Penn State Football: Handing Out The Grades Following The Nittany Lion's Win Over Rutgers
Penn State improved to 10-2 on the year with an ugly but eventual 27-6 victory over Rutgers on Saturday. The Nittany Lions weren't pretty to look at but with a handful of injuries in the mix and no Sean Clifford it wasn't as though Penn State was fielding the A-Team either. The good news for them, you don't need your A-Team to beat Rutgers.
Full marks to the Scarlet Knights though, they put up a fight. And here are the grades.
In a galaxy not so far away Will Levis was Sean Clifford's backup who was Tommy Steven's backup. So if you politely classify Levis as the third-string option, it's not exactly a huge shock that he is limited, especially when you consider that he made it through 95% of the season without ever having his name called. That's not to say Levis didn't do the best he could, he was a freight train on the ground to the tune of 108 yards rushing and commanded the offense with plenty of confidence even if the playbook was smaller.
Going 8-for-14 for 81 yards isn't going to blow anyone away but Levis' only interception was on a deep ball and KJ Hamler had at least one drop that hurt both of their totals. Penn State converted three attempts on third down out of its 10 opportunities which is down significantly from a fairly productive rate in that area over the back half of the season.
Penn State's receivers continue to be largely a non threat but Jahan Dotson did well to reel in a deep ball and make the most of his chances there. Journey Brown also continues to be a bright spot, racking up 103 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While Penn State will be happy to have Noah Cain back for the bowl game, it's hard to imagine anyone running better than Brown has been this season.
There is a grip to be had with how Penn State's offense looked on Saturday but we're not going to shoulder that blame on Levis who did decently well with a limited playbook. When it was all said and done this group did it's job well enough to win. That's all you can ask for.
When Penn State finally got around to caring about the game the Nittany Lions pretty well stopped everything Rutgers wanted to do. The Scarlet Knights managed 383 yards of offense with a near dead even split on the ground and through the air. This was another case of context as Penn State played without Tariq Castro-Fields, Yetur Gross-Matos and lost John Reid along the way to injury. This group was sloppy early and Penn State on the whole was fairly indifferent to the whole affair and it showed. Full marks to Micah Parsons who had a sack and a team-high 10 tackles for a loss in a pretty solid performance end to end.
Rutgers was in this game longer than it should have been, but Penn State's defense isn't really the one to blame here, and given the context of the players missing, that's something to keep in mind as well.
Special Teams: A-
Blake Gillikin's 72-yard punt should have ended the game right then and there. What a thing of beauty. KJ Hamler also was solid in the return game and put a few more shifty moves on tape to prove to people that punting to him can be costly. Jake Pinegar was perfect after scores except for a blocked extra point and Jordan Stout continues to boom kicks to Mars. This group was called on to do much but I refuse to drop the grade when there is a 72-yard punt downed at the three and Hamler rips off a run that makes you go wow.
All told Penn State played a bunch of new faces, didn't have its usual veterans and won by 21 points without a whole lot of effort needed to do so in the second half. The issue here is the start. A coach can't make his players care, but it's entirely possible that the margin of victory could have been more, even with Penn State's offensive limitations. In turn who knows how that impacts Penn State's bowl destination. It's a superficial issue, but not one without consequences.
Also it's probably fair to say that Will Levis' playbook and in turn Ricky Rahne's call sheet was limited, but other than letting Levis run the ball there didn't seem to be much in the way of any sort of passing game or specialized attack to help Levis settle in. Then again, Penn State had two different 100-yard rushers and won by 21. So maybe winning with your limited backup quarterback looks like that. The assumption that everyone can play like your starting quarterback is faulty, even if it's tempting to assume. The grade gets a knock for the start, less so Levis.
Penn State won, it wasn't pretty, it wasn't ugly, it just was. This grade is average because Penn State played kind of average football. Boiled down a 21 point victory is about all the Nittany Lions needed in their life to round out the regular season and they got it. This grade is lower because even with the usual faces missing from the equation, nobody should feel great about having watched that game. You can't get a good grade for a game that everyone already wants to forget. But a win is a win.