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Penn State Football: Handing Out the Grades Following the Nittany Lions' Loss to Ohio State

by on November 24, 2019 7:00 AM

Well that game wasn't boring. Penn State took punches, looked down and out and suddenly it was a 21-17 game. The Nittany Lions didn't come out on top, but they sure made things interesting in Columbus before Ohio State claimed a 28-17 win. The Buckeyes might be national title bound, but this series hasn't lost its luster and delivered for yet another year.

Here are the grades.

Offense: C (with Clifford) and B (with Levis)

Penn State's offense has been good enough to beat just about everyone it plays but there appears to be something missing against the better end of that scale. It's hard to say if it's execution, youth, calls or the scheme itself because there are moments where each of those things appear to be the answer. All told Penn State managed 227 yards of offense and 17 points in large part due to short fields thanks to all those Ohio State fumbles. 

To his credit Sean Clifford did OK, going 10-of-17 but just 71 yards to his name and no touchdowns. Journey Brown continues to be the best of the bunch at running back and was strong in the second half. The Nittany Lions managed to go 6-of-15 on third down, which isn't great, but all things considered isn't awful against an elite Ohio State defense.

This grade gets a knock because Penn State's explosive plays were basically non-existent, and it gets a bump because it made something out of at least two of Ohio State's turnovers. 

As far as Will Levis, he did about as well as you could expect from someone in that situation. His interception was bad but he had 61 yards rushing and went 6-for-11 for 57 yards passing. It's hard to give him a bad mark because even though Penn State's options were limited with him in the game, he looked calm and prepared and gave Penn State a chance. You can't ask for a lot more than that.

In the end, Penn State scored 17 points against the best scoring defense in the nation.

Defense: B+

There are a lot of ways to slice this one up. Did Penn State play good enough defense to win? Not entirely. Did it play some form of defense that otherwise flustered Ohio State in a way that substantially took the Buckeyes off their game? No. Did it hold Ohio State back long enough to provide the offense chances to get back in the game and ultimately a chance to take the lead? Yes.

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This grade is a B simply because after two weeks of struggles the Nittany Lions managed to hold the best offense in the country to 28 points and just a single touchdown per quarter. If you knew going into the game that Penn State was going to hold Ohio State to 28 points, you would like Penn State's chances. Playing against a team like Ohio State isn't about pitching a shutout or stopping star players. It's about making plays and getting off the field when you have to.

Lamont Wade forced three turnovers and the defense on the whole survived 83 plays, just enough to give the offense a chance to operate. Sure, Penn State went down 21-0, but this was more the accumulation of time played against a good team than it was a larger issue. If Penn State's offense is holding serve, 21 points is hard to argue with after three quarters. 

Wade and Micah Parsons both had 10 tackles, and Garrett Taylor led with 13. Yetur Gross-Matos picked up two sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Penn State forced four fumbles and actually had one more tackle for a loss than Ohio State. 

In total the Buckeyes racked up 417 yards of offense, 229 of those coming on 61 carries. 

End of the day this group could have been better, but given Ohio State's skill level, have a hard time knocking this effort.

Special Teams: C

Jake Pinegar made a 42-yard field goal to make it a 21-17 game and in a confusing wind he left no doubt. From there special teams were a mixed bag. Jordan Stout did his job in kickoffs with all four of them going for touchbacks. The issues really sprung up in the return game where KJ Hamler had a nice 26-yard long return to open the game but a questionable return later on in the game. From there Penn State had him fair catch everything else, which seemed odd.

Blake Gillikin also struggled. Two of his six punts landed inside the 20, but his longest was 40 yards and not by virtue of a short field. In his defense he had more than one punt out the back of his own end zone which is not a normal or easy situation to deal with.

Generally speaking this group probably did more good than bad, but it also didn't really make an impact. Games like these can turn on special teams plays and the Nittany Lions couldn't manufacture anything. Of course you can't return a kick that isn't returnable, but this unit didn't have the spark it needed.

The only reason this grade isn't lower is the fact that Gillikin was in a tough punting situation all day, and even if he boomed 50-yarders Ohio State was still going to get the ball in the middle of the field. Point being, bad punts didn't help, but they weren't the singular reason for Ohio State's good field position.

Coaching: B

Penn State's defense rounded back into form to hold Ohio State to 14 points in each half. Reasonably speaking that's a pretty remarkable feat given how this unit has played the past few weeks and a remarkable feat in general considering how good Ohio State's offense has been. That counts for coaching. 

Penn State also didn't roll over, and that counts in favor of coaching.

James Franklin and company also didn't make any decisions that would fall under the controversial column and sometimes big games can lead to big brain cramps. You could argue for or against Penn State going for it on Ohio State's side of the field but there are worse things than playing field position. None of those decisions ended up making a difference.

The big issue here is how to find consistency on offense. That probably won't come over the next two games, but Penn State will have to find a way to hold serve against better teams (Ohio State) in games like this going forward if it wants to get over the hump.

Penn State is what it is in 2019, and that isn't going to change. You just can't give the coaching staff an A when you can't really move the ball with any consistency, even against a really good Ohio State defense. I don't necessarily think Penn State's staff called a bad game, but it could have called a better one. That's easy to say from up on high though.

Overall: B

Ohio State is very, very good. Penn State is good. Penn State found a way to hang around and found a way to have a chance to win. It could have gone better. It could have looked better. The numbers could have been better. But Penn State found a way to make it a game against a great team at home and did it with a backup quarterback. Let's not knock this more than we need to. If they were easy, upsets wouldn't be a thing.

It's also worth noting you were probably expecting a blowout.

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