Penn State’s Post-Rutgers Report Card
Penn State football wrapped up the 2019 regular season with a 27-6 victory over Rutgers at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions finished the regular season with 10 wins for the third time in four years, something that hadn’t been done since the mid-1990s. With players like Sean Clifford, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Tariq Castro-Fields not dressed for the game, James Franklin’s starting lineup was shorthanded against the Scarlet Knights.
Here’s how the Nittany Lions’ various different players performed throughout their final game at Beaver Stadium this decade:
Will Levis made his first career start in place of Sean Clifford, who exited last week’s game against Ohio State due to injury, despite the fact that Clifford could’ve played, according to James Franklin. Levis wasn’t given too many opportunities to show off his cannon of an arm, and he finished the game 8-for-14 passing with 81 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Levis’ interception came on a deep shot that was a bit underthrown, but Daniel George lost a 50-50 ball to Rutgers’ Tre Avery. His lone touchdown was a 44-yard bomb to Jahan Dotson in which the wideout spun past Rutgers’ secondary and found the corner of the end zone. One of his bad misses on the day was an underthrown deep shot to KJ Hamler that would’ve been a sure touchdown in the third quarter.
The redshirt freshman made his most significant impact on the game with his legs. Levis accumulated a team-leading 108 yards on 17 carries, and his tough running style seemed to always pick up efficient, on-schedule gains of four to six yards. He did make the wrong reads on a few option plays, but aside from that, his legs were a significant factor against Rutgers.
True freshman Ta’Quan Roberson made his collegiate debut in garbage time. He went 0-for-1 passing and was stuffed for a loss of a yard on his only rushing attempt of the evening.
Running Backs: A-
Journey Brown continued to do Journey Brown-type things this week. He posted more than 100 yards on the ground for the third time in Penn State’s last four games, and he put in a spirited effort following the passing of his cousin on November 24.
Brown scored three touchdowns to push his season total to 10 scores, and he truly was the driving force behind Penn State’s run-heavy offense that featured a first-time starting quarterback. His strong performances in the past few weeks have truly solidified his spot as the team’s top running back and significantly lessened the impact of Noah Cain’s nagging injury.
Ricky Slade provided a nice spark to the Penn State offense for the first time in a long time against Rutgers. His six-carry, 36-yard output might seem a bit modest, but Slade showcased his five-star talent by using his speed and elusiveness to make a few Scarlet Knight defenders look helpless while trying to bring him down.
Elsewhere, Devyn Ford only got two carries for three yards to cap off the regular season. However, Ja’Juan Seider’s LawnBoyz managed to put together a strong finish to their 2019 regular season.
Wide Receivers: C+
It’s hard to be too critical of Penn State’s wide receivers when the Nittany Lions were clearly content with leaning on their run game. Jahan Dotson was Penn State’s leading receiver with 44 yards on one reception. Dotson made that one grab count, though, by turning it into a 44-yard score that effectively iced the game for the Nittany Lions.
KJ Hamler led the Nittany Lions in receptions with five, but he could only muster 22 yards on his eight targets, which were mostly short-range passes. His longest catch of the game was a 17-yard grab, but Rutgers did a good job of sniffing out screens designed to put the ball in Hamler’s hands.
The only other Penn State wideout to make a grab was Daniel George, who hauled in a single pass for 11 yards. The Nittany Lions’ passing game wasn’t too involved in Saturday’s game, and the wide receivers weren’t super involved in run-blocking situations — mainly because most of Penn State’s runs were rammed right down the Scarlet Knights’ throats.
Tight Ends: B-
Pat Freiermuth was the only Penn State tight end to make a catch on Saturday, and his only involvement in the passing game was a four-yard grab. The only reason why his position group doesn’t get a lower grade, however, is because of its contributions in run-blocking situations.
Freiermuth, Nick Bowers, and Zack Kuntz were excellent in the 12-personnel packages that helped the Nittany Lions put up 252 rushing yards against the Scarlet Knights. They helped pave the way for Journey Brown and Will Levis’ 100-yard efforts, and the unit also helped give Ricky Slade space to make big plays during his limited involvement in the game.
The tight ends get bonus points because they, once again, got James Franklin to say the f-word during his post-game press conference.
“We used those three-tight end sets, and I thought you guys would like that,” Franklin said postgame. “That third tight end is basically a fullback.”
Offensive Line: C-
The Nittany Lions’ offensive line had a great game in terms of helping Penn State’s run game get going, but the team didn’t do Will Levis many favors in pass protection.
Rutgers, which totaled 14 sacks through the first 11 games of 2019, got to Levis four times on Saturday. Tyshon Fogg registered 1.5 sacks, Rashawn Battle got a sack, and CJ Onyechi was also credited with a sack against Penn State. The Penn State offensive front has been mostly great this season, so a weaker performance against a team as bad as Rutgers was surprising to see.
The Scarlet Knights also totaled eight tackles-for-loss against Penn State. James Franklin noted that his team always seems to get Rutgers’ best, and the Scarlet Knights’ defensive front deserves credit for its spirited effort at Beaver Stadium.
Defensive Line: B-
Sean Spencer’s younger Wild Dogs got lots of experience on Saturday, which really should be every position unit’s goal in a season finale against Rutgers.
When all was said and done, 10 different defensive linemen made at least one tackle against Rutgers. Robert Windsor capped off his Beaver Stadium career with an excellent five-tackle performance, and Jayson Oweh recorded three tackles in his first career start.
Hakeem Beamon made his Penn State debut, and Judge Culpepper made his first tackle since September 7 in a reserve role. Daniel Joseph also got a few in-game reps on Saturday, and Shane Simmons also featured in a back-up role as usual. True freshman Adisa Isaac also got another game of experience under his belt.
Penn State’s defensive line wasn’t particularly dominant against the Scarlet Knights, but it wasn’t outlandishly bad, either.
In a couple years, one of the NFL’s 32 teams is going to be very thankful for Micah Parsons. He balled out again for Penn State by registering a game-high 10 tackles — his sixth contest with a double-digit total for stops and his fifth in the last six games. Parsons is an NFL-caliber talent who, barring anything unforeseen, will undoubtedly hear his name called very early in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Elsewhere, Cam Brown had another strong game for Penn State by totaling seven tackles, a solo sack, and 1.5 tackles for a loss of yardage. The senior ended his Beaver Stadium career in style, and he boosted his season tackle total to a very nice 69.
Jan Johnson finished his season with a quieter three-tackle output, and Ellis Brooks posted five stops in his usual back-up role. Jesse Luketa also popped up with a tackle in his back-up role to Micah Parsons, and Charlie Katshir even got in on the fun with three tackles.
My only gripe with Penn State’s linebackers is the noticeable difference between the team having Parsons on the field and on the bench. Rutgers’ offense was able to make plays and muster momentum when Parsons was off the field, but those instances were quickly squashed when Parsons checked back into the game.
A shorthanded Penn State secondary showed a lot of improvement in its final game of the regular season, but the unit didn’t have a perfect afternoon by any means.
Lamont Wade had a much quieter day by his standards with just three tackles, but Garrett Taylor put up seven stops in his final Beaver Stadium outing. State College native Keaton Ellis made his first career start in place of the injured Yetur Gross-Matos, and he wasn’t spectacular by any means. Ellis made two tackles and wasn’t credited with a pass break-up.
The Nittany Lions limited Rutgers quarterback Johnny Langan to 164 yards through the air, and they kept him and the rest of the Scarlet Knights out of the end zone entirely. However, Langan was able to get things going at times for the Scarlet Knights thanks to a few busted coverages.
Special Teams: A
Blake Gillikin marked his final Beaver Stadium appearance with a 72-yard punt that pinned Rutgers at its own 2-yard line and a subsequent home run-swing celebration that’d make Trace McSorley proud. Two of his four punts were downed inside the Scarlet Knights’ 20-yard line.
Jake Pinegar had one of his four extra point attempts blocked, but he drilled his other three tries. That blocked extra point was the only blemish of a fantastic special teams effort by Penn State.
KJ Hamler looked dangerous on kick and punt returns for the first time all year. Hamler’s best punt return of the day was called back due to a penalty, but he still managed to give Penn State 24 yards of better field position on the play. The speedy wideout’s three-return, 78-yard effort might not jump off the page, but he had a great day and always had the Scarlet Knights on their toes on special teams.
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“Without a season ticket, no matter what our capacity is, you’re probably not coming to a Penn State game this year.”
“Today I can tell you that we’ve had 102 student-athlete tests as of June 30, and we have had zero positives in those 102 tests.”
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