Game Grades: Penn State vs. Pitt

Story posted September 10, 2016 in CommRadio, Sports by Tommy Butler

The Penn State Nittany Lions could not quite overcome their poor first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, losing the game 42-39.

Penn State went down by 14 at the end of a forgettable half. The Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to get the ball moving consistently on offense and couldn’t slow the Panthers’ run game down while on defense.

Coming back out for the second half, both teams traded scores. Penn State looked to be in position to score a touchdown and win or kick a field goal and send it to overtime with two minutes left in the game. The Nittany Lion’s hopes were crushed when Trace McSorley was picked off in the end zone for his first and only big mistake of the game.

Here are the game grades for Penn State’s performance in Saturday’s game:

Quarterback: B+

In his first start away from home, redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley was one of the most consistent players wearing white in the game. McSorley went 24-35 with 332 yards, a touchdown, and the interception. McSorley hit his men more often than not when throwing deep downfield. These deep throws were key in getting the Penn State team down the field and keeping the game as close as they did. Trace did a great job of staying calm in the pocket and had great awareness. His only mistake was trying to force a touchdown with two minutes left in the game, the ball close to field goal range, and two downs to work with. Penn State fans should be very excited to see his future stats for when he fully settles into his starting role.

Running Back: A

This Penn State team would not have had a chance in this game if it wasn’t for yet another incredible performance from Saquon Barkley. Barkley rushed 20 times for 85 yards and four touchdowns including one where he dove over the pile of linemen on the one yard line. He scored all five touchdowns for Penn State, the fifth coming from a 40 yard catch and run. He did fumble the ball once, but it lead to a missed field goal for Pitt. Barkley, a true sophomore, is one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. This performance may bring him into the conversations about best backs in the NCAA.

Wide Receivers: B+

DaeSean Hamilton is the receiver everybody expects to be on the top of the stat list when the final whistle blows, and receptions wise, he does lead with eight for 82 yards. Hamilton was McSorley’s go-to man in the game, almost winning the game himself before dropping a deep ball downfield. An almost unknown wide-out, DeAndre Thompkins, took the highest receiving yards total in the game with 3 receptions for 87 yards. Thompkins, a sophomore with only four receptions for 76 yards in his career, made a name for himself in this game, catching all three for big gains. His second catch of the game went for 39 yards to the Pitt 2 on a well contested one handed catch. Chris Godwin also played well, catching four passes for 36 yards.

Tight End: B+

Mike Gesicki showed a side of himself that many Penn State fans hadn’t seen him show well before: his hands. Gesicki hauled in four of his five targets for 47 yards. A couple of the passes weren’t very well placed but the big tight end found a way to bring them in. The one ball he didn’t catch would have been a touchdown, but still got Penn State a first down thanks to the pass interference from Pitt defensive back Avonte Maddox.  With a minute left in the first half Gesicki almost scored on a 24 yard pass from McSorley before being brought down at the Pitt 1.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line did their job well, keeping McSorley on his feet and paving the way for Barkley. The line is definitely one of the biggest improvements to this Penn State team since last year, only allowing their quarterback to be sacked four times in the game, still not great but a big improvement from years past. Their protection was a huge reason why McSorley had time to throw such good passes down the field, as well as why Barkley could push it in from short. They do need practice on the blitz, but it’s certainly looking up for Penn State’s linemen.

Defense: D+

Penn State’s Defense had a terrible game until pretty late in the second half. They never seemed able to stop Pitt’s running attack, led by James Conner. The Defense gave up 341 rushing yards in the game and three rushing touchdowns. Most of the yards came from long rushing plays in the first half, six different players ran for more than 15 yard carries in the game. They did play a vital role in bringing the Blue and White back into it in the second half, but seeing the final score that doesn’t count for much. The defense has to realize that they won’t win any more games this year playing the way they did in this one.

Special Teams: B+

The Nittany Lions’ special teams unit played very well to keep Pitt in poor field position to start as often as possible. Tyler Davis stayed perfect, completing his one field goal and finishing all four of his extra points. Blake Gillikin punted five times with a long of 69 yards, twice he got the ball inside the Pitt 10 yard line. Joey Julius did a good job as well, kicking off six times for three touchbacks. The big mistake by the special teams came on a kickoff that was returned 84 yards to set up a touchdown for Pitt. Penn State did well returning too, thanks to John Reid, Miles Sanders and Nick Scott. John Reid returned a punt for 59 yards in the first quarter, leading to Penn State’s first TD of the game. Miles Sanders and Nick Scott both had two kick returns and averaged over 20 yards per return.

Coaching Staff: B-

The coaching staff called a good game, once they got control of their team in the second half. They made very good play calls in clutch situations, notably the fourth down that Penn State converted near the end of the game. The coaches certainly need to work on getting the team to start as strong as they play at the end of the game. Looking at the team stats, both teams were very even. Penn State actually had more first downs and fewer penalties. Turnovers is what lost them the game at the end. The final interception wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t for the two Pitt touchdowns that were handed to them after Penn State fumbles. The team is still getting used to the new offense under Joe Moorhead, leading to the difficult start in the last few games. Look for this team to continue to improve throughout the season.


Tommy Butler is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email