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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following A 31-7 Win Over Northwestern

by on October 08, 2017 9:41 AM

Penn State's win over Northwestern looked more or less like every other game the Nittany Lions have played this season. This of course is a good thing and a bad thing for fans. If you were hoping to see points and a dominating defense, you did. If you were hoping to see an improved run game and a handful of Saquon Barkley moments, you didn't.

So it was a variation on the usual theme.

All things considered though there are worse things than a imperfect football team that is scoring 30+ and doing it in different areas each and every week. Outside of the Iowa game, the Nittany Lions have yet to really get pushed to their limits and that's as much a testament to Penn State as a team as it is the opponents.

Those opponents of course, will drastically improve in the coming weeks.

But for now, the grades.

Offense: B-

This another one of those weeks where you can't fault the results but can't ignore the problems. It appears that without much debate that the Nittany Lions can't run the ball between the tackles. Some of this is teams deciding to stop Saquon Barkley and letting the rest of the Penn State offense beat them, some of it is the Nittany Lions' offensive line.

Whatever the case might be, 95 rushing yards with 53 of those coming on one run is problematic. Penn State can get away with it because the Nittany Lions have so many weapons, but it's still an issue. On top of that Penn State's short yardage play book appears to be somewhat limited and slightly predictable. 

But then again Trace McSorley completed 15 straight passes and DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson both caught six passes.

In the end this offense might be best judged by the results and not the form, and it's hard to argue with the results right now. Only time will tell how much those issues bite them in the coming weeks.

Defense: A

A unit that was supposed to be a weakness is turning out to be one of the best defensive units in the nation. Jason Cabinda has been outstanding along with Manny Bowen. The coverage behind them has been even better with Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwariye flying around. Oruwariye managed his third interception of the season and second in as many weeks early on Saturday as Penn State's defense forced three turnovers.

A meaningful improvement since Week 1, Penn State's defensive front is back to getting into the backfield forcing seven tackles for a loss and four sacks.

Northwestern went 5-of-19 on third down and picked up five of its 15 first downs in the fourth quarter.

This defense is elite, and until further notice, the backbone of Penn State's success.

Special Teams: C

Irv Charles had one of the best weeks you can have on special teams against Indiana and struggled with two punt return holding calls on Saturday. Another penalty cost a Thompkins' punt return touchdown and Tyler Davis missed another field goal.

Blake Gillikin was fantastic as usual, but the penalties and kicking woes knock this down a few pegs. This may have just been an off day for a usual sound unit, but the performance on Saturday wasn't up to its usual standard.

Once again, Penn State has to figure out its field goal unit.

Overall: B

31 points and basically a shutout with the first team defense is a difficult performance to critique. But with the goals the Nittany Lions have this year and the opportunities ahead of them, it's hard to ignore a handful of issues. All things considered though this team is tough to beat, scores points and generally doesn't make many mistakes. That's really all you can ask for.

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