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Penn State’s Post-Maryland Report Card

After three straight losses for just over a month, the Nittany Lions earned a much-needed 31-14 victory over Maryland in College Park Saturday night. The story of the night was undoubtedly Jahan Dotson’s program-record 242 receiving yards on 11 catches, along with three touchdowns.

Now at 6-3 and back to .500 in conference play, Penn State has three games left on the slate. Contests with Michigan and Michigan State remain, but let’s review the win over the Terps before moving on to the final quarter of the season:

Quarterbacks: B+

Overall it was an efficient day for Sean Clifford behind center, thanks mainly to Jahan Dotson’s record-breaking afternoon. The redshirt senior signal-caller finished with 363 yards, three touchdown passes to his buddy Dotson, and, most importantly, zero interceptions.

Clifford made careful, precise throws for much of the game and finished with a completion percentage of 57.4%. There were 20 incompletions on the day for the Cincinnati native, but a couple of those were clear drops by Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith.

Despite the solid decision-making, Clifford did take three sacks on the afternoon. The offensive line has taken plenty of hits this season — much of it fair — but the quarterback did take a ton of time in the pocket on a couple of those takedowns.

Running Backs: B-

All things considered, it wasn’t a bad day for Ja’Juan Seider’s group. It’s been a struggle all season for each of Penn State’s rushers, especially considering they only had 33 rushing yards against the Buckeyes last week. Keyvone Lee, Noah Cain, and John Lovett totaled 109 yards Saturday, 50 of which came from Lee.

Lee earned those yards on just eight attempts, including rushes of 15 and 11 yards. That left the sophomore with an impressive 6.3 yards per carry. Cain and Lovett weren’t as efficient as the younger Lee, as the first of the pair had just 35 yards on 10 attempts. The Baylor transfer, meanwhile, struggled to get going by earning only 24 yards on seven attempts.

While there wasn’t necessarily a standout performance, Penn State forced Maryland to respect the run game in at least some way, shape, or form Saturday. The Nittany Lions’ rushers have largely been non-factors in several games so far, but that wasn’t fully the case against Maryland.

Wide Receivers: A

Jahan. Dotson.

What else needs to be said here? As already noted, the senior out of Nazareth, Pa., exploded for a program-record 242 receiving yards. Dotson paced the team with 11 catches and scored all of the Nittany Lions’ offensive touchdowns on the afternoon.

The wideout’s first score came in the first quarter when he worked his way open with a beautiful double move. Dotson opened the second half with a sweet catch that he climbed the ladder for, but his final touchdown was arguably the most impressive. The stud wide receiver showcased his blazing speed in a major way, as he went untouched 82 yards to the house in the fourth quarter.

Saturday afternoon was Dotson’s fourth triple-digit yardage performance of the season, along with his third game with double-digit catches.

While he’s the undisputed leader of the group and arguably the best wide receiver in the nation, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith also contributed on Saturday. Despite drops for both, “KLS” had two catches worth 36 yards, while Washington grabbed 16 receiving yards.

Tight Ends: C+

Once again, it was a fairly pedestrian day for each of Penn State’s tight ends.

Theo Johnson was the only member of the group to record any catches, as he had three grabs for 23 yards. One of the Ontario native’s grabs, however, was a fantastic jumping effort that kept the chains moving for the Nittany Lions.

Brenton Strange didn’t record any catches, but Tyler Warren got a touch in the wildcat formation when Penn State went for it on 4th and short. The athletic tight end was stuffed short of the line to gain, however, as the Nittany Lions turned the ball over deep in Maryland territory.

Offensive Line: C

A couple of the sacks Sean Clifford took can be blamed on him holding on to the ball too long, but you still have to think the offensive line deserves some heat for not giving the quarterback enough time.

Along with the three sacks, Penn State’s rushing attack still just doesn’t seem to have sufficient holes to hit. Yes, the running backs had a couple of productive carries and found some semblance of a rhythm. However, Phil Trautwein’s group just hasn’t done enough to pave the way for Nittany Lion rushers up to this point, and those struggles continued against Maryland.

Defensive Line: B

The big fellas up front limited the Terrapins to just 48 rushing yards on the day, but there were a couple of drives where Taulia Tagovailoa had plenty of time to slice up the Nittany Lions. The “bend but don’t break” defense was on fully display, but the younger brother of Tua Tagovailoa still managed 371 yards and 41 completions — that can’t all be blamed on the secondary.

Derrick Tangelo and Arnold “AK” Ebiketie both had sacks, while Dvon Ellies managed to get pressure on QB1 on multiple occasions.

The Nittany Lions were without defensive end/linebacker hybrid Jesse Luketa due to an unspecified injury, while PJ Mustipher is obviously out for the season. All things considered, it wasn’t a standout day for the group, but yet another solid performance nonetheless.

Linebackers: B+

Brandon Smith proved once again Saturday why he’s such a valued member of Brent Pry’s defense. The former five-star recruit out of Virginia helped pace the Nittany Lions for nine tackles — including 2.5 for a loss — and put some mean hits on a couple of Maryland’s offensive weapons.

Meanwhile, Ellis Brooks added seven total tackles while rising star Curtis Jacobs made five of his own.

This trio has impressed all season and was once again everywhere for much of Saturday’s win. The Terps attempted 27 rushes on the day with little to no success, and this starting rotation of backers was a big reason for those struggles. However, the position group doesn’t fall into the A-range due to Tagovailoa’s successful day through the air.

Secondary: B+

Tagovailoa’s big day has been discussed, but a huge day from Penn State’s safeties can’t be ignored.

Jaquan Brisker had seven total tackles — including one for a loss — but Ji’Ayir Brown was the story of the win for the defense. The fellow Lackawanna transfer tied Smith for a team-leading nine tackles and finished with two turnovers. Brown’s first big play came when he recovered a Maryland fumble that occurred deep in Penn State territory.

The big highlight didn’t come until the game’s final minutes, however, as Brown’s perfectly timed pick-six sealed the victory for Penn State.

Penn State’s cornerbacks didn’t have a perfect night against a talented quarterback, while offensive weapons Rakim Jarrett and Chigoziem Okonkwo both had productive performances. However, Brown and Brisker’s big plays are enough for a solid grade for the group.

Special Teams: B-

It wasn’t a perfect night for Jordan Stout on special teams. The redshirt senior had a rare non-touchback on one of the kickoffs, but it actually worked in Penn State’s favor when Maryland’s returner was stuffed inside his own 20-yard line. However, Stout also had an ugly shanked punt that set the Terps up with perfect field position.

The everything man on special teams did hit a 24-yard field goal, but the shank was certainly uncharacteristic based on the great year he’s having. The Nittany Lions’ return game never got much going, as John Lovett didn’t have a kick return longer than 20 yards.

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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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