Game Grades: Penn State vs Appalachian State
Appalachian State took Penn State to the brink of a massive upset Saturday in Beaver Stadium on the 11-year anniversary of its iconic victory against Michigan on the road. Penn State survived in overtime, winning 45-38 after an Amani Oruwariye intercepted a pass in the end zone to seal the deal. Here's a recap at Penn State'sperformancee in all three phases:
The Penn State offense’s performance looked like the football version of a seesaw: at times it was down, like in the second quarter, when the Nittany Lions managed only a field goal, and other times it was up, as PSU scored 14 points each in the 3rd and 4th quarters. The Nittany Lions 434 yards, but the visiting Appalachian State Mountaineers outgained the Nittany Lions for 451 yards. QB Trace McSorley had a competent performance, completing 21 of his 36 passing attempts for 230 yards. He also threw a clutch 15-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left to K.J. Hamler, the redshirt freshman WR, who would also total 68 yards on four catches on the day. McSorley also utilized his signature ability to pull the ball down and run for chunk yardage, as he rushed 12 times for 53 and two touchdowns. One thing to be very clear about is the fact that the days of Saquon Barkley at Penn State were fun but are now over, and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne made sure everyone in Beaver Stadium knew that with the way the rushing attack was deployed for Penn State. Miles Sanders, talented freshman recruit Ricky Slade, and veteran Mark Allen each got snaps. Sanders carried most of the load, with 19 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns, but Slade had an electrifying 27-yard touchdown run of his own. Overall, the offense showed its youth, as it looked unstoppable at times and pedestrian at other times. Penn State will need to be more consistent going forward.
The Nittany Lions’ defense was able to get stops when they needed them the most, such as in the closing seconds of regulation and in overtime, but it was the big plays that they did not get in the 4th quarter that put PSU in such a stressful situation in the first place. Allowing 28 points in the closing period of the game to a visiting Sun Belt Conference team is not going to cut it in the Big Ten East. App State deserves some credit here though. In his first career start, Zac Thomas passed 25 completions for 38 attempts, 270 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Thomas showed poise under the Nittany Lions pass rush and an ability to slide his feet and manipulate the pocket to buy himself time. A noticeable issue with the Nittany Lions defense was the open field tackling: Penn State totaled six tackles for a loss, but many short passes over the middle and check downs to running backs went for first down yardage. Inexperience showed its face often in this matchup, and Penn State will need some leadership to step up to replace the veterans who have either graduated or moved on to the NFL.
Special Teams: C+
The special teams unit struggled early, allowing a 100-yard kick return touchdown to Darrynton Evans, who caught the Nittany Lions out of position on coverage and had the defenders scrambling to trip him up, to no avail. KJ Hamler returned one kick for 52 yards, showing his impressive speed. Look for Hamler to man the kick return duties long-term. He was otherwise conservative, taking a knee and conceding to the strong kick coverage from App State. Senior DeAndre Thompkins returned a punt for 29 yards. Kicker Jake Pinegar made a 32-yard field goal and six extra points. Blake Gillikin punted five times for 215 yards, for an average of 43 yards. Gillikin's longest punt of the day was a booming 55 yarder.
The coaching was solid against the Mountaineers, but by no means won any medals. Penn State’s offense came out a little flat in the first half, managed only to tie the Apps late in the second quarter at 10 points apiece. Clearly, Ricky Rahne had the offense more focused in the second half, totaling 28 points, but the defense, on the other hand, has some growing up to do. The 28 points by the Mountaineers in the 4th quarter alone was enough to make a Penn State fan sweat. The backfield-by-committee approach was refreshing after being accustomed to running the offense through Saquon Barkley for the last several years. The expectation should be that Penn State comes out more mentally prepared next week at Pittsburgh in primetime.
Jeremy Ganes is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.