Well boys and girls, it’s the final day of 2023 and we’re doing our final position grades post of 2023! I wish we could be ending things on a higher note but alas, here we are, lamenting on what could’ve been...But, the show must go on, so for the last time this year, he are your grades:
Drew Allar’s overall stat line may not look terrible on paper: 19-for-39 passing with 295 yards two touchdowns, and an interception, but those stats got padded by Ole Miss going into a soft zone coverage midway through the fourth quarter nursing a three TD lead. When the game was still in doubt, Allar either saw his non-tight end receiving targets fail to reel in passes, mail passes over his targets’ heads, or somehow get his passes deflected at the line of scrimmage (which is baffling for a 6’5” dude like him). Oddly enough, one of those deflections resulted in a 75-yard completion to Tyler Warren that ended up being the longest offensive play of the season.
Beau Pribula saw a little bit of action and ripped off a 12-yard run and also threw a 48-yard TD pass to Nicholas Singleton while rolling out out of the pocket. He also threw a horrible pass on an attempted trick play to Allar that went backwards for 12 yards and killed a promising drive with the game’s outcome still in doubt.
New offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki will have his work cut out for him as he tries to revitalize what has been a hard-to-watch passing attack, and it starts in part with better QB play.
Running Back: A-
Nicholas Singleton looked more like his 2022 self with that burst of speed he displayed every time he seemingly touched the the ball. His 48-yard TD reception was also a nice highlight-reel moment from an otherwise forgettable game. Kaytron Allen had a few nice runs, too. Although an offense can’t be overhauled during a season, the most notable positive to come out of firing Mike Yurcich was the run game becoming more explosive and looking more like what it did last season.
Wide Receiver: D
The only thing saving this group from an ‘F’ grade was Tre Wallace and Liam Clifford finally catching some passes in the fourth quarter (with Wallace even bringing in a TD from Allar) after recording precisely zilch on the stats sheet in the previous three quarters. Andy Kotelnicki will also have his work cut for him when it comes to finding some wideouts on the roster who can produce in the passing attack, because Julian Fleming alone isn’t going to make things all better.
Tight End: A
As rough as the offense was, the tight ends really showed up and not just because of Warren’s huge play that set up a TD pass for Theo Johnson, but Warren was one of the few reliable set of hands out there. Thank goodness he will be coming back next year to help lead a group of talented but unproven tight ends (especially with the wide receiver room such a mess at the moment).
Offensive Line: B-
Despite no Olu Fashanu or JB Nelson playing, the O-line was pretty good in the run blocking department. Protection on the left flank, where Olu would normally be manning things was shaky at times, though.
Defensive Line: B
Despite not having Chop Robinson available, the D-line was able to get some pressure at times on Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart. Unfortunately, with how the secondary was getting torched, they needed to get to Dart before he had a chance to throw it, which wasn’t going to happen all the time.
The unit was doing a decent job with the pass rush and keeping Ole Miss’ ground game from going hog wild before Abdul Carter had his leg rolled and was a shell of his usually effective self in the second half. Kobe King led the way with five tackles, including one for a loss, while Tony Rojas saw some significant action in the second half before also leaving with an injury.
This is where opt-outs absolutely hurt the most as Kalen King and Johnny Dixon not being available meant that Zion Tracy and Cam Miller were forced to step in at the cornerback spots against a potent Ole Miss passing attack and ohhh boy, was it a rough outing for them. Better days are probably ahead for them as they develop in the offseason and with further game experience next season. KJ Winston led the way in tackles with nine of them and a pass deflection
Special Teams: B-
Alex Felkins nailed a 29-yarder on PSU’s opening drive of the game, but also had the blocked kick later on. Singleton also made a baffling decision to take a kickoff from his own goalline with the game tied at 3 early on and get pummeled at his own 11-yard line. Other than that though, special teams was decent, especially with Riley Thompson averaging about 49.5 yards on his five punts. Thompson has made real strides as a punter from beginning to the end of the season and I for one, am glad he managed to discover two more years of eligibility.
The run game was averaging seven yards per carry early on, so what did Ja’Juan Seider and Ty Howle decide to do? Throw it twice from the Ole Miss 15-yard line, which led to being forced to kick a field goal and start the game up 3-0 instead of 7-0. Also, the decisions to punt on 4th and 1 in the second half when trailing by six to an Ole Miss team that had been slinging the rock at will on PSU’s defense instead of going for it, as well as the decision to kick a 51-yard field goal on 4th and long which would have cut a 14-point deficit to an 11-point deficit early in the fourth quarter were quintessential “Big Game James.” Although the defense was down several key players due to opt-outs/injuries, you also saw why Franklin opted to bring in Tom Allen to be Manny Diaz’s replacement at defensive coordinator instead of promoting Anthony Poindexter.
This is probably one of the more generous grades I can give out for a loss. Despite a rough outing, the offense did have its moments with Warren and Singleton’s big plays, and the run game was effective at times. The secondary struggled, but the front seven did come up with some plays (even without Chop Robinson and with Adisa Isaac playing limited snaps). That being said, this game felt like one final slap in the face for a team that entered the season with big dreams but saw them dashed in large part due to an offense that failed to show up when it absolutely needed to.
[BONUS CATEGORY] You, Dear Reader: A+++
As always, I appreciate your readership and your comments, whether you strongly agreed or vehemently disagreed with my grades. You’re the reason I’ve been doing these posts for the past seven years and have no intentions of stopping any time soon. Have a happy and safe 2024, and I look forward to doing this again with you all exactly eight months from now after Penn State faces West Virginia.