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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades As Nittany Lions Fall 21-17 To Michigan State

by on October 14, 2018 11:45 AM

Well it happened again and Penn State made it two straight losses and two straight close games against Big Ten teams that didn't go the Nittany Lions way. For a while it didn't look all bad as Penn State was able to move the ball on the ground against the nation's best rush defense and Trace McSorley looked sharp to match it.

But then as the game worse on so did Penn State, an offensive attack that failed to keep drives going, a defense that played well enough but stayed on the field too long and couldn't quite stop the Spartans on the game-winning drive despite a few great chances to do so.

It was more of the same in many ways, a close game against  good opponent turning into a loss. This time though it wasn't raining and there was no delay to blame. The twist this time? Where Penn State played well enough to beat Ohio State, the Nittany Lions looked out of sorts on Saturday and only have themselves to blame.

Offense: C-

You can blame the offense, you can blame the defense, but for my money a bad offensive performance (quick drives, short drives) plays into a tired defense more than the other way around. Penn State is now 6-for-31 on third down over the past two games and while its racked up 205 yards on the ground, most all of it was in the first half. Miles Sanders looked to have a promising day, but his first half 78-yard run and a nearly 50-yard touchdown scamper were about the only good things that happened all day on the ground. Good plays, but not a consistent attack.

Trace McSorley wasn't himself and while he didn't throw any interceptions a strip-sack killed a promising drive. KJ Hamler did catch a touchdown pass but was otherwise held in check most of the game.

In short this group was okay, but it couldn't put together drives when it needed to, couldn't run the ball and couldn't reliably pass. So in short it couldn't do much at all. And against a team that was supposed to be prone to giving up plays through the air that just won't cut it.

Defense: C

Two different dropped interceptions would have ended the game which hurt the grade off the bat. Penn State gave up the game-winning drive, but all in all this defensive group was the best of the three units on Saturday. At some point it can only do so much. Garrett Taylor was outstanding in the secondary with six tackles and a whopping five passes broken up, but he too was guilty of an interception drop late i the game.

You could knock this grade down farther if you believe the defense should have made a stop late in the game, but this group isn't deep enough to last a full four quarters with an offense that isn't scoring. So some of the blame goes on the defense, but more of it is on the offense in this case. Until the Nittany Lions are deeper and more experienced on defense, Penn State has to win games with points, not four quarters of grinding football.

Special Teams: D

Aside from Blake Gillikin who averaged 45.5 yards a punt on Saturday, this unit couldn't do much right. Michigan State nearly pulled off two fake special teams plays on a week Penn State knew they were coming. The return game was non existent, the first trick play turned the game and the second was inches from the same yet again. Add in Jake Pinegar missing another field goal from a testy but makable 37-yards out and it's hard to know what this group is good at. Well maybe it's kickoffs.

Trick play aside this group isn't why Penn State lost, but the grade is low because this group has dropped off so far from where it was a year or two ago.

Overall: C

Could this grade be lower? Yes. But at the end of the day this team should have won, it should have caught one of those interceptions. But it didn't. The defense played well most of the game, the offense didn't, special teams is a liability. There was good and there was bad, but all told you can only punish an average team for being average so much. So the grade is average.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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