Big thanks to my esteemed colleague Clay on substituting for me last week while I was out. I understand most of you were on your best behavior while I was gone, so that’s good to hear...Anyway, here are your grades for yesterday’s umm...clunker of sorts?
Despite opening the game with a deep touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson, Sean Clifford seemed to be a little too fixated on the deep ball in the early going and got a bit too cocky to hit his check-down receivers, who were so wide open you could build a swimming pool around them. Once he got a chewing out from Mike Yurcich on the sidelines, it seemed like he got the message and subsequently did a better job feeding it to whoever was indeed, wide open.
In the end, Cliff’s 19-for-26 for 401 yards passing and four touchdowns gave him the second-most productive single-game passing performance, yardage-wise behind only Christian Hackenberg’s 454 yards passing against Central Florda in the 2014 season opener in Ireland. Cliff’s interception was also 100 percent not his fault, as he threw it right on target to KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who if he had held on, would have at least had a big gain, if not a TD.
TaQuan Roberson eventually got some run beginning midway in the 4th quarter, going 3-for-5 for 28 yards passing.
Running Back: (WT)F
80 yards rushing on 34 attempts, need I say more?
Okay, fine: Noah Cain played a couple series and wasn’t to be seen again the rest of the game, as he was apparently banged up (according to James Franklin’s post-game presser). Keyvone Lee thinks he’s Saquon Barkley and has developed a nasty habit of trying to spin and bounce to the outside, instead of being the productive downhill runner that he was last season. The best thing we can say about Lee is that he held onto the ball this week.
John Lovett was the only back who looked the part, garnering 45 yards on 10 carries and had the team’s longest rushing play from scrimmage of 13 yards. It feels like he’s due to break one to the house any day now, and frankly, he should be the starter for the Indiana game. Right now, given how porous this offensive line is with run blocking, having a guy with Lovett’s skill sets seems to be the best fit.
Wide Receiver: A+
It was a day for the receiving corps, alright. In addition to Dotson doing his usual thing (seven catches, 117 yards, 1 TD), Parker Washington had a career-best 148 yards and two TD’s on five catches, laying claim to be the heir-apparent as PSU’s top receiver in 2022. KeAndre Lambert-Smith also finally got his first-ever TD as a Nittany Lion in dramatic fashion, catching a pass on the sideline from a scrambling Cliff, and then maneuvering around the Villanova secondary all the way to the house for an 83-yard TD reception. It was also nice to see run-on Winston Eubanks get on the stat sheet by catching a pass in garbage time from Roberson.
Tight End: B+
Theo Johnson and Brenton Strange only caught one pass, each. Theo at least did have a nice 25-yard gain on his reception. After being utilized heavily against Auburn last week, it probably should’ve been expected that they wouldn’t make as much noise receiving-wise this week, given that the offensive play calling was going to be more vanilla.
That being said, we did get treated to some WARREN SMASH circa Tyler Warren’s 3-yard wildcat TD run for PSU’s final points of the afternoon, so we’ll tack on a plus to the B-grade for that.
Offensive Line: B-
The atrocious run blocking brings this grade down significantly, which is a shame, because the O-line’s pass protection was practically the polar opposite, typically providing Cliff with plenty of time to scan the field. I understand Villanova has one of the top rushing defenses in the FCS, but if you’re trying to lay claim to being a Big Ten title/playoff contender, you need to be able to get push off on an opponent whose defensive front while great for FCS, ain’t exactly Auburn or Wisconsin.
Defensive Line: A
Arnold Ebiketie and PJ Mustipher each had a sack and Coziah Izzard also garnered a sack while getting some action in garbage time. The D-line and the front seven in general never allowed the Villanova offense to get into any kind of rhythm until after all the starters were pulled. No complaints, here.
Brandon Smith was flying around, coming up with two tackles for loss and the linebacking corps as a whole, much like the D-line, never allowed the Wildcats to run wild while the starters were in.
Repeating a common theme here, the starters never allowed Villanova to establish any kind of consistency in the passing attack until the student managers were suiting up. A couple of late TD passes padded Nova’s stats a bit and made the final score look a tad more respectable from their perspective.
Special Teams: B
Jordan Stout only averaged 39 yards per punt with a long of 44, but those numbers need to be put in perspective, because he was punting with PSU typically at midfield or inside Villanova territory. He pinned all four of his punts inside Nova’s 20-yard line. He did also push his first kickoff out of bounds, ending his perfection streak for the season (no worries though, he still put 6 of his 7 kicks into the back of the end zone). He did nail all his extra points and a 29-yard field goal, but juuuust missed a 54-yarder that definitely had plenty of leg. Jahan Dotson finally got a couple return opportunities, with a long of 13. Nothing truly bad, but nothing spectacular, either, so a B-grade feels appropriate.