Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following Penn State's 43-40 Victory Over Michigan
So, that was something else.
There was a lot to take in during Penn State's four hour marathon of a game on Saturday night. With four overtimes to decide the outcome it's almost easy to forget what took place in the first 59 minutes and 10 seconds. In many respects, the game against Michigan looked like a lost cause -- before the improbable heroics of Brandon Felder, Allen Robinson, and Christian Hackenberg.
It may seem like a futile exercise to try and grade Penn State's team following a game like Saturday's, it's still important to understand what the Nittany Lions did well, and the areas where they fell a bit short.
So here are the grades following Penn State's 43-40, four overtime win.
Despite the 11th hour heroics, Penn State's offense wasn't perfect on Saturday. Three-of-16 on third down and four turnovers did a lot to help Michigan get back into the game. That being said, Hackenberg was strong the entire night despite the occasional low throw. He had far more good throws than bad ones. He finished the night 23-44 for 305 yards, 3 touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. That rushing score was the first Michigan had given up on the ground all season.
The Nittany Lions also had some uncharacteristic drops of passes that should have been caught. Penn State's ground attack was effective when it needed to be and Bill Belton was able to gain 3-4 yards per carry which is what the Nittany Lions needed in order to set up the pass. Belton was effective out of the backfield as well.
In the end, Penn State's offense played well enough that it deserved to win, but made enough mistakes that it let Michigan sneak back into the game. The Nittany Lions averaged 4.4 yards a play and accumulated 22 first downs to Michigan's 18.
Minus a single 59-yard touchdown pass, Penn State's defense forced three first half turnovers and held the Wolverines to only 85 yards of total offense. John Butler didn't hold back -- bringing the pressure from a few different angles along with some five-man fronts that helped take Michigan on straight up. While the Nittany Lions have struggled to prevent long passes, Michigan was mostly held to modest gains. The Wolverines averaged 16 yards per completion but Gardner only completed 15 passes over the course of the 4-hour contest.
Adrian Amos was called for three separate pass interference calls but was still an important part of the unit's success.
DaQuan Jones played a fantastic game with 9 tackles and 2 for a loss. Mike Hull and Glenn Carson each had 10 tackles. All three players where a huge part in Penn State's ability to hold Michigan tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint to 27 yards on 27 carries.
In the end, when Penn State needed the biggest stops of the game in overtime it got them and was beaten only by Michigan's ability to make plays rather than the defense's own mistakes.
Special Teams: B-
It was a roller coaster ride for special teams on Saturday with some poor punting and crooked holds from Adam Geiger on his first start at Penn State. Butterworth did eventually average 44 yards a punt including a 66-yard yard boomer that landed in the endzone. Ficken went 3-of-5 but at least one miss was due to a poor hold. Penn State was improved in the long snapping department but overall it wasn't the unit's best night of the season. Special teams play didn't end up being the reason Penn State was behind in the game but a few less mistakes and the dramatics may not have been needed.
The miscues aside, if Penn State doesn't block Michigan's field goal attempt in overtime, the story is very different.