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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following Loss To Georgia

by on January 03, 2016 6:00 AM


This is a tough grade largely due to the fact Penn State lost Hackenberg fairly early in the game. By the time Hackenberg was knocked out of the contest early in the second quarter he had amassed a decent starting box score of 8-of-14 for 139 yards and a few drops mixed in there. A tipped pass by Saquon Barkley that turned interception certainly looked to be a scoring drive ended prematurely.

After settling down in the second half Trace McSorley had a respectable  outing of 14-for-27 for 142 yards and 2 scores. It's hard to be overly critical of McSorley considering the circumstance and to his credit he made enough plays to get Penn State in a position to tie and/or win the game. It didn't happen but the fact it could have happened is a positive considering the 24-3 deficit.

Some of that plays into a 4-of-18 conversion rate on third down and a bizarrely productive 4-of-6 mark on fourth down. 401 yards of offense was also effective and Barkley and Chris Godwin both had expected outings with Barkley picking up 69 yards on the ground while Godwin hauled in six catches for 133 yards. Godwin became just the fourth receiver in Penn State history to break to 1,000 yard mark.

The offensive line though continued to struggle, largely limiting Barkley's effectiveness and doing little to protect either quarterback for long against a strong defensive front. Brandon Polk's decision to go wide on a jet sweep ended up being a costly mistake for the overall outcome of Penn State's first drive and a few drops didn't help the cause either.

All told this was far from the worst Penn State has looked on offense and the worst moments had more to do with a McSorley learning curve than simply being inept.

Defense: C

A surprisingly poor performance by a unit otherwise known for being a threat at nearly every level. A slow start did little to help Penn State's offense and was surprising given the positive vibes coming out of bowl practice for that side of the ball. In some respects the middle third of the game was the unit's worst as the entire sideline seemed to lack much confidence in facing the post-Hackenberg era so suddenly. 

But to it's credit, the Nittany Lion defense stepped up when it had to in the fourth quarter giving up two drives of just three plays as Georgia went just 4-of-14 on third down. A fourth down stop late in the game gave Penn State chance to tie or win the game. Brandon Bell led the way with 11 tackles while Austin Johnson and Jason Cabinda put together a 16 tackle outing. Anthony Zettel and Johnson both recorded a sack and Penn State picked up nine tackles for a loss.

It just wasn't a good outing by this unit, especially by the usual standards. Missing Tory Reeder to injury was evident late in the game even though Jake Cooper had a decent showing in relief.

In a game where Penn State really need stout defense it didn't get it until it was a little too late. Penn State had a chance to win, but largely in the technical sense, less so in terms of something likely to happen.

Special Teams: B+

Penn State's coverage units were good and Daniel Pasquariello managed a 36.5 average that had a bit to do with location on the field. Two punts of his six on the day ended inside the 20 including a deep kick inside the five. Brandon Polk managed a 33-yard return and was otherwise sure-handed. Joey Julius did his job and Tyler Davis was good on his only attempt of the day.

The only knock is the failed onside kick, but those never work for anyone. Otherwise Penn State's usual weak spot did what it could. More importantly it didn't hurt Penn State more than it helped.

Overall: C

Penn State's defense wasn't great, the offense struggled in areas that it could have done better in with or without Hackenberg. McSorley was okay in the second half and led the comeback. It's amazing Penn State managed to get back into the game let alone have a shot to win it. But it wasn't inspiring football. At the end of the day that matters.

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