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Penn State Football’s Post-Nebraska Report Card

Another week, another Penn State football loss.

The Nittany Lions are now off to an 0-4 start after Saturday’s 30-23 loss to Nebraska, and things remain ugly for most position groups. Penn State’s defense struggled to stop the Cornhuskers and Kirk Cirarrocca’s offense simply couldn’t keep up.

With that in mind, most of the Nittany Lions’ grades leave a lot to be desired yet again.

Quarterbacks: B-

Sean Clifford did not play well in the time he saw against Nebraska. Penn State’s opening drive was cut short with an ugly interception that set up the Cornhuskers for an easy field goal, and a Clifford fumble in the backfield soon after made for an easy Nebraska scoop-and-score touchdown.

Will Levis filled in for Clifford in the second quarter after that brutal start, and the younger quarterback helped Penn State battle back. Levis used his size well in the running game by pushing his way for 61 yards on the ground. He threw for 219 yards and, perhaps most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over.

Levis did fairly well in Clifford’s place, but his biggest issue came in the red zone. He consistently missed on passes, as the Nittany Lions scored just one touchdown in six trips inside Nebraska’s 20-yard line.

The young gunslinger’s biggest play of the day came on a 74-yard connection with Pat Freiermuth that set up a touchdown for Devyn Ford late. That score brought Penn State within a touchdown of Nebraska late in the fourth quarter.

While he did make a few big plays through the air and with his feet, Levis’ accuracy will need to get better if he’s Penn State’s starter moving forward. The redshirt sophomore hit on just 14 of his 31 attempts Saturday.

Running Backs: B+

Penn State’s running game finally looked competent against the Cornhuskers. After coming for just 138 rushing yards the past two weeks, the Nittany Lions totaled 245 yards on the ground.

Devyn Ford led the group with 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts, while Caziah Holmes added 50 yards. Keyvone Lee also had 49 yards that included a 31-yard touchdown, his first score as a Nittany Lion.

Penn State’s running backs combined for 165 yards (5.89 yards per carry) on the day, which was good for the most on the season. Along with that, a 36-yard rush from Holmes in the second quarter was the Nittany Lions’ longest run of the year so far.

While it wasn’t enough for a win, Ja’Juan Seider’s group finally hit its stride.

Wide Receivers: C+

It wasn’t a huge day for any of Penn State’s wide receivers, but multiple players had solid performances against Nebraska, specifically the freshmen.

Parker Washington continues to shine in his first season at Penn State, as he had five catches worth 70 yards, including an impressive 19-yard grab. Washington has clearly become a favorite receiver for the offense, as he led the team with 11 targets.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith also had a nice performance with three catches for 35 yards. He made a huge catch to help Penn State move the chains on a key fourth-down conversion.

While Jahan Dotson had an uncharacteristically quiet day, the pair of young receivers carried the load for this position group.

Tight Ends: A-

Pat Freiermuth continues to be a security blanket for Penn State’s offense this year. The junior led the team with 113 receiving yards on seven catches, most of that coming on his 74-yard catch and run.

Outside of that big play, Freiermuth consistently helped the Nittany Lions move the chains with grabs over the middle, as the big man was targeted 10 times on the day.

While he made some nice catches, however, Freiermuth was curiously off the field during several key red zone opportunities. Redshirt freshman Brenton Strange saw the field on plenty of occasions when Penn State was making a push for a score, but he didn’t even earn a target on the day.

As the Nittany Lions struggled inside the 20 all game, you’ve got to wonder why the star tight end was on the bench during several of those situations.

Offensive Line: C+

Nebraska finished with just two sacks on the afternoon, but they did hurry Penn State’s quarterbacks on five occasions. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line kept Clifford and Levis upright for the most part, but a lack of time in the pocket down the stretch, specifically on Penn State’s last offensive play of the game, was an issue.

While time in the pocket remains to be an issue, the offensive line deserves plenty of credit for the run game’s success. A few position changes likely helped the group.

“I thought, again, our traditional running game — we were able to get that going today,” Franklin said. “We moved Will Fries to guard and had Caedan [Wallace] at tackle, and I thought that helped us. I thought that helped us, I think we can build on that.”

It certainly wasn’t a perfect day for the big fellas up front, but a consistent run game is clearly something to build on moving forward.

Defensive Line: C

While it finally got its act together in the second half, Penn State’s defense struggled to stop much of what Nebraska did through the first two quarters.

Jayson Oweh led the team with nine total tackles and 1.5 for a loss, but the defensive line couldn’t sack Luke McCaffrey. The athletic quarterback finished his afternoon with 67 yards on the ground and threw for 152 yards.

While the defensive line managed to shut down the Cornhuskers late, their 146 rushing yards makes it tough to say the group had a great day.

Linebackers: B

While this group was also hampered by yet another slow start, Penn State’s starting linebackers all had solid performances in Lincoln.

Jesse Luketa matched Oweh with nine total tackles, including one for a loss, while Ellis Brooks had the team’s only sack and made eight tackles. Those two continue to be the anchors for the linebacker group, while Brandon Smith has played well in his first season as a starter.

Smith had a nice day with six tackles, while he also made the play of the game for Penn State’s defense. After a pass was tipped, the sophomore grabbed an interception to give the Nittany Lions the ball with a chance to tie it up in the fourth quarter.

Secondary: C

Like the rest of the defense, Penn State’s secondary couldn’t get it together against the Cornhuskers early. Nebraska mixed the run and pass perfectly on its first few drives to build on an early lead, and while he didn’t finish the day with huge numbers, McCaffrey was nothing if not efficient.

The Nittany Lions allowed him to hit on 13 of his 21 passing attempts, including a quick screen pass that went for a 45-yard touchdown to Zavier Betts.

The secondary didn’t allow as many big plays this week as it did against Maryland, but open-field tackling and allowing chunk plays is an issue that continues to rear its ugly head for the group.

Special Teams: A-

Nobody benefited more from Penn State’s red zone struggles than Jake Pinegar. The kicker had his most productive day of the season, nailing all three of his field-goal attempts, including a long of 40 yards.

As for the punting, Jordan Stout attempted just one and shanked it for a sub-par 34 yards. In an uncharacteristically inconsistent day, Stout also booted one of his kickoffs out of bounds to set up the Cornhuskers on their own 35-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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