Game Grades: Penn State vs Northwestern

Opinion/Story posted September 28, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by Mike Carnuccio

Quarterback: F

As the quarterback at any level, there are two things you must do to succeed in the league. First, you have to be able to throw the football accurately and affectively. And second, you must trust your offensive line. Without these, it’s very difficult to find success.

Christian Hackenberg lacked in both of these areas on Saturday, contributing to an onslaught from a struggling 1-2 Northwestern team. Hackenberg completed less than 50% of his passes and threw a critical pick six to open the fourth quarter. The Nittany Lions expect more from their quarterback and they need more if they want to compete in their upcoming games.

Running Backs: C

It may seem harsh, but the only reason the running backs were not given a worse grade is because they were not given the plays or the blocking to have any chance of succeeding. Lynch and Zwinak barely touched the ball. Meanwhile when Belton did get an opportunity, multiple Northwestern players often met him behind the line of scrimmage. Belton hurt the running backs more by failing to come back to a poorly thrown ball by his quarterback. Hackenberg was having a tough day and Belton needed to take a step back and help his quarterback out.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C+

As a collection, the receivers and tight ends did the best job of any position. Jesse James had an outstanding one handed catch as he turned to find the ball by his ear. DaeSean Hamilton was the one bright spot for the Nittany Lions producing most of the yards on offense, especially through his fight for a tough 50-yard bomb from Hackenberg between two defenders. However, Geno Lewis struggled mightily, dropping three passes including a challenging throw from Hackenberg in the end zone. Also, the receivers must work on getting open quicker, especially given the lack of time Hackenberg typically has to throw.

Offensive Line: F

It is challenging to say anything positive about the offensive line in this game. After creating 5 rushing touchdowns and 228 yards on the ground a week prior against Umass, the line failed to create any running space as Belton only ran for 25 yards. They did give Hackenberg some time to throw at times. However, when you are facing a Northwestern team who had surrendered 335 yards on the ground and 594 in the air in their first two games, you have to win the battle up front. The line is constructed of three sophomores who need to make a drastic change before their game at Michigan.

Defensive Line: C

Ultimately, the defensive line did not do its job. First, the front four started slow, failing to put any pressure on Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian on the first two drives. They did come up with some sacks and began to stuff the run from the second quarter on. However, they could not stop the Wildcats from entering the end zone on two key third downs from the one-yard line. Those are plays where the bigger team should win. Strangely, the bigger team lost upfront from both ends on Saturday.


Did anyone else begin to question the strength of the Nittany Lion secondary as Trevor Siemian cut a pass directly through the defense for the fifth time? The defensive backs would work hard to create productive stops on first and second down, only to concede a 30-yard pass play down the seam on third down. The one highlight for this group was Mike Hull’s frightening tackle on a Wildcat fake field goal attempt. It looked as if the runner would enter the end zone, only to find Hull on top of him, back at the 4-yard line.

Special Teams: C-

The special teams did not make much of a mark in this one. Jesse Dell Valle did have an electric return to the Northwestern 30-yard line, one of the few highlights of the game for the Nitanny Lions. Unfortunately, the coverage did not do a good job of keeping the Wildcats inside their own 40 on kickoffs. Sam Ficken had another field goal blocked, similar to the one against Rutgers. Meanwhile, Grant Haley was returning kickoffs from deep inside the Penn State end zone only to reach 15-yard line. He cost the team ten yards on each of those plays, when he could have easily taken a knee placing them at the 25.

Coaching Staff: F

This was easily the roughest aspect of Penn State’s team on Saturday. As a coaching staff, you are not only rated by how you make adjustments week by week, but more importantly, how you adjust at half time. Franklin and the staff have truly struggled to improve each week. Yes, they ran over UMass, but they were favored by 28 points, it was what they were supposed to do. Saturday was definitely a step back in terms of sloppiness of play from the team, and that is on the coaches. They also failed to make any substantial adjustments at halftime. The offense started moving a little more and the defense started creating some three-and-outs, but only small changes to the game plan were evident. They continued to ignore the run and simply throw, throw, throw with Hackenberg. This grade may seem highly critical, but it is coming from someone who expects much more from the coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

(Photo credit: AP Photo/York Daily Record, Jason Plotkin)

Mike Carnuccio is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. You can contact him by emailing