Game Grades: Penn State vs. Indiana

Audio/Story posted November 10, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by Tyler Zulli

Quarterbacks: D

Christian Hackenberg was poor once again for the Nittany Lions as the troubles continue for the sophomore quarterback. Fans are becoming frustrated with the lack of production from Hackenberg, who was supposed to be the rock of this offense after a terrific freshman season. Hackenberg completed just 12 of the 29 passes he attempted for 168 yards, failing to surpass 200 yards for yet another game this season. He also threw two interceptions on the day, one being returned all the way for a touchdown. Despite playing so poorly, Hackenberg was actually better than his counterpart Zander Diamont, who threw for just 68 yards with two interceptions of his own. The woes will continue for Hackenberg as long as the offensive line is in shambles and his decision making doesn’t improve.

Running Backs: A

This was, by far, the performance of the year for the running back core to this point. Bill Belton led the way with 137 yards on 16 carries, including a 92-yard touchdown run, the longest touchdown run in Penn State history. Take that into perspective. Even without his 92-yard burst, Belton still ran for 45 yards on 15 other carries. That number is not great, but for the year the running back core has had, most Penn State fans will gladly take it. Akeel Lynch, now getting more touches with Zach Zwinak gone for the year, ran for another 47 yards on 13 carries. Altogether, the two backs rushed for 184 yards on the day, the most since the team’s blowout victory against UMass.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+

As Christian Hackenberg goes, so do his wide receivers and tight ends. Unfortunately, for this squad, Hackenberg has been average, at best. Geno Lewis led the way for this group with four catches for just 39 yards. The other three receivers, namely Hamilton, Godwin and Blacknall, combined for five catches for 69 total yards. Jesse James and Mike Gesicki had just three catches for 60 yards. Kyle Carter was all but nonexistent in this matchup. This is a very talented receiving core, but Hackenberg’s poor play has downsized them to average stats for most of the year.

Offensive Line: D

Despite the running game picking up 137 yards in the contest, the offensive line was still poor. They allowed Christian Hackenberg to get sacked an unnecessary five times by a very average Indiana defense. Yes, Hackenberg’s decision making needs to be better, but it is very tough to continue to keep your head when you have little to no time to get rid of the ball each play. The addition of Miles Dieffenbach at left guard should help for the final three games of the season, even as little as he’s been able to play. Every snap he plays is one less snap where an inexperienced offensive lineman is not in the game. The line should improve a bit in the next few games, especially if Donovan Smith is able to recover from an injury sustained against Ohio State. 

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line was terrific in this contest. The only reason they didn’t receive an A was for the lack of sacks of Zander Diamont. Anthony Zettel picked up the lone sack on the day for the Nittany Lions. With that being said, the line, specifically the four starters, picked up a total of 18 tackles between them. The 153 rushing yards is a bit of a concern, but you have to look at the full body of work first. The Hoosiers relied heavily on the run game, running the ball 40 times. Tevin Coleman, another very good Big Ten running back, was held to 71 yards on 20 carries. This line has been one of the few bright spots on a very dark Penn State season.

Linebackers/Defensive Backs: A

The linebacking core, together with the defensive backs, were the best group of the Penn State roster this weekend. Two interceptions, one from linebacker Nyeem Wartman, and one from safety Jesse Della Valle, were two of the many highlights this core had this weekend. The defense as a whole held the Indiana offense scoreless, as the only Hoosier points came off the Hackenberg pick-six. Eight tackles for a loss by the unit kept the Indiana offense from getting going all day long. The defensive side of the ball has been outstanding for most of the season, as they continue to keep Penn State in every game.

Special Teams: C

Sam Ficken, who has been lights out all year, had his third kick of the year blocked Saturday. He nailed his other two field goals, however, and continues to be a major point scorer for the anemic offense. He’s connected on all but three of his field goals to this point in the season, all of which were blocked. Dan Pasquariello had probably the best punting day of the season for the team, averaging about 38 yards per punt with a long of 48 yards. Obviously, that is still nowhere near where the team would like, but it was an improvement over the season as a whole. 

Game Experience: D

The game was about as boring as they come on TV. I cannot imagine how awful it was to actually have to sit in the Indiana stands for this one. Nothing special to see here. Let’s move on.

Coaching Staff: B-

It’s become clear to me that head coach James Franklin is able to compete against lesser coaches. That’s what it seemed to me in this contest, that Franklin was the better coach. The offensive play calling, however, still leaves a lot to be desired. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop dialed up a masterful game plan this weekend. It can’t be overstated how well the defense played, regardless of the opposing quarterback. Their confidence is sky high right now, and that should carry over into the Temple game.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Sam Riche)

Tyler Zulli is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email