My name is Mr. Sauertieg and I’ll be your substitute teacher for today. My name is written on the chalkboard behind me and if you have any questions, please raise your hand and I’ll try to help the best that I can.
It looks like Mr. Aydin has you guys working on position grades, so that’s where we’re going to start off.
What a time for Sean Clifford to have what I would call the best game of his career. The Penn State signal caller was 28 of 32 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The interception felt a bit rushed, but was largely harmless. Otherwise, Clifford repeatedly came up with big plays to swing momentum back or keep momentum in the favor of the Nittany Lions.
Running Back: B-
The numbers were certainly not gaudy for Penn State backs. They carried the ball 23 times for a very nice 69 yards, so just 3.0 yards per carry. But outside of Keyvone Lee’s fumble, I think the unit did a whole lot right against Auburn. John Lovett had a huge reception in Penn State’s drive to go up 28-21 and Noah Cain was big in pass protection for Clifford throughout the evening. And when Penn State needed a play in the run game, outside of the final drive, they typically got it.
Wide Receiver: B+
Jahan Dotson is the best receiver in college football. The guy is somehow always open and when he’s not, it doesn’t matter, because he’s coming down with the ball far more often than not. Dotson had 10 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers, plus a 22-yard pass to Tyler Warren. Parker Washington once again proved to be an excellent security blanket, hauling in eight pass for 49 yards and KeAndre Lambert-Smith was excellent after the catch in the screen game, grabbing four balls for 27 yards.
Tight End: A
What a night for Ty Howle’s unit. Time and again Penn State’s tight ends, which James Franklin called the best tight end room he’s ever had, came up with big plays. Brenton Strange led the way with four catches for 71 yards and a score. Theo Johnson had a big 41-yard reception in a big spot early in the game, and Tyler Warren caught a ball for 22 yards in addition to a rushing touchdown from the wildcat formation. The tight end room had a fantastic night and will be a big part for the Lions down the stretch.
Offensive Line: A-
If we’re just grading the pass protection, this would be an A. If we were just grading the push in the run game, it’s a B- or a C+. While I’m aware that should average out to an A-, that’s not exactly how this works. Penn State’s offensive line gave Clifford plenty of time all night and largely prevented any and all negative plays. While the interior once again struggled to move people in the run game, Penn State found ways to get yards when they were needed and the offensive line was largely effective when it needed to be.
Defensive Line: B
No sacks is a stat that will certainly raise some eyebrows, but Penn State was able to pressure Bo Nix a good bit and Arnold Ebiketie just missed on a couple of big plays. In the interior, Penn State struggled to contain the run, but that’s a good offensive line for Auburn and I felt a lot of Penn State’s issues against the run came at the second level. I never felt like Mustipher and Tangelo were truly just getting blown off the ball.
This was the unit that most disappointed me on the night. I felt Curtis Jacobs got sideline to sideline pretty well and Ellis Brooks was solid, but I really expected more out of Brandon Smith. The dropped interception late in the first half is one thing, but I thought Smith really struggled in the run game. Despite his good length, Smith seems to struggle to come off blocks once he’s engaged and it often keeps him from making plays in the hole. This led to a lot of Auburn 6 or 7-yard runs that could’ve been 3-yard runs.
Barring a big play or two, this unit once again showed that it’s one of if not the best in the conference and the nation. I’d put Jy’Ayir Brown and Jaquan Brisker up against any safety duo in the country, while Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields continue to shine. I even thought Daequan Hardy was pretty strong in the slot. The one big play Hardy conceded on a back-shoulder throw, he was in the lap of the wide receiver and Nix just made a good throw while the receiver made a fantastic adjustment, that’s essentially unguardable in man-to-man coverage. Once again I thought Penn State’s secondary was good in the run game and they made sure tackles, keeping some positive Auburn plays from being big Auburn plays, and of course they came up big when they needed to in the last five minutes of the game.
Special Teams: A
Penn State’s special teams weren’t asked to do much against the Tigers, but it was pretty much the Jordan Stout show when they were. Stout once again registered touchbacks on all of his kickoffs and he punted four times for a 50.0 average, including a long of 58. His hang time was fantastic and only one kick was able to be returned. While on the last punt, with Penn State in a tough spot, he boomed a 49-yard kick with just a two-step run-up and put the Tigers in a tough spot with time winding down.
In the return game, Devyn Ford and John Lovett averaged 16.0 yards on their two kick return attempts, while Dotson almost broke one on his lone return, breaking a couple tackles and taking it 16 yards to improve Penn State’s field position.