Well, another Penn State football season has come and gone, but at least for the first time in nearly three decades, we can say the words “Rose Bowl Champs!” For the last time until Labor Day weekend, here’s how I graded things.
Sean Clifford saved arguably his best performance for last, en route to throwing for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a clutch bomb to KeAndre Lambert-Smith to open the fourth quarter which put Penn State up by two scores at that point and really put Utah on the ropes. Cliff showed some real poise in the pocket, hit his targets on the dot, and was a tremendous leader out there. When we talk about Sean Clifford years from now, the Rose Bowl performance will be the first thing that comes to mind.
Even though it wasn’t statistically his best game, the fact that Cliff put on such a solid performance and finally got his signature win that he had been lacking is good enough in my book to give him a plus next to the A.
Running Back: A
If Ki-Jana Carter and Saquon Barkley’s respective Rose Bowl TD runs had a baby, it might look like Nick Singleton’s 87-yard scamper that broke open a tie ball game in the third quarter. Despite only carrying the rock seven times, Singleton had 120 yards and a pair of TD’s to go with it. Meanwhile, Kaytron Allen was able to bull-rush his way to a TD and also make something out of nothing at times. We even got a Tank Smith sighting late in the game when the outcome was already determined.
Wide Receiver: A
Here’s to hoping that KLS is able to use his 124-yard receiving performance capped off the long TD catch as a springboard to a killer 2023 season. Mitchell Tinsley led the team in receptions with six of them for 49 yards and a TD, while Tre Wallace stepped up with a couple of nice catches to move the chains. Wallace will be another guy to keep an eye on as someone who steps up as one of the top receiving options next season.
Tight End: A-
Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren each had a catch to move the chains on what was otherwise a quiet receiving day for the tight end group. They did do fine job blocking, though, which is another critical component of the tight end position, and given that PSU put up 35 points on offense with a balanced attack, I have a hard time giving any offensive unit anything less than an A-minus.
Offensive Line: A-
Cliff did get sacked a few times, but the O-line held their own, even without Olu Fashanu able to return as he hoped. The one nice thing about dealing with all the injuries that plagued this group is that this unit really built up some quality depth for next season. Kudos to Phil Trautwein, who came into this season on the hot seat (at least from the fan base’s perspective) and in his third year on staff, finally showcased the reason James Franklin hired him in the first place.
Defensive Line: A
The D-line had themselves a game, as they were able to break into the backfield and chase around Cam Rising and Bryson Barnes. Chop Robinson had 1.5 sacks and probably could’ve had a couple more. PJ Mustipher recorded four tackles in his final game as a Nittany Lion, while Adisa Isaac had five tackles, including two for a loss.
It was an unusually quiet afternoon for Abdul Carter, who only recorded a single tackle, but did have a nice pass breakup using the back of his helmet. Curtis Jacobs led the way with five tackles, including two sacks, while Elsdon led the linebackers in total tackles with six. The tackling could’ve been a little better, but when you help shut out the opposing offense until garbage time in the second half, I can’t be too harsh.
For all the talk about Cliff going out with a bang, Tig Brown sure did the same: Eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. Hopefully, we’ll hear his name called on the first night of the NFL Draft. Kalen King also deserves a shout-out for his interception that ultimately led to PSU’s first points of the afternoon. Utah had 207 yards passing, but a non-trivial portion of that came during garbage time.
Special Teams: B+
Surprisingly, Jake Pinegar was never called upon to kick field goals, just extra points and kickoffs (of which he put five of six for touchbacks). Barney Amor had a decent enough outing in his final game punting for the Nittany Lions, averaging 46.5 yards on five punts, and pinning the Utes in their own red zone twice. Kaytron also took a kickoff return 29 yards to give PSU decent starting field position beyond their own 30-yard line.