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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades As Nittany Lions Fall 42-7 To Michigan

by on November 04, 2018 10:45 AM

Yes we still have to do these — the grades, a morning-after assessment of Penn State's performance on the field and how the Nittany Lions stacked up against one of the best teams in the nation.

As you might imagine, given the nature of the score and your ability to evaluate football like everyone else, Penn State didn't look so good.

But that's not to say everything was bad, in fact there were a few slivers of good if you squinted. At the end of the day though, it wasn't such a great evening for the Nittany Lions, but the loss and the nature of the loss, wasn't a huge shock.

Here are the grades.

Offense: D

Sure, Michigan's defense is good, but Penn State's offense couldn't do much of anything against it. The Nittany Lions were 2-for-11 on third down. They looked without purpose or reasons. Trace McSorley completed five passes all day and sailed a sure touchdown pass over wide-open DeAndre Thompkins' head. Miles Sanders had seven carries for 14 yards and was a non-factor in the passing game. Nothing worked and Penn State had no answers to that problem.

It would have been one thing if Michigan was killing drives and making good plays, but Penn State got in its own way just as much and an average of 8.3 yards needed on third-down wasn't helping the cause.

Two bright spots: Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth, who made five combined catches and looked the most eager of the Nittany Lions to be on the field Saturday. Even that, though, speaks to the quality of the afternoon when the best thing the offense had going for it were two guys who made the bulk of their plays in the first half.

You might be able to tuck Tommy Stevens in there with his 87-yards of offense, but even he didn't exactly look like a world beater playing in a game that was essentially already over.

In a lot of ways the issues Penn State had on Saturday were not new, but they were magnified so much by a team that was able to exploit every single weakness this unit has. The grade is bad because the offense was bad, and no matter how good Michigan might be, only so much of that blame/credit falls on the Wolverines. You can't want to be elite and blame everyone else when you're not.

Defense: C+

Sure, 42 points, a long night and an even longer flight home, but Penn State's defense is doing its part and can only do it for so long. Penn State held Michigan to 14 points in the first half, a number that should have been good enough on the road. If the offense scores once, twice, maybe even moves the ball, the second half could have panned out differently.

But that's not what happened, and eventually Penn State's defense began to fold. A 13-play, 90-yard drive all but finished the job at 21-0. 

Certainly this group has areas it needs to work on. It lost players in coverage, Koa Farmer keeps looking slightly in over his head and Penn State doesn't have a great answer at linebacker in games where an opponent is able to pound the ball between the tackles. The defensive ends were sucked in deep on Shea Patterson's read-options and Patterson had no contain to deal with on a handful of his longest carries.

Jan Johnson led the way with 10 tackles, Micah Parsons didn't look overwhelmed by the moment and Garrett Taylor continues to be a force in the secondary with a nose for the ball.

On the laundry list of reasons Penn State lost, you have to include the defense, but it's not the thing that needs fixing, so it's not the thing that gets the lowest grade.

Special Teams: D

Is this even a surprise anymore? Penn State's special teams found a way on Saturday do things it shouldn't have. To be fair this group has looked worse, but that's not exactly a compliment. A blocked field goal return ended up coming back due to a penalty but given the nature of those plays it doesn't knock the grade down. The near delay of game though, the bad punts, the lack of returns, a long Michigan return to start the second half — all of those things hurt.

This group is simply a weakness on a team that once found a lot of pride in its ability to swing the game with special teams. Those days are gone. There's no need to beat a dead horse over it.

Overall: C-

It would be one thing if Penn State just lost. It happens. Even getting blown out happens. But Penn State looked like a team without a direction, a sideline struggling with the basics and mistakes popping up that in theory, should have been addressed weeks ago. I don't think Penn State entered unprepared. Losing doesn't mean you weren't prepared, but the nature of how things unfolded and the continuation of season-long weaknesses are the eyebrow raising moments.

A small positive, in a place that doesn't often see this, or at least it doesn't often feel this way: Michigan had twice as many penalties as Penn State.

There might be wiggle room in the margins for how you place blame and who you place it on, but end of the day Penn State got blown out 42-7 and looked awful in the process. It is what it is.

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