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Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following The Nittany Lions' Win Over Michigan

by on October 20, 2019 12:40 PM

Penn State beat Michigan on Saturday night to improve to 7-0 on the year and 4-0 in Big Ten play. It wasn't always pretty and it wasn't always a sure thing, but the Nittany Lions did just enough to win and there is something to be said for that.

Nobody said winning had to be perfect, it just has to be better than the other team.

Offense: C

This one is a little difficult. Penn State looked the part in the first half, moving the ball and scoring 21 points which has been enough to win past Penn State/Michigan games. So it's hard to say that this unit didn't show up or somehow struggled to score points or finish out the game when given the chance. The issue here is the overall product. The second half was a slog, and Penn State's offense in a certain respect didn't gain yards. It gained 80, but 53 of those came during KJ Hamler's long touchdown catch. 

Penn State went 4-of-13 on third down but this was probably the best example of how the early down impact this one. It was rarely a short yardage situation on third down and Penn State rarely had the looks to convert those longer opportunities. KJ Hamler had just over 100 yards receiving (six catches) while Sean Clifford went 14-for-25 for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Nothing about that is bad, but the boom or bust nature of this offense made for more bust than boom on Saturday. 

The absence of Noah Cain was also puzzling to say the least, but Penn State got just enough out of Devyn Ford, Journey Brown and Ricky Slade to get by.

Penn State scored 28 points against Michigan, won and did in on the big stage. This grade is low because the lows were so low. Penn State doesn't need to score every drive, but it'll need to gain more than a few yards a play on the drives that don't result in points.

Defense: A

This group managed to do just enough to win while playing more than nine minutes of each and every quarter. Penn State couldn't get the Shea Patterson as much as it would have liked and Patterson was solid in the pocket and made good reasons, passing for 276 yards but no touchdowns. Penn State once again tired late in the big game, but it's hard to ignore the fact Penn State's offense was having a heck of a time staying on the field. The Nittany Lions ran 28 fewer player against Michigan's defense which means 28 more plays for Penn State's defensive unit to manage. That will wear anyone out.

All the same this group did just enough as Micah Parsons and Cam Brown led the way with 14 and 10 tackles respectively. Lamont Wade was all over the field as well with seven tackles and recorded two pass breakups.

All told this group did more than enough that Penn State's offense could take half the night off and still win. The Nittany Lion defense wasn't perfect so this grade ought to be lower, but considering the number of snaps it played and the fact it made just enough stops to win counts for something.

Special Teams: B

Poor Jake Pinegar is going to go through the entire season having kicked approximately two field goals in the process. It was another Jordan Stout night though as he boomed four of his five kicks for touchbacks. Blake Gillikin had another entry in the "fun with rugby kick" book but boomed a 60-yarder when he kicked it more traditional. It stands to reason that a very good punter like Blake Gillikin can get better at rugby punts, but it also stands to reason that if he isn't any good at them that Penn State ought to be scheme its punt units in a way that doesn't require them.

KJ Hamler had a touchdown return called back because of two holding calls of varying degrees of severity but he was otherwise not much of a factor in that area.

A special teams mistake is often how these sorts of games turn on a dime and Penn State avoided the big mistake and had more good than bad here. This grade is down because of the holding (if it was holding) and because of the rugby punts. Otherwise no real complaints here.

Overall: B

It's not unfair to be critical of how Penn State played and won Saturday night's game, but it won. It beat Michigan in a game that saw Penn State score 28 points against a very good defense and make just enough plays on defense to keep the Wolverines from clawing back to win. It could have been prettier and Penn State was maybe one drive from blowing the game too far open for Michigan to catch up but those things didn't happen. This grade is lower because of the lull, and really that lull is the only difference between Penn State being very good and Penn State being an elite team. Can it figure out how to beat the lull? Time will tell.

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