Penn State’s Post-Pitt Report Card
Penn State took down Pitt in emphatic fashion Saturday night at Heinz Field, helping the Nittany Lions surge to No. 11 in this week’s AP Poll. Here’s how some of the team’s key personnel groups performed during the 51-6 victory:
Backs & Receivers: B+
Trace McSorley put in another solid, turnover-free performance at quarterback for Penn State, finishing with just 181 total yards of offense, but scoring three touchdowns along the way. McSorley’s modest yardage total is not entirely his fault, as his receivers dropped a few perfectly-placed passes. These things happen in the pouring rain, though.
Sean Clifford entered the game in the fourth quarter with the result of the game beyond any doubt. He threw the ball once, but that pass was a 34-yard dime to Brandon Polk that put Penn State across the 50-point threshold.
At running back, Miles Sanders once again stole the show, rushing for more than 100 yards for the first time as a Nittany Lion. If untimely penalties didn’t wipe out his two biggest plays of the game, he would have had an even better evening.
Mark Allen scored a touchdown on the ground, but averaged less than two yards per carry and was mostly ineffective on the evening. True freshman Ricky Slade took a step back during Saturday’s game, fumbling twice and picking up just 13 yards on four carries.
As a group, the wide receivers once again had an underwhelming game. DeAndre Thompkins didn’t haul in a single reception for the second consecutive game, and Juwan Johnson again had trouble with drops out wide.
KJ Hamler continued to be Penn State’s brightest star on offense, opening the scoring with a 32-yard touchdown on an end-around and adding a receiving touchdown just before halftime. Mac Hippenhammer and Brandon Polk also hauled in touchdown receptions late, showing the group’s quality depth waiting in the wings.
Jonathan Holland, Danny Dalton, and Pat Freiermuth combined for five receptions and 47 yards, marking an overall improvement in production from the team’s tight ends.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line put in a much-improved performance from week one. James Franklin’s decision to start Will Fries at right tackle over Chasz Wright helped solidify the unit after a shaky start to the season.
Ryan Bates, Steven Gonzalez, Michal Menet, Connor McGovern, and Fries paved the way for 390 total yards of offense, 211 of which came on the ground.
McSorley was once again sacked only once on Saturday night, but the line did a much better job protecting him by allowing him to get hit just one other time after he was hit five times in the season opener against Appalachian State.
The group struggled to help Penn State’s run game get going consistently in the first half, but improved drastically as the game progressed.
Front Seven: A-
Penn State’s depth at defensive end was possibly the biggest takeaway from Saturday’s game. As Shane Simmons continued to sit out due to an undisclosed injury, Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney each had strong games in his absence alongside regular starter Shareef Miller. Gross-Matos and Toney combined for eight tackles and 1.5 sacks, while Miller tallied two tackles-for-loss for the Nittany Lions.
Defensive tackle Kevin Givens returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension, finishing tied for the team lead with seven tackles. The former Pitt commit gave the front seven a much-needed boost in its second game of the 2018 season.
The unit also came up huge on fourth down deep in its own red zone with a huge stop on the run when Pitt had a short field as a result of a Ricky Slade fumble. That drive was one of many opportunities the Panthers had to take a lead in the second quarter, but they never did largely because of the defensive line’s performance.
At linebacker, Micah Parsons stole the show with seven tackles to tie Givens for the team lead on the game. Many of the true freshman’s teammates have said that he is an athletic freak, and Parsons continued to prove his value at linebacker throughout the game.
Brent Pry’s three starting linebackers combined for just 10 tackles on the evening, but a big game from Parsons made up most of that slack. The unit doesn’t get a perfect “A” grade because it allowed 214 rushing yards in the first half, but it bounced back to allow just 31 in the final 30 minutes.
The secondary looked just fine after an extremely rocky start to the season against Appalachian State. The unit allowed just 55 passing yards and logged its second interception in as many games.
Amani Oruwariye once again picked off a pass with his team pinned deep in its own territory, stopping a potential Pitt scoring drive in the process. The interception helped Penn State maintain its 7-6 lead as the first quarter came to a close.
Outside of the interception, the cornerback group’s biggest play of the game was made by redshirt sophomore Zech McPhearson. He made a touchdown-saving tackle after Pitt’s Qadree Ollison broke off a massive run in the second quarter. McPhearson’s hustle turned a potential game-changing play into a 63-yard gain just outside of field goal range, setting up a missed attempt from the Panthers.
Tariq Castro-Fields put together a strong game at cornerback in a starting role, tallying five tackles as he replaced John Reid in the Nittany Lions’ lineup. Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor combined for seven tackles at safety, but weren’t all that busy in the passing game due to Pitt’s extremely run-heavy offensive scheme.
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“As soon as his football skills are really sharp, Jayson’s going to be unstoppable.”
Both players will be suspended until August 1, but it’s currently unclear whether or not their suspensions will impact their game availability.
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