So, what do you get when Penn State goes on the road to a hostile SEC environment and comes away with such a dominating win? The first-ever Straight-A report card that I can recall putting together ever since I took over the Position Grades post back in 2016*
*I may very well be wrong about this, but I don’t have enough free time on my hands to try and look up all of the past Position Grades posts I’ve done. If you’re that much of a Sicko though, have at it.
Sean Clifford may not have matched his impressive performance from last year’s White Out win over Auburn, but when you have a tremendous ground game, all you need is for your quarterback to be efficient and make smart decisions and that’s how Cliff played yesterday. Additionally, Cliff also caught his first career pass on a little trickeration with KeAndre Lambert-Smith, which went for 25 yards and helped set up PSU inside Auburn’s ten-yard line to punch it into the end zone a couple plays later. Getting Drew Allar and Christian Veilleux some reps on the road was also great for their development and to help strengthen the QB depth chart.
Running Back: A+
The biggest question coming into yesterday’s game was whether Nick Singleton could rip off those highlight-reel runs against a Power 5 opponent with a good enough defense. The answer was a resounding YES, as Singleton racked up 124 yards and a pair of TD’s on ten carries, while fellow freshman stud Kaytron Allen also racked up 52 yards and two TD’s on nine carries. Safe to say folks, Penn State finally has a running game again.
Wide Receiver: A
It was a quieter afternoon statistically for this group but nonetheless, they made the most of their opportunities and more importantly, did not drop any balls. Parker Washington had 58 yards receiving on four catches with a whopping 42 yards after the catch, which included converting a short crossing route on 2nd and 24 into a first down. Meanwhile, Mitchell Tinsley had the longest reception for the unit with a 34-yard haul. And of course as mentioned earlier, there was KLS’ lovely throw to a wide-open Cliff.
Tight End: A
Brenton Strange led the team in receiving with six catches for 80 yards and much like the wideouts, caught everything thrown in his direction to help move the chains. Blocking was also solid from this group.
Offensive Line: A
When your team nets 245 yards of rushing and your QB’s jersey is kept clean due to never being sacked, what other grade than an ‘A’ is deserved? Dare I say, Penn State might actually have a good O-line, for once?
Defensive Line: A+
Penn State had six sacks on the afternoon, with half of them coming from the D-line. The unit as a whole did an excellent job getting pressure all afternoon on Auburn QB’s T.J. Finley and Robby Ashford. Shout-out to Adisa Isaac, who after a slow first couple of games, really broke out with a sack, two QB hurries, and three tackles for a loss. Dani Dennis-Sutton also got his first career sack as a Nittany Lion, in what will hopefully be the first of many for him.
Now we know why Abdul Carter rocks LaVar Arrington’s old No. 11 jersey: What couldn’t he do yesterday? Whether it was sacking the QB, stripping the ball out for a fumble recovery (one of four turnovers PSU’s defense garnered), or getting sky-high to reject a pass right into the QB’s face Dikembe Mutombo-style, it’s crystal clear that Carter is the heir apparent to Curtis Jacobs are the leader of the linebacking corps. Speaking of Jacobs: He had himself a pretty nice game too, registering a key sack on Auburn’s opening drive on 3rd and goal to force them to settle for a field goal. More importantly, the linebackers along with the D-line played a big role in holding Auburn’s ground game in check, allowing only 119 net yards in rushing.
Much like with Nick Singleton, you felt it was only a matter of time before Penn State’s secondary would actually corral an interception and yesterday it happened twice with Zakee Wheatley and Ji’Ayir Brown both recording crucial picks to snuff out promising drives for the Tigers. More of this, please!
Special Teams: A
After a shaky performance last week, Jake Pinegar totally redeemed himself by nailing a 48-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to give PSU a 24-6 advantage after a mid-field fumble recovery. He also tacked on a chip-shot field goal late in the game to get PSU over the 40-point mark and cleanly made all of his extra points. Barney Amor had a quiet afternoon, only being called upon three times in the game, but made the most of it by pinning Auburn inside their own red zone.
Only three of PSU’s eight kickoffs went for touchbacks, but PSU did not allow any big kick returns from the Tigers. Nick Singleton also took a kickoff back to the PSU 30 to set the Lions up with decent starting field position.