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

by on October 27, 2019 12:44 AM

Penn State beat the rain, the wind and Michigan State on Saturday night. It wasn't always pretty but it's hard to look good in a monsoon. The Nittany Lions are 3-0 in a span of games against Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State and head into the bye week at 8-0. The Nittany Lions aren't perfect but they sure are playing winning football.

And in the end that's all that matters.

Here are the grades. 

Offense: B

Probably two separate things come to mind here. The first: don't judge a game by its awful weather. It's not like rain makes the game of football impossible to play, but nobody wrote instructions on the box that suggested you play it in the rain. Penn State's second half was "meh" and it's fair to be critical of a kind of bored looking offense. On the other hand Michigan State could hardly find the end zone if you put six guys on the field so Penn State can be excused slightly for just wanting to get things over and done with. When Penn state watches the film it isn't going to be thrilled, but it's also fair to write this one off a bit as a....wash.

On the other side of this coin Penn State came out for the second straight week and really executed well enough to earn a comfortable first half lead. Penn State put up 21 points in 30 minutes of play and was able to throw and run the ball well. The Nittany Lions finished 4-of-14 on third down which has a bit to do with the first point above.

Two big drops in the first half left yards on the field but not so much the points. Sean Clifford was 18-of-32 for 189 yards and four touchdowns. A fifth touchdown would have tied the program's single-game record. Pat Freiermuth also hauled in three touchdowns. KJ Hamler had a few drops he'd like back and had five catches on 10 targets but he had effective receptions when it all worked out.

Noah Cain ended up hurt with a lower body injury but Devyn Ford, Journey Brown and Ricky Slade did well enough as a trio.

All told Penn State could have played better, but it landed a bunch of punches and had the score and weather on its side. At this point you can argue about the lulls in execution that pop up, but you can't argue with the results.

Defense: A

Penn State has fielded good defenses against Michigan State and gotten burned by Brian Lewerke in the past, but today was not that day. The Nittany Lions racked up two sacks and five QB hurries and were on the right end of about a half dozen ill-advised passes. Two interceptions was the total but it could have been far worse for Michigan State and rightly should have been. Penn State can give up a few plays on first down but it's just not easy to go 60-80 yards on this group. Micah Parsons racked up 12 stops while Jayson Oweh quietly had his best game of the season with two force fumbled and two tackles for a loss.

Michigan State converted 5-of-17 chances on third down along the way. The Spartans had nothing on Saturday, a lot of that was self-inflicted but a lot of it was Penn State's defense. 

John Reid's status will be something to watch after hurting his left shoulder area and missing the rest of the game.

Special Teams: B+

Without knowing the reason for the mixed extra point we're just going to chalk that up to awful weather. Same (a bit) with Jordan Stout shanking one out of bounds. The big thing here is Penn State going away from the rugby punts and letting Blake Gillikin kick normally. He cranked five inside the 20 and had one of 50+ yards. Penn State has a penalty issue on special teams for whatever reason, with another Hamler return touchdown coming back, but otherwise this group was solid enough on a night where the weather could have made things really bad. Hamler fumbled the opening kick, but Penn State recovered it and also came out on the right end of a Michigan State special teams fumble. 

Nothing makes kicking the ball around harder than a bunch of wind and rain and Penn State still had more positives from this group than negatives for the second straight week. That's easier said than done when the weather is zero fun.

Coaching: B+

You can't argue with how Penn State started the game or the number of times Penn State scored with relative ease both on long drives and short ones. The issue here is just second half management where the Nittany Lions threw the ball when running would have milked the clock and the general lack of urgency to extend the lead. That being said, it's not exactly a bad thing if you've played so well to take a lead large enough that you aren't required to do anything at all and still win. Penn State's defense played great and Michigan State had nothing easy to work with. It says a lot about this unit that opposing teams gaining yards feels like a failure somehow.

Penn State showed up and was ready to play and that's coaching. Only fault here is the obligatory lull, even when it doesn't really matter. 

Big plus goes to the call to go for it on fourth down. Penn State could have punted late in the first half and protected a 13-0 lead. Instead a conversion turned into a 21-0 lead at the break and the game felt far more out of reach than it otherwise would have been. It was the right call to punt against Michigan, and the right call to go for it against Michigan State.

Overall: B+

The lulls will eventually (?) hurt Penn State but James Franklin had his team ready and they proceeded to beat a team that has had Penn State's number and beat them without much effort. Can't argue with that.



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