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Penn State Football’s Post-Indiana Report Card

No. 4 Penn State football is rolling into next weekend’s clash with No. 3 Iowa.

James Franklin’s group improved to 5-0 this past weekend with an impressive 24-0 shutout over Indiana. The Nittany Lions’ offense did what it had to do, while Brent Pry’s defense once again showcased talent at just about every position group.

Before we move onto the Hawkeyes, let’s take a look at the grades for Penn State against the Hoosiers.

Quarterbacks: B+

Sean Clifford wasn’t overly impressive against the Hoosiers, but the redshirt senior was once again efficient and productive in his decision-making throughout the night. While he totaled just 178 yards through the air, Clifford managed to move well in the pocket all night and kept plays alive on several occasions. He didn’t take any sacks and was an effective scrambler by finishing second on the squad with 58 rushing yards.

Two of the quarterback’s three touchdown passes were on plays in which he scrambled out of the pocket and seemed to make something out of nothing. That was put on display most on a 30-yard touchdown to Jahan Dotson in which Clifford ranged to his right on a key fourth-down play.

Clifford did throw an ugly interception late in the first half that set up Indiana deep in Penn State territory, but Pry’s defense helped pick the quarterback up and made the goal-line stand.

Ta’Quan Roberson saw a bit of time for Mike Yurcich’s offense Saturday late in the fourth quarter, but the redshirt sophomore only got chances to hand the ball off on a short possession.

Running Backs: C+

The Nittany Lions totaled 209 rushing yards on the Hoosiers, but that number is greatly inflated by the ground Clifford picked up on his scrambles. Keyvone Lee was virtually the only effective rusher on the night, as he led the team with 74 yards. Lee’s 44-yard explosion was the most notable big rushing play of the night.

Noah Cain was “dinged up” against Villanova last week and only saw one carry, but he didn’t quite look like himself this weekend either. Yurcich was clearly trying to get the junior going all night as he led the team with 11 carries, but he totaled just 23 yards on those opportunities.

John Lovett saw 10 carries and made a few nice runs, including consecutive 10 and 13-yard carries late in the game, but he was never able to get going on a consistent basis, either. Devyn Ford was the only other back to get a touch, as he earned 12 yards on his only attempt.

Wide Receivers: B+

Jahan Dotson’s campaign to be the nation’s best wide receiver continued Saturday night. The senior hit pay dirt on two occasions, including a snag in the back of the end zone that put the Nittany Lions up 14-0 in the second quarter.

Dotson finished his night with eight grabs worth 84 yards, but Penn State’s other starting wideouts didn’t make as many key contributions. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith both totaled two catches on the night, but only gained 55 yards between them. However, one of Washington’s catches was a clutch sideline grab that helped the Nittany Lions keep the chains moving on 4th and 7.

Outside of Dotson’s big performance, it wasn’t necessarily a banner night for the Nittany Lions’ receiving core, but the group did enough for Penn State’s offense to put together a couple of scoring drives on the Hoosiers.

Tight Ends: B

Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson each only had a catch against Indiana, but Strange’s grab came on the first score of the night that helped electrify the prime-time Stripe Out crowd.

Johnson was targeted twice on the night, the first of which he drew an obvious pass-interference call that helped set up Strange’s score.

The pair of Johnson and Strange haven’t necessarily had a huge impact on the passing game quite yet, but both have added value as blockers and remain to be consistent options for Clifford when targeted.

Offensive Line: B+

Clifford’s ability to move well in the pocket and keep plays alive wouldn’t be possible without solid offensive line play. The quarterback was never sacked on the night and hurried just three times, as Indiana’s pass rush was largely neutralized by Phil Trautwein’s group.

While the pass protection once again impressed, the lack of a rushing attack is still a cause of concern for this group.

Defensive Line: A

Penn State’s defense was essentially perfect all night, and that was anchored by the play of the big fellas up front.

PJ Mustipher led the group with six total tackles — including one for a loss — but Arnold Ebiketie was once again the one who flashed by grabbing a sack, a blocked kick, and three total tackles.

Indiana’s rushing attack was held to just 69 total yards, while quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. and Jack Tuttle never truly looked comfortable in the pocket with all the pressure they faced. Each had completion rates right around 50%, and while much of that can be credited to Penn State’s defensive backs, the defensive line deserves credit for forcing ugly passes with the pressure they got.

Outside of Ebiketie and Mustipher, Dvon Ellis added two tackles while Jesse Luketa added three as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid.

Linebackers: A

If it’s a good performance for Penn State’s defense, odds are the linebackers played pretty well. That was the case Saturday.

Ellis Brooks was everywhere against the Hoosiers, as he led Penn State with eight total tackles, while Brandon Smith added five tackles and a sack. Both were key pieces in the Nittany Lions’ consistent pass rush and made tackles that stuffed any kind of running game for Indiana. Curtis Jacobs also added value with four total tackles.

Penn State’s linebackers were quite literally everywhere against the Hoosiers. Saturday was just another example of how talented and experienced this group is, much like the rest of the defensive unit.

Secondary: A

Yep, it was also a great night for Penn State’s defensive backs.

Indiana totaled 195 yards through the air, but couldn’t get any sort of consistent passing attack going against Penn State’s defense. Ji’Ayir Brown and Joey Porter Jr. both came down with interceptions, the latter of the pair made a sliding grab to turn the ball over late in the first half.

Star safety Jaquan Brisker added four tackles of his own — including 0.5 for a loss — while Tariq Castro-Fields broke up two passes. Even Daequan Hardy got in on the action in his first start by tipping away a pass on a shot to the end zone by Tuttle.

The group as a whole finished with an impressive six total pass breakups.

Special Teams: A-

Jordan Stout had a solid performance yet again as Penn State’s Mr. Everything on special teams. While he wasn’t able to earn a touchback on his opening kickoff, he forced a fair catch and made it to the end zone with ease for the rest of the night.

Stout also pinned the Hoosiers inside of their own 20 on four of his six punts and even nailed a 50-yard field goal for the dagger late in the victory.

Penn State didn’t get a whole lot going in the return game, but Dotson did manage a solid 16-yard return on an Indiana punt late in the game.

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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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