Grading The Nittany Lions’ 24-10 Loss To Minnesota
The Nittany Lions struggled mightily on Saturday against Minnesota on Saturday en route to a 24-10 road loss. The game looked unwinnable for Penn State from the start, as the offense came out cold and the defense struggled make stops. After digesting one of the ugliest football games of the season, we handed out some grades to the team:
Offense — D+
Minnesota has a solid defense, but it certainly isn’t one of the best in the Big Ten. Teams like UNLV, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Western Illinois all scored more points against the Gophers than the Nittany Lions’ offense did. In fact, the 10 points scored by Penn State is the fewest that Minnesota’s defense has allowed all year.
Christian Hackenberg was off all game. His accuracy wasn’t there and there was no consistency or fluidity from one play to the next. Only three receivers caught more than one ball — Allen Robinson, who was heavily covered for most of the game, had seven catches for 63 yards, while Bill Belton and Adam Breneman each had two receptions.
Zach Zwinak was the offense’s lone bright spot. He carried the ball 26 times for 150 yards and a score after losing his starting spot to Belton a few weeks earlier. Belton had a respectable seven carries for 47 yards, but between an early fumble and Zwinak’s emergence, he spent most of the game on the bench.
This Penn State offense has looked stellar at times this season, but it was stagnant for most of the day against Minnesota. Some costly mistakes, like a Hackenberg fumble on the Gophers’ one-yard line as the team was driving in the fourth quarter, destroyed any chances of a win for the Nittany Lions.
Defense — B-
Considering what the Penn State offense is capable of and how formidable of an opponent Minnesota was, allowing just 24 points should have meant a win for the Nittany Lions on Saturday. That wasn’t the case, and while there is blame to go around, the majority of it should not fall on the defense. Sure, the unit played a poor first half, falling short on just about every third and fourth down and letting Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson abuse it play after play.
The second half was another story, as the defense made some apparent adjustments and came out looking a lot more motivated and prepared for the final two quarters. The result was shutout football for the final half of the game as the defense forced a fumble and a slew of punts in the third and fourth quarter.
The Gophers did manage to gain 195 yards on the ground, but it also has one of the best rushing attacks in the country, so that was to be expected. A shaky Nittany Lion secondary played well on paper Saturday, but was unable to make plays when it mattered most on big third downs. Statistically, the defense had one of its better games of the season. That didn’t matter since the offense had one of its worst.
Special Teams — A+ and a shiny sticker
Sam Ficken was perfect in the game, hitting his only field goal attempt from 27 yards out. Alex Butterworth punted four times in the game. His first punt was downed at the Minnesota 4-yard line, and his third at the Minnesota 1-yard line. He later drew a roughing the kicker penalty. In a game with few bright spots, Penn State’s special teams had one of their better games this year.
Coaching — C-
On the defensive side of the ball, John Butler had one great half and one not so great half. Butler’s defense seemed unprepared for the game and the game plan seemed to go out the window at halftime. The scheming and play-calling was questionable ,as the defense could not make stops on long third downs. Gophers wide receivers continually found themselves open over the middle. That seemed to be more of a case of Minnesota exploiting gaps in zone coverage than it was blown coverage by Penn State defenders.
As for the offense, Bill O’Brien made some head-scratching calls in the game. He went it on for fourth down when it didn’t make much sense to and attempted a field goal when it made more sense to keep the offense on the field. With the run working great and the pass game looking abysmal, O’Brien called four straight passes at one point in the red zone. He continually tried to force fade routes into the end zone, a play that hasn’t worked for the offense all season long. It certainly wasn’t O’Brien’s best game of the season as the offensive play-caller.