Saturday was fun! Penn State played well for the first time in a few weeks. Now let’s dish out some grades.
Trace McSorley left the game in the second quarter after re-aggravating his knee injury and missed the rest of the first half. Prior to this McSorley was sharp and efficient. Trace returned in the second half and finished the game 19/25 for 160 yards and a score, but he rushed for just nine yards.
In his absence, Tommy Stevens did not throw a pass but ran for 25 yards on seven carries. We also saw more of Tommy out of the LION this week than in any other game this season. The LION did not always work, though.
Running Back: A
A strong argument can be made that Miles Sanders was the best offensive player on the field Saturday. While eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark for the season, Sanders rushed for 159 yards, caught a pair of passes, and rush for a score. He also had a strong game in pass protection.
Journey Brown, like Sanders, threw some good blocks in pass protection. Johnathan Thomas had a key 1-yard run for a first down on a fake punt attempt to keep a drive that ended in points alive, and Ricky Slade returned to the field after a three week absence.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
KJ Hamler and DeAndre Thompkins led the team in receptions with five each, while Jahan Dotson led the way in receiving yards at 39. Highly touted true freshman Justin Shorter played for the first time since the Kent State game and recorded his first career receptions, and Thompkins had his first touchdown catch since that same game. As a group, the downfield blocking was ok.
However, the wide receivers still left some plays on the field and no one popped as having a great game. While drops were almost a non-issue, Thompkins and Pat Freiermuth each had a drop, and Freiermuth’s would have gone for a first down.
Offensive Line: B
Saturday was the best game the offensive line has played in a few weeks. Flipping Will Fries and Ryan Bates worked out well and holes to run through were there for most of the game. That said, pass protection still struggled at times and a lookout block by Fries nearly got Trace killed in the second quarter. For that reason, the big fellas up front get a B.
Defensive Line: A++
The defensive line was so good it gets two pluses after the A. The DL was responsible for five sacks and six TFLs on Saturday afternoon.
Shareef Miller and Yetur Gross-Matos were dominant at defensive end. YGM really is starting to play like an All-American candidate. Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor, and PJ Mustipher were all terrors on the interior. The effort of the defensive line was the catalyst behind a great showing from Brent Pry’s defense on Saturday.
Micah Parsons continues to be the team’s best linebacker after leading the team in tackles with seven. Ellis Brooks looked good during his time on the field again, and Cam Brown has quietly been consistent at SAM.
Jan Johnson also looked over-matched, and got overpowered on more than one occasion during the game.
Wisconsin’s offense does not feature the forward pass very often. And when they did try to throw the ball, it did not go well.
Filling in for the injured Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan was just 9/20 for 60 yards. John Reid continues to look like his pre-injury self, and Amani Oruwariye and Nick Scott both recorded an interception. Quietly, Tariq Castro-Fields had a strong game as well.
The secondary was not tested much against the Badgers, but they rose to the occasion when they were.
Special Teams: C+
Jake Pinegar converted on three field goals, but he also missed two and a PAT. However, the wind may have been a factor in the missed FGs. Penn State’s return game was non-existent as Thompkins returned just one punt for four yards, while the lone kick return of the day was a 10 yarder by C.J. Thorpe.
The coverage teams were solid, though, and Rafael Checa was a weapon in the kick off game again. Penn State successfully executed a fake punt to pick up a first down, and Blake Gillikin averaged just 38 yards on his three punts. Gillikin’s average would have been higher if not for a 26 yard punt. This punt, however, was a successful one though as it pinned Wisconsin inside their own 10.
If not for the missed kicks by Pinegar, this grade would be higher.