Game Grades: Indiana
Down 24-14 late in the third quarter and all the momentum swinging to Indiana, Penn State was in serious trouble of getting upset on the road. The Nittany Lion defense had been playing on their heels most of the day and the Indiana defense was stifling the Penn State offense.
Then the fourth quarter happened. That’s when Saquon Barkley showed up and Penn State rattled off 31 points in the last 16:09 of the game to come back and win 45-31. In a tough, hard fought, and gritty game, the Nittany Lions found ways to score on offense and get stops on defense and keep their hopes of a 10-win regular season alive.
Here are the finals grades from Penn State’s play today:
Trace McSorley played some really good football for a lot of the game, doing it in some different ways as well. McSorley is usually a focal point on the ground in Joe Moorhead’s offense, but today he only ran eight times for 13 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown came on a broken play though on the first drive of the game, as his left guard missed his blocking assignment and forced McSorley out of the pocket. He posted one of the best passing yardage marks of the season, throwing for 332 yards and adding two touchdowns as well. He did throw two interceptions, but both came as a result of being hurried in the pocket from his poor offensive line play. When it mattered most in the last 16 minutes of the game, he was able to lead his team down the field for 24 points and take control of the game. Not his most perfect performance, but Trace McSorley hung in there, took hits, and bounced back to get his team the win.
Running Backs: B-
It was a tough game all day for star running back Saquon Barkley. Coming into the game as one of the hottest running backs in the country, people expected him to dominate like he consistently does. That wasn’t the case. Barkley only managed 60 yards rushing on a whopping 33 carries, his season high. The Indiana defense made it a staple all day to shut down Barkley and they did just that until the fourth quarter when he ran in two short touchdowns. Most of the poor running today can be blamed on the play of the offensive line, who got beat time and time again in the trenches. The coaching staff stuck with Barkley and continued to feed him the rock and he eventually made his impact known. A down game for sure from Barkley, but not all the blame can go on him. You can’t always run free if there is nowhere to run.
Wide Receivers: B
Only three Penn State wide receivers made receptions in this game, with Chris Godwin being the only receiver with a reception at halftime. Godwin showed up today and was easily McSorley’s favorite target. He caught five balls for 82 yards and two touchdowns, with one touchdown coming off a beautiful 21-yard jump ball in the end zone. DaeSean Hamilton caught three passes for 85 yards, his biggest catch coming on the end of a flea flicker for 54 yards that led to one of Saquon Barkley’s touchdowns. The wide outs got off to a shaky start, but made huge plays when it counted in the second half.
Tight Ends: C+
Mike Gesicki led the team in receiving yards with 88 and made some key catches, including one for 45 yards. None of the Penn State pass catchers today, except for Godwin, made a difference in the game. Gesicki had a solid game, did not drop a lot of passes, and made clutch catches. None of his plays impacted scoring so much and McSorley was looking at his receivers more often. The tight ends only receive this grade from their lack of usage in scoring chances.
Offensive Line: D+
Unfortunately, the offensive line came into this game with some starters banged up and out. On the opening drive of the game, left tackle Paris Palmer left the game and didn’t return. The whole day it seemed the offensive line was being beaten in the trenches and Indiana’s defense was always in the backfield. This resulted in Barkley having a bad day and McSorley taking punishing hits. In the final couple drives in the fourth quarter for Penn State, the line managed to hold up and allow McSorley and Barkley to succeed and add some scores. Overall though, they were constantly beaten at the point of attack and did not do their jobs to let Penn State’s best player in Saquon Barkley run free.
The defense certainly had their highs and their lows today. Early in the first half they were missing many tackles and allowed themselves to be run and thrown on at will. Indiana’s offense ran a no-huddle, fast paced offense all game and this tired and wore out the defense over time. The defense forced three turnovers in the first half, but Indiana was very sloppy with the ball at times and gave Penn State gift chances. Their best play of the game came in the last minute of the game. With Penn State up 38-31, linebacker Brandon Bell stripped the ball from Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow and Nittany Lion Torrence Brown returned it for a touchdown to seal the win. The defense was far from perfect today. They have played better against more talented opponents, but today they were caught off guard for three quarters. When it mattered most in the fourth quarter, they showed up and gave the Nittany Lions a great chance to win.
Special Teams: A-
The special teams get such a high grade because, frankly, they didn’t do anything to hinder their team’s performance. Miles Sanders and John Reid had nice returns all afternoon and knew when to fair catch or field the ball. The punt coverage team recovered a muffed punt that led to a touchdown. The punt team had a near disaster when Penn State punter Blake Gillikin lost the handle on a snap but managed to just get a kick off. Special teams did a nice job not giving Indiana easy chances or hindering Penn State team’s performance.
While this may seem somewhat high, I think the coaching staff is every bit deserving of this because of their adjustments. The first two and even three quarters were slugfests and the offense and defense certainly had their problems. Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead could not dial up the plays to get Saquon Barkley going or to keep Trace McSorley from getting hit. Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry had to deal with the Indiana fast paced offense that tired out his guys on defense. Once the fourth quarter hit, all coordinators and head coach James Franklin figured out what to do. The offense was finally moving the ball with Saquon Barkley and being efficient to not give Indiana easy chances. The defense made key stops and pressured the Indiana offensive line and quarterback to put the game away. Both coordinators deserve all the credit in the world for getting their guys in the best positions to win the game. Franklin deserves ultra-credit for calming his team down and making them believe they could come back and win this game, like they had done so often this season. Ever since the Ohio State game, this coaching staff is red hot and knows how to get their teams playing at the best levels.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in history and broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.