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Penn State’s Post-Indiana Report Card

Well, that didn’t go as planned.

No. 18 Penn State (0-1) fell to No. 17 Indiana (1-0) Saturday in a battle that went to overtime. The Nittany Lions turned the ball over three times in the first half and dug themselves into a 10-point hole. Despite a strong comeback effort, a two-point conversion and a controversial call put Penn State away in its season opener.

Considering a fairly inconsistent performance, our grades aren’t too high for most of Penn State’s position groups.

Quarterbacks: B-

It wasn’t a great day overall for Sean Clifford, but he managed to settle down and improve his play down the stretch. He opened things up with a touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth on Penn State’s first drive, but things turned quickly over the course of the rest of the first half.

After that early score, QB1 tossed two ugly interceptions, both of which led to touchdowns for the Hoosiers. While that slow play in the first half forced the Nittany Lions to play from behind, Clifford clearly improved in the second half.

The Cincinnati native was responsible for three touchdowns, one of which was a big-time rush, and threw for 147 passing yards during the final 30 minutes.

“I didn’t feel like we were comfortable on offense or in a rhythm in the first half,” James Franklin said after the game. “Obviously, a lot of that is the quarterback, it’s just the nature of playing football and the nature of offensive football. I thought he did settle down as the game went on.”

While it was a tale of two halves for Clifford, backup Will Levis struggled when the Nittany Lions used him. On the two plays he was featured in, Levis fumbled on Indiana’s nine-yard line and was called for a delay of game before that.

Running Backs: C

The Nittany Lions knew they would be without Journey Brown on Saturday, but they were also forced to play without Noah Cain after he went down with an undisclosed injury in the first quarter.

Considering Sean Clifford was Penn State’s leading rusher Saturday, it wasn’t an exceptional day for the trio of Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and Keyvone Lee. Ford led the group with 69 rushing yards on 20 carries, along with an ~accidental~ touchdown toward the end of regulation.

While Ford got the majority of the carries, the pair of freshmen stepped up on a few of their opportunities. Lee ran hard and earned 35 yards on six carries, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt. Holmes, on the other hand, picked up 16 yards on five rushes.

Overall, the group didn’t do much to carry the offense on Saturday, as it put up only three rushes of more than 10 yards.

Wide Receivers: B-

It wasn’t a great day for Penn State’s wide receivers overall, but there were a couple of big plays made. None were bigger than Jahan Dotson’s 60-yard reception to help give the Nittany Lions the lead late in the fourth quarter.

Parker Washington also hauled in his first career touchdown in overtime. Outside of those plays, however, there wasn’t a whole lot to write home about.

Daniel George made a couple of big plays on third down and hauled in three catches worth 29 yards, while Dotson led the group with 94 yards. There weren’t many standout performances among the group overall, however, as Clifford struggled to get in a rhythm with most of his pass-catchers.

Tight Ends: B+

Pat Freiermuth was Penn State’s leading receiver against the Hoosiers and one of the lone bright spots on offense. The tight end’s seven catches worth 60 yards and a score weren’t necessarily up to his lofty standards, but he was a consistent option for Clifford throughout the day.

Freiermuth’s opening-drive touchdown was the 16th score of his career in Happy Valley, which stands as the most all-time for a Penn State tight end.

Outside of Freiermuth, the rest of the group didn’t do much of anything. Brenton Strange grabbed a catch for one yard, while Zach Kuntz and Theo Johnson didn’t get involved.

Offensive Line: B

All things considered, this was not a bad day for Penn State’s offensive line.

Clifford got sacked just once by the Hoosiers’ defense, and the Nittany Lions managed 250 total rushing yards. While the running backs didn’t have a spectacular day, QB1 put up 114 rushing yards and had plenty of room to rumble when running a designed draw.

Penn State hit on that play consistently in the second half, and Clifford was kept upright for much of Saturday’s contest, so it’s hard to blame the offensive line for the loss. A lack of room for Penn State’s young running backs and some big penalties keep this group at a B, however.

Rasheed Walker was called for two false starts on the day, while Mike Miranda got rung up for a holding call. Penalties were a huge issue for the team overall, as the Nittany Lions had 10 called on them worth 100 yards.

“It’s turnovers and penalties…that’s very uncharacteristic for us. We gotta get those things fixed,” Franklin said. “Guys playing for the first time, that factored in a little bit. But no, our practice shell hasn’t changed. We work those things every single day.”

Defensive Line: B+

Penn State’s defensive line didn’t dominate Indiana, but the group did its job for the most part. Shaka Toney led the way with seven total tackles and had back-to-back sacks to force a 3rd and 22 late for the Hoosiers.

No other defensive lineman had a sack on the day, but Indiana was held to just 41 rushing yards. Stevie Scott III finished with two scores on the ground, but one of them came off a Clifford interception in which the Hoosiers’ took over at Penn State’s own four-yard line. The blame doesn’t go to the defense there.

Antonio Shelton also added a big tackle for loss, while Jayson Oweh had two tackles.

Linebackers: B-

Penn State’s linebackers played fine against the Hoosiers. There weren’t any standout performances, but Ellis Brooks led the way with five tackles, including one for a loss.

Brandon Smith didn’t do much of anything in his highly anticipated start, but the group did well in helping to limit Indiana’s run game overall.

The biggest story of the game for the position group was Jesse Luketa’s targeting call. The linebacker was ejected from the game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Indiana wide receiver Miles Marshall. Marshall fumbled on the play and Penn State recovered, but that was nullified due to the penalty.

Luketa will need to sit out the first half of the Ohio State game because of the foul.

Secondary: A-

Up until Indiana’s clutch drive to stay alive at the end of regulation, Penn State’s secondary played well. Michael Penix Jr. had only 170 passing yards on the day and threw for just one score.

The biggest star of the group was Joey Porter Jr., who impressed in his first start as a Nittany Lion. The redshirt freshman opened the game with a sack, had five tackles, and broke up a pass.

Tariq Castro-Fields also had five tackles and broke up a pass, while senior captain Lamont Wade stepped up at safety. Wade had three tackles, and even grabbed an interception to give Penn State the ball back after an ugly turnover.

While the game didn’t end well for the position group, several players stepped up and made plays throughout Saturday’s contest.

Special Teams: D

It was not a good day for Penn State’s special teams.

Jake Pinegar left six points on the board by missing 25 and 47-yard attempts, while Jordan Stout’s 57-yard try to win the game fell just inches short of the goalpost. Stout did have a solid day at punter, but the kicking woes certainly outweigh that.

Punt and kick return groups didn’t have great performances either. Jahan Dotson muffed a punt when Marquis Wilson mistakenly ran into him, but the Nittany Lions lucked out when the Indiana player who recovered it ran out of bounds.

Other than Devyn Ford’s 28-yard kick return, there weren’t any big plays created on this phase. In fact, Lamont Wade bobbled a return in the end zone and picked it up, only to be tackled at Penn State’s own five-yard line.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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