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Penn State Football: Handing Out the Grades Following the Nittany Lions' Win over Indiana

by on November 17, 2019 12:40 PM

Penn State is 9-1 with a chance to improve to 10 wins or more of the next three games. It hasn't always been pretty, it hasn't always been easy, but the Nittany Lions are winning and doing it on a regular basis. 

It's fair to say that this team could look better, but Penn State won on Saturday on its own terms and did it with timely offense and defense. That's really all anyone can ask for in the long run. Here are the grades.

Offense: B+

Penn State went 7-for-14 on third down, avoided any turnovers and managed to win in large part due to a 9:01 long drive that spanned 18 plays and put the game away on fourth down. Has this group played better? Yes. Can it play better? Yes. But Sean Clifford bounced back with an effective performance and Journey Brown made it back-to-back 100 yard rushing outings with Noah Cain still sidelined.

The Nittany Lions will need to find answers on offense if KJ Hamler is still out against Ohio State, but in the context of Saturday's game, they did well enough without him to close out the win. Pat Freiermuth continues to play well, and while he only had two catches, his 15 yard reception moved the chains on Penn State's long fourth quarter drive. 

[as an aside, Penn State is converting 42.5% of its third downs, the second best mark under James Franklin.]

In total seven different receivers had a catch of 10 or more yards on Saturday with Mac Hippenhammer picking up his first of the year in the form of an 15-yard reception. 

Devyn Ford was also solid behind Brown with eight carries for 38 yards and Clifford's 38-yard touchdown run pushed him past Trace McSorley's 2016 rushing total.

This group did enough to win, and went out on its own terms. All you can really ask for.

Defense: C+

Indiana leads the Big Ten in passing offense and racked up nearly 400 yards through the air on Saturday. The other side of this coin, Penn State only gave up one passing touchdown and really just 20 points over the course of 99% of that game. Penn State did a better job than it did against Minnesota, but only by a small margin. Second half adjustments helped a bit, but the Nittany Lions are still looking for answers against quality passing attacks. Some of that is Penn State's defensive front, which only had two sacks on Saturday, and some of that is on the secondary which occasionally looks to be turned around at exactly the wrong moment.

All told Penn State made enough stops when it needed to. I wouldn't call it this unit's best effort, but it was better than it was against Minnesota and in the long run the game is about points, not yards.

Penn State also had two dropped interceptions. One that almost certainly would have resulted in six points.

Special Teams: A

Jake Pinegar hasn't been called on much this year but was solid from 27 and 47 yards when Penn State was looking for first half points. Blake Gillikin also landed two of his three punts inside the 20 and boomed a 51-yarder. KJ Hamler is still a threat in the return game but was limited in his actual production. This group also avoided any penalties, as an aside, Penn State as a team was only called for one all game.

Special teams can turn a game, but asked to simply do their job, Penn State's group did just that. 

Coaching: B+

There is a lot more data to suggest that defensive coordinator Brent Pry knows what he's doing, which would lead one to believe that Penn State's issues in coverage are a little more complex than simply a matter of philosophy. Ricky Rahne called a solid game and James Franklin's decision to go for it on fourth and goal was the right call and one that put the game away. Penn State wasn't perfect on Saturday, but I wouldn't say there was some overarching coaching error that led to this fact. This grade is down only because the same issues are still lingering.

Overall: B

All things considered the regular season comes down to Ohio State and Rutgers. Penn State is not going to be a vastly different team next Saturday than it is today and won't need to be any different against Rutgers. An entire month to prep for a bowl could yield all sorts of things as well. Point being, Penn State is the team you saw on Saturday, good enough to win most games, not quite good enough to do it without some amount of stress. Equally true, Penn State is 9-1 with a good chance to improve to 10 wins or better. Let's not pretend that this is a bad football team simply because it got there without tons of bells and whistles. Winning is winning.

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