Game Grades: Ohio State
Game Grades: Penn State vs Ohio State
While observing the play of Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, there are a few things I notice. First, he still does not trust his offensive line completely. There are moments where he rushes his throws, fearing pressure when there is none, resulting in an interception and vital swing of momentum. Whether his O-line is talented or not, he must trust them and they did well protecting him on Saturday night.
Second, he does not play well until the final two minutes of the game when it matters most. Why wasn’t he regularly throwing the ball like the one to DeaSean Hamilton, over a defender, on the first drive of OT? As the leader of the offense, you are expected to be sharp and ready to play for all 60 minutes.
Third, and possibly most important, is that Hack struggles mightily going left. Whether it’s throwing left, moving left or even just looking left to stifle the defense, he rarely does it. To be a successful QB, one must be able to look, move and throw every direction. I expect Franklin to be working on this with Hackenberg in practice.
Running Backs: B-
There was not much of a rushing attack for the Nittany Lions during the Whiteout game. Akeel Lynch could only rack up 39 yards on 13 carries while Bill Belton actually had more carries than yards (9 to 8). Considering that Penn State’s offensive line was completely outmatched by Ohio State’s defensive line, the running game was not bad and improved throughout the game. The backs blocked as best they could although they were undersized, but the play that credited them the most was on 3rd and goal in overtime. Belton trusted the block of Lynch and his O-line and powered it into the end zone, giving PSU its first lead of the game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
The wide receivers impressed me in this one. Freshman DeaSean Hamilton lit it up with 14 catches for 126 yards proving he is an every down receiver. Saeed Blacknall made one of the greatest catches a true freshman at Penn State has ever made for his first touchdown, while struggling with an Ohio State defender. Although Geno Lewis only caught one pass, he did draw pass interference on third down and his one catch was vital to the Nittany Lions’ game tying drive. As I mentioned, Hackenberg is struggling with going left, the side where Geno plays most often resulting in less passes his way. Jesse James, despite dropping a pass over the middle, also made small contributions during the game to help the offense move down the field. As a whole, the receiving core did their job.
Offensive Line: B+
As I left the stadium I heard a guy muttering, “Our O-line sucks! They don’t give Hackenberg any time and it’s their fault he got sacked on that last play!” Yes the offensive line did struggle to create any running room for the back and to give Hackenberg a lot of time on every play. However, let me remind you that they were playing one of the fiercest front fours in the country. There were many plays where Hack had plenty of time to throw the ball, more time then I’ve seen all year. They did give up some sacks, but many were after blocking for 5 seconds, the ball should be out by then. They most impressed me on the final drive. Penn State elected to go for it twice on 4th and 1 and the line created the push Hackenberg needed to slip around the outside for a first down. Let’s also not forget the first overtime drive, when they held their ground against the Ohio State line, allowing Belton to push into the end zone for the lead. They were much improved in this game.
Defensive Line: A-
If you’re Penn State, there is not much more you can ask for from your defensive line. They held the running game in check for the entire second half, while intercepting Barrett for a touchdown. The only reason this squad is not receiving an A+ is because they really struggled with containing J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliot. Barrett collected 75 yards on 20 carries with 2 touchdowns, while Elliot racked up over 100 yards on the ground. Early in the game, Ohio State used the legs of their QB and running back to pick up third downs. Barrett was a vital asset to the Buckeyes’ running game, especially in OT. As the Buckeye offense trotted onto the field, everyone knew they couldn’t pass and were currently struggling to run as well. The only hope they had left was the legs of their play-caller, the kryptonite of the Nittany Lions D-line on Saturday night.
The linebackers and safeties could not have done a better job in this game. They held the young and inexperienced Barrett to just 74 yards on 19 attempts while forcing him to throw into tight windows, resulting in two important turnovers. Mike Hull played like one of the top linebackers in the country once again. Every time Ohio State ran the ball, he was there. Hull was literally all over the field intercepted a key pass as part of Penn State’s surprising comeback. This unit deserves a ton of credit, especially because they were on the field for 35 of 60 minutes.
Special Teams: F
Most people probably observe this grade and think, “Hey! Ficken made that field goal to send it into OT, why do the special teams get an F?” One aspect of the game many people forget about is the punting unit. The only reason the special teams are being given such a harsh grade is because their punters could not kick the ball more then 35 yards. Any player on the soccer team could have performed better than both of the punters the Nittany Lions used on Saturday night. Chris Gulla and Dan Pasquariello combined to average 34.5 yards a punt. That means that if a struggling Penn State offense was forced to punt from there own twenty, the Buckeye’s would retain possession at the 45-yard line. Field position played an extremely important part in this game. The poor punting kept PSU from ending this game in regulation.
Coaching Staff: C
The coaching staff did a much better job in the second half and overtime of this game than their last two. Franklin did abandon the run game for a short period of the second and third quarter, but he stuck with it in the end. Even on the last drive of regulation, they continued to run the ball, which I think kept the defense off balance. It was a rough first half, but the coaching staff did a good job of adjusting to the defense by creating more screen passes for Hackenberg. The reason I have given them a C is because their poor coaching in the first half ultimately cost them the game. It was clear that in OT, the defense had run out of steam and could not make a stop. They had spent all of their energy in the first half because the offense could not generate any rhythm. This falls on Franklin. You cannot just play one half of football and expect to win. He needs to be ready to make offensive adjustments, giving his D a break. The Nittany Lion coaching staff still has a lot of work to do.
(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Mike Carnuccio is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org