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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following A 27-26 Loss To Ohio State

by on September 30, 2018 10:30 AM

It is probably not a stretch to say you the fan would rather not talk about last night's 27-26 loss to Ohio State But it was ultimately just the fifth game of the season coming in the final few days of September with miles and miles of the 2018 season left to be played.

Did a late defeat to Ohio State hurt the Nittany Lions' biggest hopes for the year? Yes, but there is a lot of football still to come and plenty to evaluate as Penn State keeps plugging away in the Big Ten. A slate of games against Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin will give the Nittany Lions plenty of chances to pick up quality wins, not to mention a trip to Ann Arbor not too far around the corner.

So with that in mind, here are the grades. 

Offense: C

26 points, nearly 500 yards of offense against Ohio State are difficult things to ignore. Penn State moved the ball with a ease at times last night and looked the better team for good portions of the game. This grade is hurt really by two separate but similar things: the Nittany Lions going 3-of-17 on third down, and a failure to finish early drives with points in the first half. This was a game that felt like Penn State could have been up 17-7 at the half but between oddly timed usages of the Tommy Stevens package and once again poorly timed drops by receivers hurt more than the good plays helped.

Trace McSorley had 175 yards rushing and 286 yards passing on one of his most workman-like nights of his career but it wasn't enough. Miles Sanders was quiet with 43 yards on 16 carries and Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk were inconsistent catching the ball beyond Juwan's amazing one-handed grab.

Simply put this group did a lot of good and did a lot it would like to have back. In the context of playing Ohio State this was one of the better overall offensive performances against the Buckeyes, but Penn State got in its own way early more than Ohio State did and that hurts the grade.

Defense: B+

Considering this group gave up 24 points in the first half to Illinois last week and then proceeded to give up 27 points to the No.2 ranked offense in the nation, it's hard to find much fault with the steps forward this unit made in such a short span. For three quarters the Nittany Lions managed to work with limited defensive tackle depth, stay in their gaps, get to the quarterback and play fairly good coverage in the secondary. Penn State's defense was doing everything asked of it and more for most of the game.

Maybe it was adjustments or tired legs or both, but the wheels slowly fell off in the fourth quarter as Penn State's biggest demons, open-field tackling, and a sudden inability to defend the screen, led to two pivotal Ohio State scoring drives.

Shareef Miller and Koa Farmer both had strong nights while Cam Brown played one of his more complete games at linebacker and Micah Parsons is starting to look the part as well. Ohio State was only 4-of-17 on third down and 389 yards of offense was a modest result for this offense. It's hard to ignore that final quarter, but equally true, if Penn State's offense had finished a few early drives it might not have mattered as much.

All in all there are things to criticize with this defense, but considering where it was seven days ago, it's hard to discredit the improvements.

Special Teams: C-

While he eventually got off a few booming punts, Blake Gillikin wasn't his usual self for much of the game with a few less than stellar punts. None of them were bad enough to really matter, but you can't give someone a good grade if they weren't that good. Jake Pinegar continues to seem promising at kicker but his miss and his general inconsistency makes him less than a reliable asset in a game and on a schedule that will need him to be.

The return game was non existent but equally true the coverage was good for Penn State and Rafael Checa continues to be a deep kickoff/touchback weapon.

In a series that has turned on so many special teams plays, there is something to be said for this group not actually making any massive and critical errors, but it was a below average night, and ultimately that missed kicked hurt the cause as much as anything else did on Saturday night. 

Overall: B

This game is going to be remembered for that final fourth-down play, but Penn State played well enough to beat a good Ohio State team most all of the night. How well the defense played for three quarters, 26 points on the board and Trace McSorley's brilliance when it mattered most help this grade. You could make an argument it should be lower, but if you told any fan Penn State would have a fourth-quarter lead and both teams would have less than 30 points on the board after how the first four weeks of the season, every single one would have taken that situation. This game will sting the program for a good long while, but that doesn't mean Penn State played poorly.

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