Before we get to the grades, here’s a friendly reminder that just because Penn State lost the game doesn’t mean every or even most positions will get poor grades. The Lions went into the fourth quarter having held a juggernaut of an Ohio State offense to just 16 points before a few plays suddenly changed the trajectory of the game. This makes doing grades for a game like this rather tricky. Now that we’ve established that, let’s give this so-close-yet-so-far type of loss a shot. Per usual, my grades will be both too harsh and too lenient...
Sean Clifford was a mixed bag. On the one hand, he threw three interceptions and also fumbled away another ball after being sacked (in fairness, Cliff is only directly responsible two of turnovers) which resulted in 21 Ohio State points, which made a huge difference in this ballgame. On the other hand, he still threw for three touchdowns and damn near 400 yards. We’ll split the difference and call it a ‘C.’
Running Back: B
Kaytron Allen had a decent outing with 12 carries for 76 yards and a TD. Kaytron had some solid runs on first down that put PSU in 2nd/3rd and manageable situations throughout the afternoon. Nick Singleton got 14 carries but only managed 45 yards out of it. Both running backs were also targeted several times in the passing game and and a few catches between them.
Wide Receiver: A
Parker Washington had his best game in a Nittany Lion uniform, catching 11 balls for 179 yards and an amazing TD. Washington ended up in a “can-you-top-this” battle with Ohio State wideout Marvin Harrison Jr. which was so good, the two of them should shoot a McDonald’s commercial like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan did back in the 90’s.
KeAndre Lambert Smith also had a nice TD grab in his first game back from injury, while Mitchell Tinsley had a would-be TD stripped right before crossing the end zone (thankfully, Brenton Strange recovered the fumble and PSU would get the TD a couple plays later). All in all, an excellent day for the receiving unit.
Tight End: B
Theo Johnson once again had big gain, catching a 42-yard pass. Strange also caught four passes, himself. The blocking was pretty solid from this group, too.
Offensive Line: B-
Gotta feel for Bryce Effner having to block Ohio State’s JT Tuimoloau all afternoon, as Tuimoloau acted as a one-man wrecking crew for the Buckeye defensive line. Outside of that, the offensive line was able to create some lanes for Allen and Singleton and keep Cliff protected well enough to still put up 371 yards of passing.
Defensive Line: B-
The front seven did a good job containing the Buckeyes’ ground game (outside of one big run by TreyVeon Henderson that resulted in a TD) but you would’ve liked to have seen more of a pass rush, especially with the return of Chop Robinson.
Abdul Carter and Curtis Jacobs both had solid outings. Carter especially, with No. 11 Godfather LaVar Arrington in attendance stepped up with a sack and was disruptive at times.
Absolute solid tackling in the open field by this unit, along with some pass breakups to go. Johnny Dixon also had a nice sack/fumble on what ended up being OSU’s final play of the first half inside PSU’s 10-yard line, which preserved PSU’s one-point lead at halftime and gave the Nittany Lions a bit of momentum going into the locker room. Ultimately, it was a tall task to ask even the most seasoned secondary to shut down this Buckeye passing attack (especially when the pass rush wasn’t consistent enough), but it’s hard to have asked for much more aside from maybe an interception or two to give PSU some shorter fields.
Special Teams: B+
Jake Pinegar nailed a 44-yard field goal to put PSU within one score midway through the fourth quarter (before OSU slammed the door shut with another TD drive of their own). Barney Amor also had a good day punting, averaging nearly 45 yards on his three punts with a long of 59. The Lions did send a kickoff out of bounds though, and Pinegar had shanked 29 and 34-yarders negated by a false start penalty and offsides penalty, which ultimately led to PSU going for it on fourth down and re-taking the lead 21-16.