Game Grades: Penn State vs Michigan

Story posted November 22, 2015 in CommRadio, Sports by Tommy Butler

Last Saturday, the last home game of the Penn State season started against No. 12 Michigan. Penn State started the game receiving the kick and for the first couple of minutes it looked like it could be a very good game for them. Michigan, however, held them to only one TD the entire game and scored four of their own to win the game 28-16. Neither team could get too much going during the game, the only difference being when Michigan did they scored touchdowns as opposed to Penn State who couldn’t force it in. Here are the grades for the Nittany Lions:

Quarterback: C-

Christian Hackenberg did not have much of a game against the Wolverines, completing only 13 of his 31 passes, very few, if any, of which were well placed. He only threw for 137 yards though he did throw Penn State’s only touchdown and didn’t throw an interception. Hackenberg did run for two first downs though, one for 17 yards on a third and 14 near the start of the fourth quarter. When he did throw well it was when he wasn’t under pressure, which was rare.

Running Backs: C

Saquon Barkley started out the game in exactly the way that every Penn State fan has become accustomed to: A 56-yard run to the Michigan 9 yard line. Sadly for Penn State this was his only memorable play of almost the entire game. The Nittany Lions’ running game completely fell apart after that play, unable to push it into the end zone on multiple occasions from short yardage and leading to short field goals. Barkley finished the game with 15 carries for 68 yards.

Wide Receivers: B-

Penn State’s receiving game was below standard too, though it was mostly due to Hackenberg throwing most of the balls off target and the fact that few of the Lions’ drives lasted very long. Chris Godwin led the group with three receptions for 51 yards, though the sole touchdown for the Nittany Lions was scored by Saeed Blacknall on his one catch for 25 yards. The wideouts showed good hands when they had the chance, dropping them rarely and only when the Michigan Defense made great plays.

Tight Ends: C

Penn State’s two main tight ends were virtually unheard of against Michigan. Mike Gesicki caught his only target for nine yards for a first down. Kyle Carter was targeted three times during the game and only reeled in one for five yards. If they spent most of the game blocking, they didn’t do all that great of a job either.

Offensive Line: C-

If there was one thing that Penn State has to really focus on for their future it would be the O-line. They allowed Hackenberg to be sacked four times during the game. Penn State’s  offensive line couldn’t keep the pressure off of Hackenberg, causing him to scramble and eventually throw poor passes. Saquon Barkley also had an incredibly hard time finding holes to run through, causing him to stutter step and get tackled behind the line of scrimmage on most of his carries. If Penn State can build and maintain a strong offensive line in the future there won’t be much stopping the Nittany Lions.

Defense: B

The Penn State defense saved the game from being a blowout but couldn’t keep it to much less than that. They stopped Michigan on several occasions after a rocky first quarter where they couldn’t stop the Wolverines on third down. Highlights on the defensive side included Brandon Bell’s 25-yard interception and his forced and recovered fumble a few drives later.

Special Teams: C-

Tyler Davis made all three of his attempted field goals but considering they were all less than 25 yards in length it would have been surprising if he hadn’t. Joey Julius, who took kickoff duty has gotten better in his accuracy but seems to have sacrificed power for accuracy. Every kickoff was returned starting at about the 10 yard line. Most of the kickoff returns for Michigan were poorly defended and multiple almost went for TDs. Daniel Pasquariello punted six times in the game for an average of 37.5 yards. The play that sealed Penn State’s fate was likely DeAndre Thompkins’ muffed punt on their 9 yard line which resulted in a TD for Michigan a few plays later.

Coaching Staff: D

Yet again the coaching staff were disappointing for Penn State. John Donovan continued to choose run plays when they were evidently not working resulting in tackle for loss after tackle for loss due to either poor blocking or Barkley’s willingness to try and string runs outside. He also only chose to run one wildcat play that would have worked if Hackenberg had made a decent pass. Penn State’s wildcat has worked in the past and would have been smart to use as the game got out of hand. It might be time for Penn State to take a long, hard look at Donovan and decide if he should be their offensive coordinator any longer. James Franklin also didn’t do well game management wise. He called all of the Lions’ timeouts right as his team were gaining momentum or just at unusual points in the game, completely ruining the flow for his own offense at times.

Tommy Butler is a Freshman majoring in film and video. To contact him, write him an email at