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Penn State’s Post-Purdue Report Card

Penn State football is fresh off a thrilling 35-31 victory over Purdue in West Lafayette Thursday night.

Following an offseason that generated a lot of question marks, the Nittany Lions proved their worth and refused to go down, with Sean Clifford leading a game-winning drive to score Penn State’s fifth touchdown of the game to take a late lead over Purdue.

Still, it wasn’t a perfect performance from the Nittany Lions. Now, let’s review how each position group performed against the Boilermakers.

Quarterbacks: A-

To no surprise, Sean Clifford got the starting call for Penn State. The sixth-year quarterback had a solid first half, completing 8-of-15 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, which also included several dropped passes, too. It wasn’t anything flashy, but he did what needed to be done to give Penn State a 21-10 lead heading into halftime.

Then, things got shaken up a bit. Clifford exited the game with cramping, and Drew Allar made his Penn State debut. All things considered, he had a solid outing, going 2-for-4 for 26 yards passing. He looked calm, cool, and collected, which was great to see from the true freshman. He also threw one of the best incomplete passes we’ve ever seen.

But in the end, it was Clifford’s game to win. His first interception of the game might have been one of the worst throws of his career, but as the great Hannah Montana once said, “everybody makes mistakes.” He had a few tough drives after that, but he eventually recovered and led Penn State’s game-winning drive.

Running Backs: C+

Not a lot changed in the running back room for Penn State, or at least not yet. True freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen made their Penn State debuts and made some solid plays.

Singleton looked explosive off the line of scrimmage but didn’t get those big runs like many fans hoped he would. Kaytron Allen probably had the better performance of the two freshmen and was Penn State’s leading rusher with 31 yards on eight carries.

Even though he caught the game-winning pass, Keyvone Lee didn’t have his best outing. The junior looked a bit slow off the line of scrimmage and had a tough time hitting the holes in front of him. Still, he made the big play when it mattered most.

Meanwhile, Devyn Ford was only heard from once when he caught a 12-yard pass from Sean Clifford to convert on 4th and 2. He was still in on the running backs rotation throughout every fourth drive, though.

Wide Receivers: B+

The wideouts didn’t have a great start to the game, dropping several passes from Sean Clifford that were as on target as they could be. Mitchell Tinsley had himself a great game in his Penn State debut, scoring the Nittany Lions’ first touchdown.

But, his most underrated play of the game, and perhaps the play of the entire game-winning drive, came on his 27-yard gain when he burned a Purdue defensive back and got Penn State down to the Boilermakers’ 30-yard line. He finished the game as Penn State’s leading receiver with seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith had a tough start to the game but quickly recovered by delivering a spectacular touchdown catch in which he broke multiple tackles to score in the fourth quarter.

Parker Washington was surprisingly quiet throughout the game, recording only two catches for 30 yards. We don’t think there is much to read into here, since he was definitely the focus of Purdue’s pass coverage throughout the game.

Tight Ends: B+

Tyler Warren and Brenton Strange both made some key plays for Penn State, including Strange’s 67-yard touchdown reception when he refused to go down.

Strange recorded two catches for 77 yards, while Warren had three for 23 yards. Overall, it was a bit of a quiet day for the tight ends group.

Offensive Line: C+

The offensive line looked improved from last season, but not by much. Statistically, it seems like the group had a great day, as Purdue was only credited with one sack and three tackles for loss, but there is still a lot of room for improvement with this group.

Olu Fashanu had a solid outing and held his own on the line, but the same can’t be said for the rest. But, it may not be fair to be so picky after the first game of the season. James Franklin mentioned that the line “battled,” on a more positive note. It sure does seem that this line may have a higher ceiling than years past.

Front Seven: B

There is no way to sugarcoat it — the front seven had a sloppy start to the game. The pass rush wasn’t great, and it seemed like Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell had an unlimited amount of time in the pocket. There were also a bunch of missed tackles, which allowed Purdue to pick up preventable yards after contact.

But, the pass rush finally clicked in the fourth quarter at the most crucial time, sacking O’Connell twice in the fourth quarter, including Purdue’s last play of the game. Similar to the offensive line, there’s still room for improvement, but the group held it together when it mattered most.

Secondary: B+

It wasn’t a great start for the secondary, either. In the first three quarters, O’Connell was able to get whatever he wanted over the middle of the field. Through the third quarter, Purdue’s signal caller threw for 282 yards and a touchdown, completing 22-of-38 attempts. That’s not good.

But, there were some bright moments in that time span, including Zakee Wheatley’s sprint across the field to force the fumble that set up Brenton Strange’s 67-yard touchdown before halftime.

The group took a complete 180-degree turn in the fourth quarter, though. After getting torched in the first three, O’Connell only threw for 74 passing yards on nine attempts in the final frame.

Joey Porter Jr. also had a career performance, credited with a team-high eight tackles and three pass breakups. Another highlight came from Daequan Hardy, who made a criminally underrated play to break up O’Connell’s third-down heave to a wide-open TJ Sheffield, saving the game for Penn State.

Ji’Ayir Brown had a surprisingly quiet game, registering only two tackles, but we think that is just an anomaly, for now.

Special Teams: A

Barney Amor put on a punting clinic Thursday night. The sixth-year punter booted eight punts for an average of 46.9 yards, with three downing inside the 20-yard line. It was nice to see, especially after he was put on full scholarship.

Gabriel Nwosu and Sander Sahaydak also split kickoff duties, averaging 63 and 64 yards, respectively. Overall, this was definitely Penn State’s most consistent group.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected]

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