Game Grades: Rutgers
Coming into Week 12 ranked No. 8 in the playoff poll and facing 2-8 Rutgers, Penn State and fans alike expected the Nittany Lions to soar to an easy victory. However, the first half proved to be a slow start for the team after racking up three field goals and failing to pick up any touchdowns.
After shaking off simple mistakes in the first half, the Nittany Lions turned things around and shined in the second half, grasping their seventh straight win and pushing one game closer to a potential berth in the Big Ten Conference title game.
Here are the grades for Penn State’s matchup against the Scarlett Knights:
Trace McSorley continued to handle his position with poise in Week 12, but displayed some struggle in pass completions during the first half. He scanned for options like a professional and in typical style, ran the ball himself with confidence when necessary. However, the redshirt sophomore struggled in the execution of his throws going 17 for 33. Penn State suffered from missed opportunities that could have resulted in potential touchdowns in the first half due to throws from McSorely that were a good idea, but resulted in nothing due to failed connections with intended receivers. McSorely has the right idea when it comes to his executions, but needs to relax in the pocket for a little longer in order to connect with receivers and secure crucial catches. In spite of first half struggles, he still ran the ball for a total of 55 yards himself and threw for a total of 210 yards, which is why he receives an A- for this week.
Running Backs: A-
After remaining silent for much of the first half, the run game proved to be pivotal in the second half. Barkley ran for 92 yards in this game, which is a mere average for the star running back. However, the sophomore running back delivered the first touchdown of the game for the Nittany Lions and continued to turn to his athleticism when needed. Other key running backs stepped up in this matchup as well and displayed that the run game has plenty of depth to execute and make crucial plays. Sophomore Andre Robinson showed tremendous ability, powering through opponents and securing the Nittany Lions’ second touchdown of the game. True freshman Miles Sanders boosted the second half run game as well racking up 85 total yards while sophomore Mark Allen showed that although he may be tiny at 5’6”, he is a fighter. Allen consistently broke tackles and pushed for every yard he could get in this game. His fourth quarter touchdown proved that even without Barkley, Penn State’s run game could still excel.
Wide Receivers: B+
The first half was an uphill battle for receivers as incomplete passes and a lack of separation from defenders to create openings defined how much of the first two quarters played out. Similar to the run game, the pass game became much more available in the second half as McSorley was able to connect with key receivers such as sophomore DeAndre Thompkins and junior DaeSean Hamilton. Thompkins finished the game with four receptions for a total of 40 yards while Hamilton finished with two receptions for a total of 35 yards. Junior Chris Godwin was also a crucial asset for the pass game in the second half, finishing with three receptions for a total of 36 yards. Penn State picked up a total of 210 yards passing in this matchup that mainly resulted from key connections made in the second half.
Tight Ends: B+
Gesicki did what he had to do in this game making key catches when needed. He struggled to connect with McSorely for a majority of the first half but was able to step it up in the second gaining key yardage and a couple of first downs for the Nittany Lions. Gesicki has been a crucial component to the team’s offense week after week as the offense continues to look for him during key plays or when the receivers just aren’t quite open. Gesicki played well in this matchup, walking away with five receptions for 47 yards and tying the Penn State receptions record for a tight end in a single season at 41 receptions.
Offensive Line: C+
The offensive line proved inadequate in this matchup as they continued to fall short on securing the line. McSorely certainly felt the pressure in the first half from the Rutgers defense as the offensive line failed to hold back defenders for a sufficient amount of time, limiting the quarterback’s ability to find open receivers. This resulted in McSorely having to run the ball himself or scramble to find open receivers. The second half proved a more solid performance from the offensive line as they pushed against the defense with more passion that allowed the run game to emerge and presented McSorely with the ability to execute on the pass game. With an offensive line made up of many young players, it’s understandable that it’s going to take time to transform them to a higher degree of protection and aggression and for that reason, the offensive line receives a C+ this week.
After a botched catch on the first kick off of the game, Penn State redeemed themselves through a solid defense that stopped the Scarlet Knights from executing on the opportunity. The defense remained strong throughout the first half and continued their momentum into the second half as well. Sophomore Ryan Bates proved to be key in this game delivering explosive tackles and making key stops that halted the Scarlet Knight’s run game. Senior Brandon Bell also picked up five tackles against the Rutgers’ offense and a sack in the second half as well. The defense ended the matchup with a total of 11 tackles for loss and proved to be a major component in Penn State’s 39-0 victory.
Special Teams: B+
Okay, so freshman running back Miles Sanders’ dropped kickoff at the beginning of the game didn’t start things off well for special teams. However, Penn State recuperated from their first-half mistakes and delivered when needed in the second half. Kicker Tyler Davis took control of the first half for special teams making three field goals for the Nittany Lions and boosting the score to 9-0 at halftime. A blocked punt by true sophomore Juwan Johnson set the mood for the Nittany Lions’ second half performance and provided them with the energy they needed to finish strong. Joey Julius continued to live up to his nickname “Big Toe” by delivering flawless kickoffs that gained good field position for Penn State’s defense. However, special teams receive a B+ this week for simple missed tackles on kickoffs and Sanders’ dropped kickoff return that could have ended much worse for the Nittany Lions.
I thought the coaching staff did very well with play calling in this matchup. They were smart with their decisions made and read situations well such as choosing to go for it on fourth and inches in the first quarter. Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry made all the right calls in the matchup, putting the defense in key position to deliver enough pressure on the Scarlet Knights and shut down both their pass and run game. Joe Moorehead continues to be an excellent asset for this team as well, making good calls in regards to the offensive side of things. Head coach James Franklin did a great job letting Moorhead take control of Penn State’s offense against the Scarlet Knight’s defense, and trust like that has proved to be a big factor as to why the offense has shined this season. One thing I would have liked to see more from Moorhead in the first half was more of a spread offense that would have created more openings for the run game, but overall I felt as if the coaching staff did an excellent job staying calm and collected throughout the entire game.
Ellie French is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.