In previous seasons, I had thought of doing a “mid-season” position grades post but laziness eventually overcame me. Now that PSU’s bye week happens to coincide right around the halfway mark, I realized I had no more excuses. Plus, one can never have too much bye week content, so without further ado, here goes something:
As a first-year starter with an enormous amount of hype placed on him all offseason long (and frankly all last season, if we’re being honest), Drew Allar has been pretty solid through five games. Yes, he did look off at times on the road against Illinois and Northwestern, and yes, he has barely taken any shots downfield, opting for the more open short and medium-range throws. You know what, though? 1,092 yards passing, nine touchdowns, and zero interceptions speak for itself. Beau Pribula has also done a fine job in his mop-up duty, rushing for a handful of TD’s and even throwing for one most recently against Northwestern.
Running Back: B+
Nicholas Singleton, Kaytron Allen, and Trey Potts have all done enough to help PSU stay on schedule, move the chains, and finish red zone opportunities in the end zone, and Singleton has developed into a good pass-catching weapon out of the backfield. That being said, we’re still waiting for Singleton to bust one to the house, Rose Bowl-style or Allen shaking off a couple defenders as he runs his way to a 25-30 yard gain. In fact, the longest run from scrimmage this season so far has been a 21-yard scamper from backup quarterback Beau Pribula. Hopefully, this changes significantly before the season ends.
Wide Receiver: C+
All offseason long, the wide receiver group was mentioned as the biggest question mark offensively for the Nittany Lions. Unfortunately, that still remains the case, as KeAndre Lambert-Smith has had no one else around him step up and be those reliable second and third receivers. Tre Wallace seemed to be a solid No. 2 before getting injured, hopefully he is a full go for the second half of the schedule. Dante Cephas seems like another guy who could get it going in the latter half of the season, as well, but results thus far have been a mixed bag.
Tight End: B
Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson are currently the second and fourth-leading receivers on the roster, with Warren having already racked up four TD’s. The blocking at times has been suspect, so that will need to be improved upon as we get into the second half of the schedule.
Offensive Line: B-
It’s been a mixed bag of sorts, as some weeks the O-line has looked fine, but then in other weeks they look rather lackluster. More consistency will be needed for the latter part of the schedule if PSU wants to find itself atop the Big Ten.
Defensive Line: A
Penn State has 20 total sacks on the year, thus far, good enough for a four sacks per game average. The D-line is responsible for 14 of those sacks, as they have done a solid job generating pressure in the pass rush and along with the rest of the front seven, have helped to keep opposing offenses in check. If you were expecting anything other than Straight A’s for the defensive positions, then I want to know what it is you’re smoking/snorting.
Things have been quieter than expected for Abdul Carter, as he only sports 12 tackles and a sack, but I’d anticipate the best being yet to come for him. In the meantime, Curtis Jacobs and Kobe King have done a fine job themselves, especially Jacobs, who leads the team in tackles with 18 including a sack. They’ve had a few moments where they’ve been caught flat-footed by opposing ground attacks, but otherwise, it’s been a solid bunch.
I can probably count on one hand the number of times I can recall opposing QB’s challenging Penn State’s secondary downfield. This is a testament to just how respected of a cornerback duo Kalen King and Johnny Dixon truly are. Daequan Hardy has been solid as a nickel back, coming up with a pair of interceptions on the season, thus far. Jayden Reed, Zakee Wheatley, and Keaton Ellis have been pretty reliable as well, at the safety spot. The unit’s biggest test yet is coming up a little less than two weeks from now in Columbus, when they go up against Ohio State’s stud receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.
Special Teams: C+
Well, at least we seem to have found ourselves a placekicker in Alex Felkins and Gabe Nwosu has done a fine job on kickoffs, putting most of them for touchbacks. Punting however, has been an adventure with Riley Thompson’s rugby style-punts not getting a lot of hang time or distance (let alone damn near getting blocked a few times). The kickoff and punt return games have felt practically non-existent, while kickoff and punt coverage looked a little shaky in the Northwestern game. It’s definitely a mixed bag, alright.
The offensive play calling at times has been a little frustratingly conservative with a lack of downfield shots and the defense seems to have developed a nasty habit of giving up huge gains in 3rd and very long situations. Outside of that though, the game plan and adjustments made have been pretty solid and clock management has ceased to become the issue that it used to be.
Penn State was 5-0 headed into the bye week sporting a 12-game streak of at least 30 points scored and are the No. 1 team in the country when it comes to total defense, allowing only 210.6 total yards per game and only 3.79 yards per play. PSU is also the top-ranked team in the country when it comes to pass defense efficiency. Yes, the offense is still a work in progress in some aspects, especially with the lack of explosive plays, but it has also been good enough to grind opponents down over four quarters while putting up points.
[BONUS CATEGORY] Fan Support: A+++
Take a bow, Nittany Lion fans! You folks have turned out, and I don’t just mean the White Out shellacking of Iowa, which saw the second-highest attendance in Beaver Stadium history. Even the game against Delaware saw well over 100,000 fans show up, and the fans had a solid showing in road trips to Champaign and Evanston.