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Penn State Football’s Post-Villanova Report Card

Penn State football is 4-0, baby.

The Nittany Lions rolled past Villanova on Saturday with a 38-17 victory and climbed all the way to No. 4 in the AP Top 25 Poll. Before we move on to Penn State’s prime-time matchup against Indiana, let’s break down an all-around solid performance from James Franklin’s squad.

Quarterback: A-

Sean Clifford followed up his great performance against Auburn with another impressive outing in the squad’s win over the Wildcats. The signal-caller threw for a career-high 401 yards while completing 73% of his passes and throwing for four touchdowns. His first touchdown came on the first offensive play when he threw a dart to Jahan Dotson deep down the field.

He did throw an interception, though, that bounced off the hands of KeAndre Lambert-Smith and was hardly Clifford’s fault. While Clifford was a little indecisive early on in the contest, it’s hard to complain about a 401-yard, four-touchdown day. Additionally, he averaged 15.4 yards per pass attempt — an absurd number for any quarterback.

Yes, this performance was against an FCS team. However, it’s impossible to not be thrilled with the level of play Clifford has provided the Nittany Lions through the first third of the season.

Ta’Quan Roberson got some snaps in the fourth quarter of the game and completed three passes for 25 yards.

Running Backs: C

If it wasn’t for John Lovett, the grade for the running backs would be a tad lower. It was another rough day for Penn State’s ground game, as the Nittany Lions totaled just 80 yards on 34 carries (2.4 yards per attempt).

Lovett led the way for Ja’Juan Seider’s backs with 11 carries for 45 yards, good for a solid 4.1 yards per carry. He was the only running back who was able to get anything going against Nova’s front seven, which is honestly a bit concerning.

Noah Cain started the game but only ran the ball once for two yards. After the game, Franklin said Cain was “banged up” during the week, which is presumably why the running back saw little action. The combination of Keyvone Lee, Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and Tank Smith ran the ball 11 times for 41 yards.

Moving forward, Penn State will aim to get the ground game going when it faces much-tougher competition with eight straight Big Ten games coming up.

Wide Receivers: A

Penn State’s wideouts absolutely balled out on Saturday. Jahan Dotson continued his stellar play with seven catches worth 117 yards and a touchdown, but it was the Nittany Lions’ other two starters who propel the group to an “A” grade.

Parker Washington was simply electric all game long. He caught five passes for 148 yards and two scores. His first touchdown came when he caught a pass over the middle and outran the Wildcats’ defenders for a 52-yard score.

Washington and Dotson are the first two Nittany Lions to each have 100 receiving yards in the same game since Pat Freiermuth and KJ Hamler did it back in 2018.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith took a short pass all the way to the end zone to notch the first score of his college career.

Lambert-Smith finished the day with two catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Tight Ends: C-

It was an underwhelming day for Ty Howle’s tight ends. Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson each had one catch, and those were actually the only times they were targeted. Additionally, James Franklin said after the game that his tight ends could’ve done a better job blocking, which may have contributed to the lackluster running game.

However, it wasn’t all negative for Penn State’s tight ends. Tyler Warren, for the second consecutive week, took a direct snap near the goal line and punched it into the end zone for six.

While there have certainly been some bright spots for Penn State’s tight ends this year, more consistency in both the run and pass game could be crucial to make Mike Yurcich’s offense more dynamic.

Offensive Line: C+

It was an OK day for the Nittany Lions’ offensive line. The unit allowed three sacks — two in the first half, just one in the second. The offensive line did a solid job of keeping Clifford upright throughout the game, but there’s of course room for improvement.

The line’s real struggles in the run game, as the Nittany Lions averaged just 2.4 yards per carry. Listen, it’s obviously not fair to blame just one position group here. The lack of a consistent rushing attack falls on the shoulders of the running backs, tight ends, and offensive line.

However, when you average just 2.4 yards per attempt and total just 80 yards on the ground against an FCS team, it’s a problem, and it starts with the offensive line, which is why the group can’t earn higher than a C+.

Defensive Line: A-

John Scott Jr.’s defensive line definitely did its job Saturday afternoon. The group was responsible for all three sacks, as Arnold Ebiketie, PJ Mustipher, and Coziah Izzard all got to the quarterback once.

Through the third quarter, Penn State’s defensive front dominated and allowed only 22 rushing yards. The Wildcats totaled 36 rushing yards in the fourth quarter alone, though, Penn State had inserted its reserves at that point. Still, Nova totaled 26 carries for 58 yards, which is good for an atrocious 2.2 yards attempt.

Overall, it was an encouraging performance for the Nittany Lions’ defensive line ahead of a tougher matchup next week against Indiana.

Linebackers: B+

Ellis Brooks led the Nittany Lions with four tackles, while Brandon Smith caused havoc with two tackles for loss. Curtis Jacobs and Jesse Luketa each added two tackles, too.

The linebacking corps did a great job shutting down the rushing attack, and it did a solid job in coverage. No one in the group stood out statistically, but they did a good job of playing together and doing their jobs, which showed in the end result.

Even the backups got in on the action, as Charlie Katshir totaled three tackles, while Kobe King totaled two tackles and a quarterback hit.

Secondary: A-

The secondary was responsible for Penn State’s only forced turnover on the day. Ji’Ayir Brown played the tip drill beautifully and intercepted a pass inside Penn State’s own five-yard line.

Brown also totaled three tackles and one for a loss, too. Tariq Castro-Fields, Keaton Ellis, and Jaquan Brisker each had one pass breakup as well.

Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith totaled just 84 passing yards through the first three quarters, a sign that his 222 yards for the game are deceiving since Penn State had its reserves in for much of the fourth quarter. The one big blemish on the secondary came in the fourth quarter when true freshman Kalen King got beat deep for a 57-yard touchdown.

The Nittany Lions’ first-team defense gave up just three points, and the secondary was a key reason for that. The group has been balling all year, and it continued that Saturday.

Special Teams: A-

It was a quiet but productive day for Penn State’s special teams. Jordan Stout, like usual, had an awesome day punting the ball. He punted four times, and he pinned the Wildcats inside the 20-yard line every time.

Stout went one-for-two on his field-goal attempts, with his miss coming from 53 yards and his make coming from 29. Additionally, he made all five of his extra points.

Nothing stood out in the return game, but there were no glaring mistakes either, which is always a positive.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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