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Grading The Nittany Lions 45-21 Victory Over Purdue

Penn State took advantage of one of its worst opponents of the season, dominating the Purdue Boilermakers en route to a 45-21 victory at Beaver Stadium. The defense was shaky early on, but buckled down and allowed the offense to have one of its best games of the season. After taking a couple days to digest what went down on Saturday, we handed out some grades to the team:

Offense — B+

You would think that 501 yards of total offense, 31 first downs, and five rushing touchdowns would garner a higher grade, but there is some nitpicking to be done. It needs to be said that Purdue has one of the worst defenses in the nation, especially when it comes to its front seven, so the Nittany Lions were expected to be dominant on offense, specifically in the run game.

We can’t penalize the team for living up to expectations, but we can penalize the team for turning the ball over. The fumbling issues that have plagued Penn State’s running backs all season long were alive and well on Saturday. Bill Belton lost one fumble and Zach Zwinak nearly lost another. We shouldn’t be too hard on the duo as Zwinak totaled 149 yards and three touchdowns while Belton carried the ball for 81 yards and one score. The run-blocking was excellent all game long, giving the backs easy lanes pound the rock through.

As for the pass game, it was a quiet day for Christian Hackenberg. He attemped just 23 passes compared to 58 rushing attempts for the team as Bill O’Brien stuck with what was working. To his credit, Hackenberg made the most of his limited opportunities, completed 16 of those 23 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown to Adam Brenaman, the first of the freshman tight end’s career. He did throw one interception as he misfired under pressure from the blitz, but that didn’t come until late in the third quarter when the game was already out of hand.

Overall, it was a successful game for the offense and it was good to see the unit put together a complete game.

Defense — B

Similar to the offense, this grade might be a little surprising. Against a team that really isn’t very good at scoring points, Penn State gave up two touchdowns to the Boilermakers offense on Saturday. Some blown coverages and poor schemes allowed a pair of Purdue touchdown drives in the game.

Having said that, the defense was able to do two things that it has struggled to do all season long: sack the quarterback and create turnovers. Against one of the worst offensive lines in the nation, the Nittany Lions racked up six sacks and eight tackles for a loss. That was encouraging, but even more encouraging was that the unit came out of the game with three takeaways — an interception by Jordan Lucas and two fumble recoveries.

While the defense shouldn’t have allowed such a pedestrian offense to drive down the field for two touchdowns on them, the prognosis was positive overall for its performance against the Boilermakers.

Special Teams – D+

Sam Ficken was perfect in the game, hitting his only field goal attempt from 29 yards out in the third quarter. The Penn State punt return was nonexistent on two attempts, covering just 11 yards between them, although it is worth mentioning that run-on Gregg Garrity was forced to return kicks due to an injury to Von Walker. On three kickoff returns, Eugene Lewis and Akeel Lynch averaged just 17.3 yards. Alex Butterworth didn’t see the field as anything more than Ficken’s holder, as the Nittany Lions never punted in the game.

So why a D+? Because the kickoff team couldn’t find a way to slow down Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, one of the more dangerous return duos in the league. Hunt averaged 23.7 yards on three tries, while Mostert brought his only return to the house, covering 100 yards on his touchdown return.

The kick return was never working and the kickoff coverage team was miserably bad, letting Purdue hang in the game after Penn State had gone ahead 28-7. It wasn’t the best game for a special teams unit that has been less than impressive this season.

Coaching — B+

On the defensive side of the ball, John Butler certainly called a better game than he did against Minnesota. There were a few poor play calls and maybe a tad too much blitzing, but you can’t blame him, as he had to be salivating looking at film of Purdue’s offensive line all week long. For the second week in a row, Butler seemed to make some strong halftime adjustments. The Boilermakers’ last score came early in the third quarter and it was smooth sailing for Butler’s defense from there forward.

As for the offense, Bill O’Brien called one of his better games of the season. He recognized that the run was working best and abandoned the pass to a degree that he hadn’t yet this season, almost surprisingly. It was good to see O’Brien let the game call itself, going with the hot hand instead of forcing the pass as he has from time to time this season. With the run game working extremely well, O’Brien called on the unit 58 times.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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