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

by on September 11, 2016 10:00 AM

Well that was something. Penn State going down 28-7 in the second quarter only to roar back to make it a 28-21 game and then continuing to punch and counter punch as Pitt held off the visiting Nittany Lions en route to one of the more memorable games in the history of either program. Hyperbole aside it was not quite what anyone expected between the two teams, both of which entered Saturday with a fair number of questions.

So how did the Nittany Lions grade-out? Take a look.


This grade really should be higher, Penn State racked up 406 yards of offense, scored 39 points and executed one of the more improbable comebacks that you will see. Add in the fact that the Nittany Lions managed not only to comeback but continue to comeback and that adds some value to this grade. It would have been one thing if Penn State and made it 28-21 and lost, it's something else to see Pitt's lead grow to a two score margin more than once and have Penn State cut it down to a one possession game on more than one occasion. 

The problem though is that it took far too long for Penn State to get the wheels turning on that side of the ball. 2-for-10 on third downs coupled with plenty of miscues is hardly going to get the job done against much better teams. 4-of-5 redzone touchdowns and 5-for-5 overall is a positive but that largely happened in the second half. Saquon Barkley was outstanding and despite his late drop DaeSean Hamilton had a solid 8 catch 82-yard afternoon. 

Trace McSorley gets credit for the comeback as well going 24-of-35 for 332 yards, but a bad interception and a fumble don't help his cause here. In total Penn State had nine passing plays of 15+ yards and five rushing plays of 10+ yards. Same metrics, Pitt had two passing and 11 rushing.

Penn State's offense is light years ahead of where it was 12 months ago, but four turnovers and a late start force this grade to be lower. If the Nittany Lions play any part of the first half like they played the second this game is a win, but they didn't and that's hard to overlook.

Defense: C-

It's somewhat self explanatory that it's hard to give a good grade to a unit that gives up 359 yards rushing and 42 points thanks in large part to poor tackling and just general confusion. Down 28-7 it didn't look like anyone on this side of the ball had much of a clue what was going on. Jason Cabinda was hurt, everyone else looked a step slow and anyone who didn't look slow picked up some sort of minor injury on their own. 

If this group gets any credit though, it's that Pitt scored 21 points on drives of 30-yards or fewer (10, 12 and 30 yards) thanks to two turnovers and a long kickoff return. 14 points in the second half after collapsing in the first is a commendable effort but simply put 42 points is about 24 too many for this team right now. Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell both had nine tackles and Malik Golden and John Reid both recovered turnovers. 

Penn State's defense simply doesn't seem to be overly stout this year, but after giving up a 99-yard drive in the first half Penn State's defense managed to hold itself together just enough to give the Nittany Lions a chance. This grade is so bad because it should be, but it's saved from being a rung lower because the unit improved enough by the end of the game that Penn State could have won. A 75-yard drive was Pitt's longest in the second half, the rest of the Panther drives in the final 30 minutes were -4, 33, 2, 10, 5 and 5 yards.

Play like this again against anyone else though and the outcome will be different.

Special Teams: B-

This grade should be higher. Blake Gillikin was outstanding with a 46.6 average including a perfect end over end punt that was downed at the one. Penn State's kickoff return unit was also solid with returns of 33 and 29 yards and John Reid's 59 yard punt return was instrumental in a Penn State scoring drive. All of these things should have been the highlights. 

But a long return by Quadree Henderson for 84 yards once again gave Pitt a short field to work with and an eventual touchdown in the fourth quarter. Joey Julius was 4-of-7 on kickoffs for touchbacks and Tyler Davis made a key 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Aside from the offense when it's clicking, Penn State's special teams unit is its most improved and potentially it's most consistent. But a poor kick and bad coverage late in the game nearly ended the game right there. That has to hurt this final grade and it does.

Overall: C

Penn State played about as bad as you can and about as good as you can in the same game which really makes this a glass half full/half empty situation. The offense scored 39 points and was effective when it had to be, especially in the second quarter. The defense was poor for the first half but really only gave up seven points in the final 30 minutes from the run of play if you put the blame on special teams for such a short field after the long return. Other than that it was as stout as usual.

This game could have been the beginning of the end for James Franklin but it turned out to be a sign that things are getting better. Penn State lost, but it could have been so much worse, and a year ago it very well may have been. And because of that this grade stays where it is, because Penn State was good and so bad in the same game and yet somehow had a chance to win.

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