Citrus Bowl Game Grades
The 2018 Penn State season came to an end on a sunny day in Orlando on New Year’s Day. As the world rung in 2019, the Nittany Lions could not ring in a win to cap off this year’s campaign. Twelfth-ranked Penn State fell to 14th-ranked Kentucky 27-24 in the Citrus Bowl. Let’s look at each unit and hand out grades for their performances in the season finale.
Penn State’s offense limped out of the gates and saw themselves put up just seven first-half points. To add to that, quarterback Trace McSorley was dinged up once again, something that has become a reoccurring theme for the senior quarterback in the second half of the season.
Sean Clifford went 0 of 2 in relief of McSorley, who reportedly suffered a broken foot in this game. McSorley returned late in the third quarter with Penn State down 27-7, but the quarterback would not go down easy in his final collegiate contest.
McSorley led Penn State to two fourth-quarter touchdowns with one coming on a pass to freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth and another coming on a McSorley keeper. Tight end Nick Bowers also caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter. Miles Sanders rushed 13 times for 51 yards in what could be his last game with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State’s offensive resurgence was too little too late, as after a field goal cut the lead to 27-24, the Nittany Lions could not get the ball back on offense, outside of a lateral attempt with one second left.
Performance aside, McSorley was not going to let an injury keep him out of his last game with Penn State. The quarterback who has been counted out his entire life was not going to go down easy. In his final game, McSorley went out the only way he knows how to, with a fight.
The Penn State defense had a very up and down game. They started very strong, giving up only three points in the first half, but surrendered 17 in the third quarter, nearly putting the game out of reach.
They had some key stops in the fourth quarter that allowed Penn State to cut the lead from 27-7 to 27-24, but could not get Penn State the ball back at the end of the game. Kentucky phenom running back Benny Snell totaled 144 yards on 26 carries against Penn State’s defense, adding two touchdowns.
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson was held to 121 yards on 9-of-15 passing. It was mainly in the running game where Penn State’s defense was taxed. But, taking out the punt return touchdown and the Nittany Lion’s defense only surrendered 20 points.
This unit took a huge leap forward this season and has a very bright future in Happy Valley. Penn State’s defense has the potential to be an elite unit next season with tons of young stars on that side of the ball.
Special Teams: D
It was an overall abysmal day for Penn State’s special teams, and their performance is one of the big reasons why Penn State lost this game. The first drive of the game saw Penn State fake a punt which was unsuccessful and put Kentucky in pristine field position.
Penn State also allowed a punt return touchdown and kicker Jake Pinegar missed two field goals, with one of them being blocked. The only positive for Penn State’s special teams was a 71-yard punt from Blake Gillikin.
There were a lot of things that could be questioned today when it comes to coaching decisions for Penn State. The offense was pedestrian for much of the first three quarters and you wonder how much of that circles back to play calling.
Also, there was the fake punt, but the decision that will be talked about the most is deciding to kick a field goal with just over four minutes to go to cut Kentucky’s lead to 27-24. If Penn State converts and scores there, then they jump ahead by one. But, they kicked, and the defense could not get a stop.
Hindsight will always be 20/20 when judging that, and if the defense gets a stop, then James Franklin might look like a genius. The defense was playing well at the time, but it is hard to justify taking the ball out of your best players hands, again.
There was a lot of criticism of Penn State’s coaching this season, and with a lot of talent coming in, Franklin and company are going to need to pull out some big wins next year to calm their critics.
Jake Starr is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism