Game Grades: Ohio State vs. Penn State

Story posted October 23, 2016 in CommRadio, Sports by Matthew Harvey

Down by two touchdowns to start the fourth quarter, Penn State needed a spark against the number two ranked Buckeyes.  Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lion’s special teams provided it and proved that Happy Valley White Out football games can be truly special. 

When the clock struck zeros, Penn State had upset Ohio State 24-21 and handed the Buckeyes their first loss of the season.  It was the first ranked win for head coach James Franklin as the Penn State coach.

Here are the final grades for Penn State’s play against Ohio State:

Quarterback: A-

Trace McSorley struggled in the first half, although he did have a nice fade pass to Chris Godwin at the end of the half.  The Ohio State defense was bearing down on him and not giving him much time to pass.  On his occasional passes, he would overthrow or throw wide to the receivers.  One play he missed a streaking receiver on a deep pass by under throwing him when he should have been leading him. His second half, particularly his fourth quarter, was great.  His full effort scamper into the corner of the end zone was brilliant and courageous, making it a one score game.  He did not turn the ball over all game and made smart plays to keep his team in striking distance.  He shouldered the running game by rushing 19 times for 63 yards and that touchdown.

Running backs: B

Starting running back Saquon Barkley surprisingly only had 12 carries, but made the most of them by rushing for 99 yards.  His long was 37 yards and many times, like he does so well, he made Buckeye defenders miss.  Trace McSorley had most of the rushing attack though, whether by design or to salvage a broken play.  While McSorley provided most of the work, the fact that Barkley was not used as much as he usually is why the run game receives this grade.  It was also surprising Barkley was not used as much considering that last year he ran for 194 yards against this very Buckeye team. 

Wide Receivers: C+

The wide outs receive this grade only because they had a rough night overall, only hauling in six catches.  That’s it.  Chris Godwin led the team with two catches for 39 yards.  They did however make huge plays in the game.  Saeed Blacknall and DaeSean Hamilton both only had one reception, but they went for 35 and 34 yards and helped lead the Nittany Lions to points.  The Ohio State defensive backs are some of the best in the country and stifled Penn State’s wide receivers all night.  While they did not play well, the wide-outs get somewhat of a pass. 

Tight Ends: C+

Mike Gesicki led the team in catches and yards with four receptions for 46 yards.  The passing game was significantly hindered all night from the Ohio State defense though.  Gesicki made a nice 26-yard catch on the opening drive, but later got injured.  He did come back, but neither him nor his replacement could make a difference going forward. 

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line last night looked shaky, but they did their job just enough to not let the game spiral out of control.  Most of the night, they were beaten by the defensive line and could not give McSorley enough time to throw.  McSorley was able to evade almost all the defenders though, since the Ohio State defense only got one sack on the night.  As we usually see, the line did not give much room to Saquon Barkley, who on his best runs of the night had to create space himself.  They did not play especially well, but they did not let the game get away and did enough. 

Defense: A

The defense came out and played nothing short of spectacular.  Yes, they made two hiccups overall.  They had bad tackling on a first half play that let Buckeye tight end Marcus Baugh score a touchdown and they let Buckeye wide receiver Curtis Samuel run for a 74-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.  For the rest of the night though, the defense stifled the high-powered Ohio State offense.  The return of linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell from injury were massive, as Bell recorded 19 tackles and a sack and Cabinda had 12 tackles and a sack.  Defensive end Garrett Sickels haunted Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barret with 2.5 sacks.  All night they were strong at the point of attack in the trenches, getting into the backfield and frequently forcing Barrett into tough positions and bad throws.  Ohio State came into the game as one of the top offenses in the nation.  For the Nittany Lion defense to only allow two offensive touchdowns showed they came to play. 

Special Teams: A-

Penn State special teams made fans yell in frustration at first, but then made fans cry in joy.  They got off to a rough start.  In the first half, the special teams unit had an opening drive field goal blocked, and later punt returner John Reid muffed a punt that Ohio State recovered.  A bad snap on a punt had the ball soar into the end zone, luckily only for a safety.  They did come up big and block an extra point in the first half.  Kick returned Miles Sanders made nice returns all night, always giving the offense good starting field position.  In the fourth quarter, though, special teams made all the plays.  Early in the quarter, they blocked a Buckeye punt and got points off it.  In what was the play of the game with just over four minutes to play, Marcus Allen blocked an Ohio State field goal attempt and Grant Haley scooped it and scored a 60-yard touchdown to give Penn State a 24-21 lead.  Special teams had their struggles early on, but they were the difference in this game. 

Coaching: A

If we encapsulate all the major coaches on the team, the whole staff was ready to go.  Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did not call his best game, but he did not put his players in bad spots and his offense did not have a single turnover.  Defensive coordinator Brent Pry was relieved to get his two best linebackers back for this game and he had his defense playing with ferocity.  They dialed up plays that confused J.T. Barrett and their offense on many plays.  The mistakes they made early on were fixed later.  Pry had his guys playing at a high level.  Special teams coach Charles Huff deserves the game ball for what he got his guys to do.  His motivation and play calling on special teams got the Nittany Lions back in the game and ultimately decided the game.  In the heart of all this, head coach James Franklin had two weeks to prepare for the Urban Meyer led Buckeyes; he was ready to go and got his team ready to go.  Franklin did make some bad play calls throughout the game.  He never got the run game established or got Saquon Barkley going.  He did keep his team in the game and minimized harm in only letting up one turnover to the Buckeyes.  Franklin finally got a win over a ranked program as the Nittany Lion Head coach, over Ohio State no less.  It was a big day for the coaching staff to put their players in the best position to win.


Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and history.  To contact him, email