Penn State’s Post-Indiana Report Card
It wasn’t all that pretty, but No. 17 Penn State football got back in the win column with a 33-28 decision over Indiana on Saturday. The Nittany Lions improved to 5-2 on the 2018 season with the victory, but nearly let another Big Ten game slip away due to unforced errors.
How did some of the most important Nittany Lions perform on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington?
Trace McSorley’s 34-game streak with at least one passing touchdown came to a close, but he did find the back of the end zone twice on the ground for the Nittany Lions.
McSorley finished the game 19-for-36 with 220 passing yards and an interception in the air — a mediocre-at-best statline. However, he finished as Penn State’s leading rusher with 107 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
He also became the 11th player in Big Ten history to gain 10,000 total yards of offense, adding yet another milestone to his illustrious collegiate career.
Tommy Stevens saw more playing time in his home state of Indiana than he did in the team’s first six games of the season combined. His only pass attempt completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth in the second quarter, and he also caught two passes for two receiving yards.
Backs & Receivers: C
Miles Sanders had an okay game on the ground against the Hoosiers. He finished with 74 yards on 15 carries and chipped in a one-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive, but Sanders was finally utilized as a weapon in the passing game as well.
The featured back finished the game with a season-high five receptions for 54 yards. Trace McSorley frequently found Sanders on wheel routes out of the backfield, which added a missing element to the Nittany Lions’ offense.
At receiver, Juwan Johnson had his biggest game of the season yardage-wise and crossed the 1,000-receiving yard mark for his career. KJ Hamler had an uncharacteristically quiet day with just 27 yards on four catches, but drops continued to be a theme for the receivers. Brandon Polk was targeted four times, but didn’t make a single catch even on perfectly catchable passes from McSorley. Mac Hippenhammer also dropped his only target of the day.
Starting tight end Pat Freiermuth was a positive influence on the passing game, hauling in two passes for 32 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Stevens in the second quarter for his third score of the season. True freshman Jahan Dotson made his first career reception during the game, which is a promising sign for the future.
Offensive Line: B-
Penn State’s offensive line didn’t stand out much against Indiana. The unit allowed Trace McSorley to get sacked three times, and the Hoosiers tallied six tackles-for-loss throughout the game. McSorley got hit on just one other occasion, but Indiana forced Penn State’s dual-threat quarterback to improvise and turn nothing into something on numerous plays.
One positive for this group was on the ground. Miles Sanders had plenty of lanes to run through early on in the game, but was less productive as the evening progressed. The line didn’t exactly impose its will on Indiana’s front seven.
Front Seven: A-
Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney had their best games of the season at defensive end. Gross-Matos was shaken up during the game, but still led the Nittany Lions with 10 tackles. He also registered half of a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss throughout the game.
Toney led all players with four (!) sacks during the game, all during the fourth quarter. His clutch defense disrupted the Hoosiers and was a crucial part of why Penn State hung on to win.
Cam Brown and Micah Parsons led the linebackers with eight tackles each, while Koa Farmer finished close behind with seven stops throughout the game. Middle linebacker Jan Johnson had a quieter game with three tackles, but the position group as a whole was active and seemed to be around the Hoosiers’ ball carriers all afternoon.
Penn State’s defensive tackles didn’t make as much of an impact as the ends or linebacker. Kevin Givens was held without a tackle, and Robert Windsor made just one stop on the day. Freshman PJ Mustipher was thrust into a bigger role and forced a fumble in his first game as Penn State’s main backup at the position.
Penn State’s secondary was strong against the Hoosiers and picked up an interception for the third consecutive game.
Nick Scott intercepted a deflected Peyton Ramsey pass late in the fourth quarter. He and fellow starting safety Garrett Taylor each recovered a fumble, but backup safety Jonathan Sutherland was one big story of the game.
Sutherland stepped up when needed as Garrett Taylor was ejected for targeting in the third quarter. He made seven tackles in a backup role, and forced the special teams fumble that was recovered by Scott. That big play on special teams set up a four-yard rushing touchdown by Trace McSorley that put Penn State up by two scores.
Starting cornerbacks John Reid and Amani Oruwariye registered nine and eight tackles, respectively, but the group’s grade goes down because it allowed 330 passing yards and was dotted up by Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix.
The only reason why Penn State’s coaching staff doesn’t get a failing grade for this game is because the team won.
Offensive credit Ricky Rahne deserves credit for being more aggressive, as his conservative play calls certainly didn’t help the Nittany Lions in their losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. However, he may have been too aggressive, especially at the end of the game.
Penn State’s offense managed to kill just 19 seconds off the clock following Nick Scott’s interception with 4:35 to play in the fourth quarter. The offense ran three passing plays, stopping the clock and giving Indiana another chance to score when the game should have been easily over. Miles Sanders had plenty of success on the ground, so electing to throw instead of keeping the clock moving was certainly a strange choice.
The Hoosiers scored a touchdown on their drive following three Penn State passing plays, setting up an onside kick with 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Brandon Polk easily recovered the first onside kick, but James Franklin oddly called timeout before the play. Indiana recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Penn State’s defense stood firm and held on to win.
If the Nittany Lion coaching staff continues to make questionable decisions like this in crunch time, Penn State may end up on the wrong end of close games again as the season continues.
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