Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following The Nittany Lions' 79-7 Win Over Idaho
September 01, 2019 8:00 AM
by Ben Jones
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Just about everyone knew that Penn State was going to win on Saturday, but very few people expected a 79-7 final score. And then it happened, with surprising ease. The Nittany Lions tallied 20 points in the first quarter, the most in the first 15 minutes of a season opener since scoring 21 in 2004. 

From there it was off the races. [Sing with me...] Seven rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and a 53-yard field goal...(and two more field goals but that doesn't fit the lyrics)

When you win a game 79-7 it makes handing out grades somewhat elementary but you have grades for a reason and I'll be damned if I let a completely lopsided game keep me from being overly critical of a Week 1 performance. 

So here we go.

Offense: A

People were making a big deal out of Penn State's first two drives but that was 73 points earlier. I have a hard time being critical of Sean Clifford early on simply because he had a few bad passes and a fumble during his first two drives of -basically- his collegiate career. We can't all be Trevor Lawrence and a few jitters and mistakes during the first five minutes of the season falls well within the bounds of normal things that happen sometimes.

Anyone who plays running back scored, Justin Shorter looked like Justin Shorter's recruiting profile with three catches for 36-yards and a lot of good players can't catch KJ Hamler, let alone ones who play for Idaho. Penn State was 1-for-8 on third down but those downs happened all throughout the game and with all sorts of different personnel so even that is kind of hard to value.

I mean they scored 79 points so we can't exactly take the grade down. I do think it'll be interesting to see how good Penn State's offensive line actually is. Clifford had a lot of time in some cases but Penn State's running game had a few moments of not-so-hot play. That happens to the best of lines, but Idaho wasn't exactly putting the fear of God into anyone. The next two weeks ought to give everyone a better answer to that one.

Only other observation, Clifford's throws seem to have a lot of air under them. That's not entirely a bad thing, but it will be interesting to see if he can connect on the long ball like Trace McSorley did in the vein of chuck-and-pray and not fall prey to much better coverage.

Oh and 35 first downs and averaging just over 11 yards a play on those first downs.

Defense: A+

Man this group might be really good. You don't want to put too much stock into a game like this, especially when Idaho used a 285 pound quarterback and Yetur Gross-Matos looked like a man amongst boys, but this group is something else. Penn State is super deep everywhere on the defensive line, especially at defensive end. Shaka Toney, Gross-Matos and Jayson Oweh all looked the part, not to mention many others. 

PJ Mustipher was solid, and freshmen Brandon Smith looked all five-stars. It was also nice to see John Reid start the year off on the right foot after an up and down return from injury in 2018. 

At this point I'm just listing the roster but just about everyone played well. Tariq Castro-Fields didn't put up any amazing stats but he was confident and had a handful of solid tackles. 

Idaho gave up seven sacks and gained 145 yards of offense while picking up just five first downs. That is a solid day of defense as much as it is any level of bad offense.

Special Teams: A

Mac Hippenhammer, muffed a return and fumbled one. Those go against the grade, but considering all of the starting units played great and Jordan Stout hit a 53-yard field goal we're going to let it slide.

Penn State didn't end up with many return opportunities simply because Idaho refused to punt to KJ Hamler, but he did manage a 25-yard return at one point. Hamler did go rouge, running backwards to try and spring a big play but Penn State was practically up by 100 at that point and Hamler could probably pull something like that off. Considering he wouldn't do that in a big game we won't knock him for being crazy in a blowout.

Stout was the real story with 13 touchbacks and an artillery cannon for a leg. Penn State will want to win the drive start average this season, and every season, and Stout will go a long way towards that if teams are starting at the 25 every single drive.

Blake Gillikin didn't have a busy day and his only punt was a 32-yarder that was downed inside the 20. 

Considering how bad this group was in 2018, everything about this was night and day. Special teams will be more important in nearly every this year, but Saturday wasn't that day. Even so, Joe Lorig's group made a great first impression.

Overall: A

They won 79-7. Penn State will find its weak points later down the road, and Clifford will learn more about himself against tougher defenses, but you can't knock a team for blowing out a team it should blow out. 

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