So, how’s everybody’s productivity today after being up so late on a school night? I figured as much...I think you all know the drill here, by now: I grade each position’s performance based on my own observations/recollections (I almost never watch a DVR replay of the game the day after, just the highlight reels on YouTube at most) and looking at box scores. The grades will be too generous, too harsh, and just right. As always, feel free to chime in with your agreements/disagreements in the comments section below. Without further ado, here goes something....
Love him or hate him, the one thing we can all agree about Sean Clifford is that the dude is a fierce competitor and you are literally going to have to chop off one of his limbs Mortal Kombat-style to keep him out of the game for long. Yes, he wasn’t at the same level of strength in the second half and that puke-six was downright atrocious and felt like it was going to end up costing Penn State the game, but he ran an solid two-minute drill to feed Keyvonne Lee on the wheel route for the winning touchdown. Going for 20-for-37 with 282 yards passing and five total touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) is nothing to scoff and quite frankly, were it not for the numerous drops by his receivers, that stat line would look even better for Cliff.
Drew Allar looked solid for his first-ever bit of collegiate game action in a hostile environment, a complete 180 from Taquan Roberson at Iowa last year. Not only was his pocket awareness great, but he showed the right amount of touch on his passes and frankly, should’ve had a nice completion to Tyler Warren to move the chains, had Warren not dropped the ball. He did have the typical freshman mistakes, such as not tucking and running to pick up the first down when nobody was in front of him within five yards, but that is something he will learn with more experience, which he hopefully will get more of next Saturday against Ohio.
Running Back: B
Keyvone Lee absolutely deserves all the props in the world for his game-winning TD catch, but it was pretty clear to me at least, that Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen should be the main running backs. Both freshmen backs showed quickness and that ability to just hit the hole without any hesitation, leaving you thinking that they might take one to the house. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen last night, and PSU has now gone 17 straight games without a 100-yard rusher, but it’s hard not to shake the feeling this streak will be broken sooner rather than later. Most importantly perhaps, none of the running backs fumbled the ball once last night, something that tends to get overlooked but is noticed when it does occur.
Wide Receiver: B-
This was the toughest position to grade, given the countless number of drops that plagued this group, but a B-minus feels fair, because if not for the drops, PSU wins this game in far less dramatic and heart attack-inducing fashion. Despite that however, the receivers got it done when they absolutely needed to. Mitchell Tinsley showed why everyone was hyping him up as a huge get from the transfer portal, leading the receiving corps with seven catches for 84 yards and a TD, and also had a critical run-after-catch to move the chains well into Purdue territory during the game-winning drive. KeAndre Lambert-Smith for all of his drops, came up with a critical TD early in the fourth quarter to give PSU back the lead momentarily and also caught and moved the chains on a screen pass on 3rd and short during the game-winning drive. Parker Washington had an uncharacteristically quiet night, catching only two balls for 30 yards and taking an end-around run for four yards.
Tight End: A-
Yes, Tyler Warren did drop what should’ve been a well-placed ball by Drew Allar, but he did come up with a critical grab on the game-winning drive to set up PSU with first and goal from the 10. Brenton Strange also made an absolutely critical run after the catch, breaking a pair of Purdue tacklers to reach the end zone right before halftime and give PSU an 11-point cushion. Every little thing added up in the end.
Offensive Line: C+
Not good but not atrocious, either. Pass protection was actually pretty decent while the run blocking is still a work in progress, but there at least seemed to be something for the freshmen backs to work with.
Defensive Line: C
Marty and I were talking about this after the game last night, but for all the talent and potential that was lined up on the D-line, it was a unit that had a ton of rust to shake off and it showed for the first three quarters with the lack of a pass rush (in fairness, part of that was also due to Aidan O’Connell getting the ball out in a split second on short outs, slants, and crossing routes). Much like other units that had their struggles during the night, the D-line put it together in the fourth quarter, generating some pressure on O’Connell, including Chop Robinson taking him down on the game’s final play to ensure the win. There was a lot of rotating within this group and while it was shaky, the experience and depth built will pay off in the long run. It should be fun to see this unit improve throughout the season.
Perhaps I’m being a little too harsh, but given the struggles we saw with the linebackers in pass coverage, not wrapping up well, and getting outrun on the crossing routes to give up a bunch of yards after the catch, the blueprint is out there for teams with a capable passing game on how to attack this Nittany Lion defense. Props to Jonathan Sutherland though, for garnering a sack that snuffed out a Purdue drive early in the fourth quarter and gave PSU excellent field position for their subsequent drive that resulted in a TD.
Similar to the receivers, I lost count of just how many dropped interceptions there were. Joey Porter Jr’s should’ve-been-a-pick-but-ended-up-a-catch-and-first-down sticks out the most, to me. At the very least, PSU would’ve started possession in Purdue’s red zone with a chance to strike first and go up 7-0. At best, it might’ve been a pick-six. Thankfully, drops like that one as well as one by Keaton Ellis on Purdue’s final drive did not come back to bite them. The tight man coverage resulted in a lot of grabbing from this unit which sometimes resulted in pass interference flags, but also led to some excellent pass deflecting at clutch moments.
Speaking of clutch moments: How about Zakee Wheatley’s forced fumble recovery that led to the Cliff-to-Strange hookup right before halftime? Or how about Johnnie Dixon’s sack on O’Connell on Purdue’s final drive that also forced the Boilers to burn a timeout? It’s the little things that add up, folks.
Special Teams: B+
Barney Amor showed why he got the Eli Manning announcing he was on scholarship treatment, averaging nearly 47 yards on his eight punts, including a long of 52 and putting three punts inside Purdue’s own 20. The kickoff duties were mainly split between Sander Sahaydak and man-beast Gabe Nwosu, who put at least half of their kicks into the end zone for touchbacks. Nick Singleton was given the green light to return kickoffs, taking three of them back for 64 total return yards. Meanwhile, Jake Pinegar was perfect on extra points and was not asked to try any field goals since PSU was able to finish all of their scoring drives in the end zone. Perhaps a little more juice in the kickoffs and in the punt return game would be nice, but otherwise, a solid showing.