball State’s line must have felt like jumping into the kiddie pool for Arnold Ebiketie and company. While this unit didn’t garner a sack, they did get plenty of pressure on Ball State’s veteran QB Drew Plitt, and threw the Cardinals’ offense out of rhythm early and often. Jesse Luketa had himself an afternoon, garnering a pick-six midway through the third quarter that completely shut the door on Ball State making the game any sorts of interesting.
Brandon Smith sure laid the boom several times throughout this game, en route to a team-high seven tackles. Curtis Jacobs also garnered the team’s lone sack of the day. Along with the rest of the front seven, this group did a very nice job holding Ball State to 69 yards rushing. More importantly, it was great to see guys like Charlie Katshir, Tyler Elsdon, and other backups see plenty of action during the second half. This is how you gradually build up real depth, as opposed to paper depth.
Once again, a solid afternoon from the secondary, which saw them grab another interception today when Daequan Hardy reeled in a pick on an ill-advised throw into coverage by Drew Plitt. Even when Ball State got deep into the red zone twice, this unit did not allow a TD pass to go by them. Once again, we saw another BS targeting penalty levied against a PSU defender, with Tyler Rudolph being on the wrong end of the call. That doesn’t dampen the mood any one bit, though, especially when the defense as a whole did not allow Ball State to reach the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter with the game totally out of reach.
Special Teams: B
Despite the fact that Jordan Stout made 3 of his 4 field goal attempts, field goal kicking continues to feel like an adventure that leaves you holding your breath every time PSU lines up to do so. Such drama is fine for a Netflix series, but it makes for increased anxiety when you’re watching your favorite football team. On the plus side for Stout, he continues to remain a beast in punting, averaging 51 yards on three punts (including a long of 62) and on kickoffs, as he booted all nine of his kickoffs for touchbacks and remains perfect on the year.
Devyn Ford also had a nice little 31-yard kickoff return, but once again, Dotson was quiet on the punt return front. It’s pretty clear opposing teams are instructing their punters to boot it away from Dotson and not even give him a chance to make something happen.