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Penn State’s Post-Michigan State Report Card

Penn State football’s regular season has come to a close.

After a tough loss to No. 12 Michigan State at a snowy Spartan Stadium, the Nittany Lions finished with a 7-5 overall record. Partially thanks to the weather and partially thanks to a handful of costly mistakes, it was a messy game for Penn State.

Before getting in the bowl game spirit, let’s break down how each position group performed against the Spartans.

Quarterbacks: A-

Despite the elements, Sean Clifford had a very solid performance. Of course, you would like to see the veteran signal-caller get more done against one of the worst passing defenses in the country, but it’s hard to shift all the blame onto one guy.

He finished with 313 yards and three passing touchdowns at a 23-for-34 clip. It was his seventh career 300-yard game, which moves him into third all-time in that category at Penn State. Clifford made one of the gutsiest plays of his career late in the fourth quarter, completing a very long fourth down after an impressive scramble.

Running Backs: B-

While Keyvone Lee had one of his better statistical performances against Michigan State, that’s unfortunately not saying much. He picked up 79 yards on 15 carries, which is good for a solid 5.3 yards per attempt. The sophomore also burst through for a few explosive runs, including a 33-yard gain.

Once again, Lee was the lone back featured in Penn State’s offense. Devyn Ford had his number called twice and Noah Cain rushed once for no gain. John Lovett also had a costly fumble on a fourth-quarter kick return.

It’s hard to know who to blame when it comes to Penn State’s rushing woes. Its backs have shown dynamic and explosive flashes but often can’t hit the hole hard enough. But a lot of the time, there’s no hole there to begin with.

Wide Receivers: B+

To no surprise, Jahan Dotson led the way for this crew with eight catches for 137 yards and two scores. Parker Washington also had a solid outing, scoring once and racking up 60 yards on four catches. The sophomore also made a highlight reel play to set up a Dotson touch shortly thereafter.

None of Penn State’s receivers were charged with a dropped pass, which is extremely impressive given the weather circumstances. Still, you would think this crew would have been able to do more against a poor Michigan State secondary. Just two touchdowns were scored before what was basically garbage time.

Tight Ends: B+

Brenton Strange found himself much more involved in the passing game against Michigan State. He caught four of his five targets for 63 yards and none of his drop issues from the past were on display. Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren didn’t catch any passes.

When the run game struggled how it did, some of the blame has to fall on the tight ends as well. Franklin has said in the past he wanted to see more out of Tyler Bowen’s group in terms of run blocking.

Offensive Line: D

Once again, Penn State’s offensive line did nothing to help out Sean Clifford, who was sacked four times on the afternoon. Phil Trautwein’s squad allowed eight tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries as well.

When Clifford did have a clean pocket, he was able to step up and deliver strikes to his playmakers. However, that was hardly the case Saturday. The quarterback scrambled often and had hands in his face all day. The offensive line didn’t help get anything goes in the run game, either.

Defensive Line: B-

Penn State’s defense had an uncharacteristically bad day, and the line was no exception. The lads up front failed to record a sack and mustered six tackles for loss to Michigan State’s eight, despite a 13-minute time of possession gap.

No one on the line recorded more than four tackles. Arnold Ebiketie led the way with those four and also had an impressive pass breakup and a tackle for loss. Nick Tarburton and Dvon Ellies also had four tackles of their own.

Linebackers: B-

It was also a tough day for Penn State’s linebackers as no one on the unit reached double-digit tackle totals, despite being on the field for 36 minutes.

The snowy conditions weren’t helping, but missed tackles plagued this group as well against the Spartans. Most notably, Brandon Smith allowed some long third-down conversions after whiffing on big hitters.

Secondary: C+

This crew perhaps had its worst performance of the year. Payton Throne threw for 268 yards in the snow and punched in two touchdowns through the air. Jayden Reed’s 4th and 15 mossing of Johnny Dixon was an embarrassing end to a subpar night.

Ji’Ayir Brown led the way with an impressive 10-tackle performance, but he also missed a few tackles and was flagged for an inexcusable late hit early on. Joey Porter Jr. also continued his defensive pass interference trend, allowing Michigan State to extend a drive Penn State nearly took the Spartans out of.

On the bright side, Daequan Hardy took his second career interception to the house for six.

Special Teams: C+

It’s hard to grade this crew given the snowy circumstances, but it was still not a great performance. John Lovett’s kick-return fumble basically sealed the deal for the Spartans, and Jordan Stout’s missed field goal and PAT came back to haunt Penn State.

Stout did have another impressive punting day, however. He pinned Sparty inside its own 20-yard line three times and averaged 48 yards per punt in the elements.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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