Game Grades: Penn State vs. Kent State

Story posted September 5, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Zach Seyko

Penn State overcame a slow start to take down the visiting Kent State Golden Flashes by a final score of 33-13 in the home opener.

After a quiet first quarter, the Nittany Lions exploded onto the scene with the electric offense they lacked in previous years and the stout defense that has dominated games in the past.

Fans saw the beginning of a new era at quarterback and were treated to the continuation of the spectacular play from sophomore running back Saquon Barkley.

Here are the final grades for Blue & White’s performance from Saturday’s action:

Quarterback: B+

The seemingly never-ending Christian Hackenberg era is finally over, and redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley is in the driver’s seat. McSorley could not get the ball rolling until the second quarter, but showed what he was capable of once he settled in. McSorley looked extremely comfortable in the pocket and had the awareness of a veteran player. McSorley was able to elude opposing pass rushers, find open receivers and read what the Kent State defense was giving him. While McSorley remained composed, he was inaccurate at times, completing just over 50% of his passes, but part of those came from dropped passes. McSorley is the type of quarterback that head coach James Franklin needed to finish the offensive scheme as he fits the mold perfectly.

Running Back: A-

Barkley came out firing and did not miss a beat in his first game of the 2016 campaign. The true sophomore rushed for 105 yards and reached the end zone. Barkley has the best vision of any running back in the NCAA. He was quick with his cuts and evaded defenders with ease. The running game took a lot of pressure away from McSorley’s starting debut as Kent State was forced to respect Barkley. It was disappointing not to see freshman Miles Sanders get involved in the offensive action. In addition, Andre Robinson received one carry for a loss of two. Barkley is a great back, but he needs a supporting cast to provide rest in the future.

Wide Receiver : C+

The wide receivers have a lot of hype surrounding their group and for good reason. The starting wide outs, who were once highly touted recruits, are now seasoned veterans. Juniors Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall and redshirt junior DaeSean Hamilton are excellent targets for McSorley to have, but failed at times to help out their quarterback. Drops and poor route running plagued the Nittany Lions early in the game, and the chemistry developed progressively throughout the game. Godwin displayed the best performance hauling in seven catches for 67 yards, but Hamilton and Blacknall combined for only four catches.

Tight End: C

Franklin has said in the past that tight ends are not an integral part in his offensive scheme. It is understandable that Junior Mike Gesicki did not accumulate many targets, but he was not able to do much with those targets. Gesicki dropped a nice ball from McSorley early in the game and could not adjust to an off balance pass from his quarterback on the run later in the contest. Gesicki finished the game with three receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown, but that score came late in the game during what I think of as garbage time.

Offensive Line: B+

This is not the same offensive line that saw Hackenberg taken to the ground numerous times. This offensive line had an identity and fought hard in the trenches. They paved the way for Barkley and provided escape lanes when McSorley saw pressure. Their biggest miscue came in the first quarter when a pass rusher came free and hit McSorley from behind to force a fumble recovery and Kent State touchdown. It was impressive to see the O-line bounce back from their only sack allowed and play stellar for the remainder of the game.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line seemed not to miss departed players in Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib. They recorded seven sacks and hurried the passer nearly every play that he dropped back to pass. The reason I cannot grade them higher is due to their failure to contain the quarterback when he scrambled. Kent State quarterback Mylik Mitchell was able to extend plays with his feet and escape collapsing pockets more often than he should have. Aside from that, Garrett Sickels and company was in the face of the quarterback many times.

Linebacker: C+

The linebacker unit allowed the Golden Flashes to rush for 150 yards on 41 attempts, but still made an impact. Too often, Kent State runners were breaking off solid runs into the secondary and giving the run stoppers fits. The linebackers made their mark in the pass defense by batting down balls and securing an interception courtesy of Brandon Bell to end a long Kent State drive in the third quarter.

Secondary: A

The secondary turned in quite a performance. Forced turnovers and tight coverage defined Penn State’s defensive backs in Saturday’s game. Junior safety Marcus Allen recovered a fumble in the second quarter to set up Barkley’s touchdown. Sophomore corner Amani Oruwariye left his mark in the beginning of the second half picking off Justin Agner and returning it for a touchdown to give Penn State a 23-13 lead.

Special Teams: B+

Let’s start with true freshman punter Blake Gillikin. Gillikin put Penn State’s ugly punting history to rest with an excellent performance. The freshman landed two punts inside the 20 and recorded 58-yard kick. In addition, punt and kick coverage teams stormed the field to prevent any sort of return game that Kent State had to offer. Joey Julius sent the Happy Valley crowd and Internet into frenzy when he laid out a Golden Flash return man on a kickoff. Redshirt junior kicker Tyler Davis converted all of his kicks, which included two field goals and three extra points.

Coaching Staff: C+

As mentioned before, Kent State provided quite a few issues for the Nittany Lions. The Golden Flashes had a respectable running game and slowed down Penn State early in the game. The play calling was boring and too conservative from the start, but then the offense opened up once the team found their groove. Penn State cannot skate by teams like Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

Overall: B-

Penn State’s performance was dominant because Kent State is a lackluster team. Looking at the bigger picture, I am a little concerned, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am going to give credit where it is due. Blue & White has talent and looks comfortable on both sides of the ball, but they need a challenging opponent to truly test them. The Pittsburgh Panthers may not be Ohio State, but traveling to Heinz Field in a feisty environment of a past rivalry could cause some problems. Right now, Penn State has all the right pieces, but can they make them fit together when they meet adversity?


Zach Seyko is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communication arts & sciences. To contact him, email