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Penn State’s Post-Ohio State Report Card

Despite putting up a fight, the Nittany Lions fell to Ohio State 33-24 in Columbus Saturday night. Penn State improved offensively and showed guts on defense, but the Buckeyes were ultimately too much for the Nittany Lions to handle.

Following the loss, James Franklin’s squad dropped just two spots to No. 22 in the AP Top 25 Poll. Now, it’s time to hand out some grades from Penn State’s hard-fought loss to Ohio State.

Quarterback: B

After appearing uncomfortable and less than 100% against Illinois, Sean Clifford looked much more like himself against the Buckeyes. The signal-caller completed 67% of his passes for 361 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, while it didn’t show up on the stat sheet, Clifford seemed to be more mobile and was able to move around in the pocket.

However, Clifford did turn the ball over twice (one interception, one fumble), which led to 10 Ohio State points. The turnovers need to be limited, and that’s why QB1 can’t earn a grade any higher.

The turnovers were costly, but it was overall an encouraging performance for Clifford as he continues to work his way back to 100% from his undisclosed injury.

Running Backs: D

It’s like we’re beating a dead horse at this point, but Penn State just can’t run the ball.

Penn State’s three running backs — John Lovett, Noah Cain, and Keyvone Lee — ran the ball 21 times for 42 yards, which equals just two yards per carry. If that wasn’t bad enough, Cain started off the game with a fumble, leading to him taking a backseat to Lovett for the rest of the contest.

The only bright spot from the group was a Lee four-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

The backs were ineffective in the passing game, too. Cain and Lee combined to catch just three passes for 19 yards.

Yes, it’s not fair to blame all the struggles in the running game on the backs themselves, as the blocking upfront has been poor. However, the lack of an impact from the running backs week in, and week out is a major concern.

Wide Receivers: A

Without a doubt, Taylor Stubblefield’s wideouts were the bright spots from Penn State’s loss to Ohio State. Jahan Dotson led the way with 11 receptions worth 127 yards on 15 targets. Dotson also showed off his legs with a rushing touchdown after taking a direct snap deep in the red zone.

Parker Washington tied a career-high with nine receptions, often coming up with catches in clutch situations. He totaled 108 receiving yards on 10 targets.

While Dotson and Washington shined, KeAndre Lambert-Smith contributed four catches for 49 yards, serving his role as the No. 3 wideout nicely.

Tight Ends: B

Penn State’s tight ends took a nice step forward Saturday after a rough performance against Illinois. Theo Johnson hauled in a career-high four catches for 41 yards, and he also made an impact blocking. On a long gain from Parker Washington, Johnson led the charge and laid out a Buckeyes defender.

Brenton Strange scored his third touchdown of the season to kick off the scoring in the prime-time matchup.

Overall, he totaled four catches for 17 yards. However, he had a costly drop that would’ve moved the Nittany Lions past midfield, which halted Penn State’s momentum

Offensive Line: C-

Penn State’s offensive line struggles didn’t go away when it took the field against the Buckeyes. Not only could the Nittany Lions not run the ball at all, but Sean Clifford was also sacked a season-high four times.

It’s hardly a surprise Phil Trautwein’s group had a rough day given the struggles it had against a not-so-good Illinois squad. The story of the season has been poor run blocking and mediocre blocking for Clifford, which proved to be the case once again.

Defensive Line: C+

The Nittany Lions’ defensive line has certainly had better days. John Scott Jr.’s unit combined for no sacks and only one quarterback hurry. Against a quarterback like CJ Stroud, getting pressure is important, and that’s something Penn State failed to do.

Despite what the final stat sheet says, the Nittany Lions were solid against the run. A 68-yard run by TreVeyon Henderson obviously skewed the stats, but for the most part, Penn State was able to slow down a dominant Buckeyes run game.

If you take away Henderson’s long run, he had 27 carries for 84 yards (3.1 yards per carry). The Nittany Lions were clearly much better up front against the run than they were a week ago.

Arnold Ebiketie had the only quarterback hurry, and he also totaled three tackles, 1.5 of which were for a loss. Coziah Izzard pitched in a tackle for loss, while Dvon Ellies and Nick Tarburton each had half of a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Linebackers: B

Brandon Smith led the Nittany Lions with eight tackles, while Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa, and Curtis Jacobs finished right behind him with seven tackles of their own. It was Jacobs, though, who stood out for Brent Pry’s group.

The seven tackles were a career-high for Jacobs, as were his two tackles for loss. After grabbing his first-career interception last week, the sophomore followed it up with another great performance.

The lack of a pass rush and the big run from Henderson take down the grade a little bit, but it was an overall solid performance from one of Penn State’s most consistent units this season.

Secondary: B

Penn State gave up just one passing touchdown, which is a big accomplishment considering the hot streak CJ Stroud has been on. Stroud came in having thrown four or more touchdowns in his three previous games.

The backend of the defense was burned a few times with long plays, most notably Chris Olave’s 38-yard touchdown and Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s 58-yard catch. However, given how potent Ohio State’s passing attack has been, the Nittany Lions did a solid job defending the pass.

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown totaled seven tackles and forced a fumble, and corner Tariq Castro-Fields had two tackles and a pass breakup.

Special Teams: B+

For some reason, people love to get on Jordan Stout for every little mistake he makes. The guy is awesome, and he showed it again Saturday. Yes, he missed a 49-yard field goal, but a field goal from that distance is really tough, especially for a college kicker.

Also, Stout drilled a 47-yarder earlier in the game, and he of course continued his touchback excellence on every kickoff. He punted the ball four times and averaged 49.2 yards per punt, with a long of 55 yards.

As usual, the Nittany Lions didn’t make any noise in the return game. However, the biggest thing is that there were no mistakes, and that held true for Joe Lorig’s group Saturday night.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

After a four-year career with Onward State, Gabe is now a college graduate and off to the real world. He shockingly served as the blog’s managing editor during the 2022-23 school year and covered football for much of his Onward State tenure, including trips to the Outback Bowl and Rose Bowl. For any professional inquiries, please email Gabe at [email protected]. You can still see his bad sports takes on Twitter at @gabeangieri.

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