How do you grade a performance last yesterday’s that left everybody feeling satisfied with a win, but dissatisfied in the manner which it happened? Let’s give this the old college try, shall we?
On the one hand, this grade might be rather harsh if you just take a look at the stat line, as Sean Clifford threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. On the other hand, considering how Cliff started out a sizzling 8-for-8 passing and then proceeded to only go 14-for-26 the rest of the game, which included some egregious misfires of open receivers, or not checking down to a wide open running back in the flat, this grade might be just right. Unfortunately, Drew Allar didn’t get as much run as we all would’ve hoped, as he didn’t see action until early fourth quarter and even then, he was an unimpressive 2-for-5 for 20 yards (although he threw a lovely dart to Liam Clifford to move the chains). I’ll let you folks fight it out in the comments section over whether this grade is appropriate...
Running Back: A-
The beauty of having two stud running backs is if one of them is having an off day, the other can still step up and make things happen. That’s precisely what Kaytron Allen did, showing incredible vision and patience to take what Central Michigan’s defense and his own offensive line gave him, running through holes to finish with a solid 13 carries for 111 yards and a TD.
Nick Singleton on the other hand, had a rather quiet afternoon, with only 42 yards on 12 carries and long run of only nine yards. It was clear that the Chippewa defense was keyed in on making sure he did not get a chance to break a long run outside on the edge, but it also seemed at times like he was too focused on looking for the “home run” play instead of just taking what the defense gave him.
Wide Receiver: B-
Parker Washington led the way in receiving yards with 64 of them on six catches, while Mitchell Tinsley had the unit’s only TD grab as he racked up 51 yards on four catches. Overall, it was a disappointing day for this group, which did not help Cliff’s stats with a few drops. Still waiting for a true deep threat to emerge from this group as well, perhaps Omari Evans has potential to be that guy, but he’ll need to factor into the rotation a bit more. On a more positive note, we saw our first-ever Cliff-to-Cliff pass connection as Sean zipped a screen pass to his little brother, Liam (albeit, it didn’t go for more than a yard at best).
Tight End: B+
Brenton Strange had himself a game, catching a pair of TD’s and emerging as Cliff’s safety valve in the passing attack. His blocking also continues to look good overall, as well. Theo Johnson also added an 11-yard catch himself, as he continues to work himself more into game action coming off an undisclosed injury.
Offensive Line: B
While they weren’t as good as last week, it’s hard to pin the offense’s problems yesterday on this unit. Overall, they did a good job protecting Cliff and opening holes for Allen and Singleton to run through. And how about Olu Fashanu getting some first round draft pick love from NFL draft pundits? Good stuff.
Defensive Line: B-
At times, this group was able to get pressure on CMU QB Daniel Richardson and when they did, it led to good moments like Zakee Wheatley’s interception. Other times, it seemed like they struggled to do so, particularly in the second quarter. Dani Dennis-Sutton probably started up his own freshman hype train along with Allar, Singleton, and Allen by garnering a pair of sacks, including one where he was absolutely dragging the opposing offensive lineman with him. And of course, Chop Robinson did his usual thing with providing some pressure when sorely needed.
Just like against Purdue, CMU was able to exploit the middle of the field via crossing routes. Better get used to seeing opposing teams with capable passing attacks of doing the same, as long as this unit shows a lack of ability to stop it on a regular basis.
Penn State leads the country in total pass breakups with 41 of them and it’s not even close. Wheatley and Johnny Dixon both came down with interceptions, with Wheatley coming up 15 yards short of pulling off a pick-six, but setting up an easy TD drive for the offense. While Daniel Richardson did throw for a couple of TD’s, it was more so a result from picking on the linebackers, as well as their receivers and tight ends making some absolutely ridiculous circus-catches.
Special Teams: C+
It brings me no joy to give this low of a grade to special teams, considering how clutch Barney Amor was punting the ball. You can credit 14 of PSU’s points to Amor, as one of them pinned CMU inside their own five-yard line, leading to a three-and-out, followed by Parker Washington returning the ensuing punt all the way to CMU’s 30, setting up a short-field TD drive, while the other one was muffed inside CMU’s own ten and was recovered by Curtis Jacobs, setting up another easy TD for the offense.
Unfortunately, Amor’s performance was overshadowed a bit by the struggles in the placekicking game, as Jake Pinegar had an extra point blocked and later on pushed a very makable 38-yard field goal to the right. Fortunately, the only thing those blunders did was make the final score less palatable, but the final results will be more catastrophic as the team gets deep into Big Ten play, if they don’t get it cleaned up. Sander Sahadydak and Gabe Nwosu’s struggles in the kickoff game to put the ball into the end zone for touchbacks led to Pinegar also getting a crack at kickoffs, of which three of his four resulted in touchbacks.