Penn State Football’s Post-Ohio State Report Card
Well…that was bad.
No. 18 Penn State football (0-2) couldn’t keep up with No. 3 Ohio State (2-0) Saturday night at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions finally managed to string some scores together after a stagnant first half, but Brent Pry’s defense simply couldn’t stop the Buckeyes throughout the matchup.
A lack of essentially any stops and some inconsistent offensive play resulted in poor grades across the board for the Nittany Lions this week.
It’s hard to put all of the blame on Sean Clifford considering he didn’t have much time in the pocket. He started to put it together with some efficient drives late, but his first-half performance is impossible to look past.
Clifford completed just two passes in the first half worth 29 yards. The offensive line didn’t do him any favors, but QB1 struggled mightily against Ohio State’s secondary. While he managed to settle down in the second half, it was once again an inconsistent performance for Clifford.
Thanks to some more aggressive downfield passing to open the second half, the redshirt junior did manage to make some productive plays. Clifford led a 75-yard drive to open the third quarter, the same number of total yards the Nittany Lions put up in the first half, capping it off with a scoring pass to Jahan Dotson.
Clifford closed out his day with 281 yards through the air and three touchdowns, but he finished with an interception that was the final nail in the coffin for the Nittany Lions. While his stat line wasn’t horrible, he can’t afford to have such a slow start against a team like Ohio State.
Running Backs: D
Penn State’s running game quite literally never got going Saturday night, as the Nittany Lions sorely missed Noah Cain and Journey Brown.
Devyn Ford led the team with just 36 yards on eight attempts, while Clifford and Levis were the only other rushers on the night. Ford’s biggest carry of the night was worth 23 yards, but that was all the Nittany Lions had to show for. Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes didn’t earn a yard, as Ford was clearly the featured back and Clifford led the team with 18 rushing attempts.
There’s not a whole lot else to say here, as Ford had little room to produce against a talented Ohio State defense.
“I think we had a couple schemes that worked in the first half and we went back to them… Not being able to have a running game with a d-line that can just tee off on you in the passing game, you gotta be able to be balanced,” James Franklin said postgame.
Wide Receivers: B
It took a while for them to get going, but Penn State’s wide receivers made several big plays against Ohio State, starting with Jahan Dotson.
Dotson led the team with eight catches, 144 yards, and three touchdowns. He exploded in the second half against the Buckeyes and was one of the few bright spots on Penn State’s offense. No play was bigger than this one-handed score, which was even featured as No. 2 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays Saturday night.
“I approach that [ball] as a million dollars, that’s a million dollars in the air. If you want it, you go get it,” Doston said after the game. “Every time the ball’s in the air, that’s a chance to make a name for yourself, to put the team on your back…it’s a million dollars, and we gotta go cash in.”
Outside of Dotson, true freshman Parker Washington had himself a nice performance. Coming off of a touchdown in his first college game last weekend, Washington had four catches worth 73 yards, including a 31-yard catch late. The young wideout showcased his speed and agility by making a few defenders miss on his way to a big gain.
While there weren’t many other notable performances from the wideouts, Dotson and Washington both helped make this the most productive group on Penn State’s offense.
Tight Ends: C
Pat Freiermuth was targeted five times Saturday, including one fade to the back of the end zone that fell incomplete. He came away with just three catches worth 46 yards and wasn’t much of a huge threat for the offense.
The big tight end didn’t have a horrible night, but considering the high expectations he had entering this season, Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense could’ve used a bigger performance in its biggest test of the year.
No other tight ends had any catches on the night.
Offensive Line: D-
Penn State’s offensive line had a bad night.
Sean Clifford was under duress all game and was sacked five times. Defensive tackle Tommy Togiai terrorized the Nittany Lions with three of those sacks, while Zach Harrison and Jonathan Cooper each got one.
The big fellas couldn’t create much room for any kind of run game, either. Penn State finished with 44 yards on the ground, while Clifford had just five yards on a team-leading 18 attempts. The Nittany Lions constantly tried to use QB1’s legs throughout the first half, but Ohio State’s front seven shut him down with ease.
Clifford had little time to get rid of the ball thanks to the offensive line’s struggles, and that was a huge reason for his ugly first-half performance.
Defensive Line: D+
The Nittany Lions didn’t win the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball.
Ohio State gashed the position group for multiple big plays on the ground, including a 62-yard rush for Garrett Wilson on Ohio State’s first play from scrimmage. Master Teague III added 110 yards on the ground and a score, while Trey Sermon had 56 yards. Of Ohio State’s 526 total yards, 208 of them came on the ground.
As for star quarterback Justin Fields, he was sacked twice but looked comfortable in the pocket throughout the night. The former Penn State commit completed 28 of his 34 pass attempts worth 318 yards and four touchdowns.
Penn State’s front seven struggled to do anything to stop the signal-caller, as he had plenty of time to find his talented group of wideouts.
Antonio Shelton was one of the few bright spots for the group, as he had a sack, a tackle for loss, and even batted down a pass attempt.
While it was hard to find much good in any of what Penn State’s defense did Saturday night, multiple linebackers had fairly productive nights.
Ellis Brooks led the team with 11 total tackles, including one for a loss, while Brandon Smith added 1.5 tackles for loss. Smith’s performance was solid other than an ugly late hit that handed the Buckeyes fantastic field position deep in Penn State territory.
After serving his first-half suspension due to a targeting penalty against Indiana, Jesse Luketa made his presence felt. He finished tied for second on the team with eight total tackles and made multiple plays to help the Nittany Lions get a rare stop of Ohio State’s rushing game.
The Nittany Lions’ clearly struggled to stop anything Ohio State did, but it’s hard to blame the starting linebackers for the performance.
The group didn’t get a lot of help from a weak pass rush, but Penn State’s secondary was absolutely exposed by Fields.
The star quarterback had just six incompletions on the night, and Ohio State’s star wide receivers were consistently wide open all night. Fields had four touchdown passes, the ugliest of which came late in the first half.
After taking a timeout, Penn State had a miscommunication that led to one defender not even taking the field. Franklin explained it during his postgame press conference as an “inexcusable” error.
Mistakes like that one were the story of the night for Penn State’s secondary, as it looked way too easy for the Buckeyes throughout the night. Several members of Ohio State’s receiving corps had big performances, including two 100-yard performances. Garrett Wilson finished with 11 catches worth 111 yards, while Chris Olave dominated with 120 yards and two touchdowns.
Of all the defensive struggles Penn State had (and there were many), the secondary issues were the most glaring.
Special Teams: A-
Jordan Stout and Jake Pinegar both bounced back against the Buckeyes after less than stellar week one performances.
Pinegar hit a 31-yard kick and nailed all of his extra points, while Stout split the uprights on a 50-yard attempt right before halftime. Per usual, Stout booted all of his kickoffs through the back of the end zone for touchbacks, while he attempted four punts and finished averaging 49 yards.
The only reason Penn State’s special teams grade isn’t higher is because of the fact that it didn’t do much in the return game. Parker Washington seemed to have opportunities to return kickoffs, but he fair caught the ball on a consistent basis. Jahan Dotson wasn’t able to flip the field in Penn State’s favor on any of his punt returns.
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