They’re real, they’re spectacular, and they’re back for what should (hopefully) be a better 2021 season: It’s your weekly position grades! You all know the drill by now, I grade the positions to the best of my judgment (usually without the benefit of re-watching the entire game, due to time constraints) and you the reader, will voice your agreement or disagreement in the comments section below. Let’s get to this!
It was a tale of two halves for Sean Clifford. The first half saw him misfire on his targets as Penn State put up a whopping total of 43 yards of offense before halftime. The second half saw him connect on some deep balls to Jahan Dotson, as well hitting other targets on swing passes to get the chains moving. His final stat line of 18-for-33 for 247 yards and one touchdown is fine and more importantly, he did not commit any turnovers and I only counted about two or three designed runs the entire game. It wasn’t a complete performance, but it ended up being just enough in the end.
Running Back: C
The “C” is for Cain. After having a non-existent run game through three quarters, Noah Cain ripped off a 34-yard run and later punched it in from the goalline to put PSU up 16-10 early in the fourth quarter. He also caught several passes out of the backfield from Cliff, giving him 27 receiving yards to go with his 48 yards on the ground. Hopefully, his fellow hashtag LawnBoyz will join in on the fun next week against Ball State.
Wide Receiver: A-
Jahan Dotson absolutely blew past Wisconsin’s secondary en route to catching five balls for 102 yards and a TD. KeAndre Lambert-Smith also had his best career performance with a four-catch 71 yard stat sheet (including a long of 52), and Parker Washington caught four balls for 47 yards. The receivers were without question, the best unit on the offensive side of the ball.
Tight End: B-
Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson were quite solid when it came to blocking, but given how the tight ends were completely absent from the stat sheet in terms of catches and receiving yards, it’s hard to rate this unit too high. Hopefully, we’ll see Brenton and Theo Johnson light up the box score next weekend.
Offensive Line: C+
Similar to my quarterback grade, this one was based on a tale of two halves. They had their share of struggles in run blocking and pass protection in the first half, but at least they got the latter fixed beginning in the second half, and the former seemed to get somewhat remedied by the beginning of the fourth quarter. I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to feel like this unit is simply cursed. It doesn’t matter who the O-line coach is or what personnel is being trotted out there, inconsistency reigns supreme.
Defensive Line: A-
Arnold “AK-17” Ebiketie was good as advertised, garnering seven tackles (including a sack) and plenty of pressure in the pass rush, as well as blocking a field goal. Nick Tarburton also had a clutch play by falling on top of a fumbled snap when Wisconsin was threatening to score in the red zone. They did get bossed around at times trying to defend the run, which allowed Wisconsin tailback Chez Mellusi to go for 121 yards on the ground, but they held their own when they absolutely needed to and holding Wisconsin to 10 points speaks for itself.
Ellis Brooks was lights-out for this unit, with his 11 tackles (including a sack) and just being Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to stopping the ball carrier. Brandon Smith also pitched in with eight tackles of his own (including a tackle for a loss). They may have given up a bit more on the ground than I would’ve liked, but once again, holding Wisconsin to 10 points speaks for itself.
When you only allow 185 yards through the air and no passing TD’s along with a pair of interceptions and several clutch pass break-ups, you deserve nothing less than the best possible grade. And how about Jaquan Brisker? The dude went out three separate times with an injury yet came back in every time and not only came up with some big-time tackles, but also had the play of the game with his interception on 4th and goal on Wisconsin’s second-to-last possession.
Ji’Ayir Brown dropped an interception earlier in the game but made up for it when it mattered most, by picking off Mertz’s last gasp on the final play of the game. Joey Porter Jr. also did a tremendous job in coverage and had a pass breakup of his own. This was far and away, the best performance I’ve seen from a PSU secondary in at least several years.
Special Teams: C
While some units were a tale of two halves, special teams was a tale of two (Jordan) Stouts. The good Stout booted all four of his kickoffs for touchbacks and had seven punts for a whopping average of 54 yards per punt, including a long of 76 yards (!!!). The bad Stout shanked a 23-yard chip shot field goal, and doinked an extra point after PSU went up by six. The fact that Jake Pinegar made the trip to Madison makes the decision to have Stout do kicks inside of 40 yards even more baffling.
While the return game didn’t do anything notable (good or bad), a pair of kick catch interference penalties (at least one of which was highly questionable) didn’t help with the final grade. “C” might be a tad generous, but it’s one that acknowledges the good, the bad, and the ugly.