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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following A 27-24 Loss To Kentucky

by on January 02, 2019 9:45 AM

ORLANDO, Fla.- Penn State's season ended with a Citrus Bowl loss as the Nittany Lions fell 27-24 to Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon. At 9-4 Penn State falls just shy of winning 10 games for a third straight season. It was a defensive battle and a special teams disaster for much of the game until Trace McSorley and a bad foot tried one final time to turn certain defeat into a miracle victory.

But it wasn't to be.

Not everything was bad, but plenty was the same old story and a month off seemingly did little to improve things in the execution department. So here are the grades, if you have the stomach for them.

Offense: C

Penn State had 410 yards of offense and 24 points, but a 4-of-14 rate on third down hurts this grade, as well as a fairly awful first half performance. The Nittany Lions faced seven third down attempts requiring nine or more yards and gave up four sacks on the down. Only two third downs required fewer than five yards.

Trace McSorley ended the night 17-for-33 for 246 yards and two touchdowns as well as an interception. It wasn't his best game, but his second half was about the only reason Penn State had a chance by the end of the game. So if you're going to knock this grade, it isn't really because of him, even if he had his flaws.

All told, Penn State hit 164 yards on the ground, but no single running back had a great outing. Miles Sanders managed 51 yards and a 13-yard scamper on a key third down gave Penn State life late in the game.

This grade is really the culmination of only playing well for half of the game. The second half was what this offense can be, the first half was what is largely has been. The grade is average because the performance was average. The gutsy performance by McSorley is worth an A of its own. Penn State also outgunned Kentucky in the yard department 181-36 in the fourth quarter.

Defense: B+

If you were going to make a long list of the reasons why Penn State lost would the defense be on it? Yes, but... this group did what it was supposed to far more often than not. Pretty much the story of the season. Kentucky handed out some good punches, but holding the Wildcats to a field goal after the fake punt and playing lights out for most of the second half was about all fans could ask for. The Nittany Lions couldn't get a stop late, but it's hard to point the finger there in the long run.

Micah Parsons looked the part again with 13 tackles and Garrett Taylor continued to be reliable with 10 of his own. Kevin Givens added two sacks. Kentucky was also 3-of-14 on third down.

End of the day, this bunch did what it has done all year: made enough stops to win, sometimes just needing one more.

Special Teams: F

  • Blocked field goal
  • Missed field goal
  • Kentucky punt return touchdown
  • Failed early fake punt

It sort of speaks for itself. This group also gets an F because this is pretty normal at this point.

Overall: C

It's basically the fourth quarter and an otherwise acceptable defensive outing that saves this grade. Add in a pretty subpar offensive first half and whatever you want to call that special team's performance and welcome to a C grade. It probably should be worse, but if you almost win and score 24 points, there are worse games out there.

Worth being said, if you had a month to prepare for that first half, that's a look-in-the-mirror moment.

Also of note, prior to the Rose Bowl two years ago, 24 points would have been in a three-way tie for the most points Penn State has scored in a bowl loss.

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