Penn State’s Post-Michigan Report Card

For the second year in a row, Penn State football went undefeated through five games. And for the second year in a row, the Nittany Lions fell to a top-five conference opponent in the sixth game.

After failing to make much of a difference against Michigan’s run attack, the Nittany Lions fell 41-17 in Ann Arbor and subsequently fell six spots in the AP Top 25 Poll.

Penn State will have the chance to bounce back against Minnesota in the 2022 White Out but only if it can capitalize on its strengths and correct some of its weaknesses. Here is how each position fared in the team’s return from the bye week.

Quarterbacks: C+

Both Sean Clifford and Drew Allar received noteworthy playing time after the former left the game with an undisclosed injury. Though neither quarterback was the main reason for Penn State’s downfall, neither did much to change the team’s fortunes.

Clifford finished the game completing 37% of his passes for 120 yards. Of Clifford’s 19 attempts, many faced instantaneous pressure (we’ll get there, don’t worry).

Exemplifying the day’s struggles, Clifford’s two biggest throws had completely different results. In the third quarter, Clifford threw a 48-yard bomb, perfectly dropped to Trey Wallace to set up a score. On a later fourth-down attempt, Clifford’s placement didn’t matter as the ball went right through Parker Washington’s hands.

Similarly, Allar completed just 50% of his throws, but his teammates didn’t offer him much assistance either. Michigan’s defense swallowed Penn State’s offense regardless of who was under center.

It’s hard to grade Clifford and Allar too low, but without either making much of an individual impact, it’s hard to grade them much higher either.

Running Backs: D

Penn State was completely ineffective at running the football. Outside of Clifford’s 62-yard near-touchdown run in the second quarter, the ground game was nonexistent.

Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen, and Keyvone Lee combined for just 41 yards Saturday. Part of their struggles came from poor offensive line play and a general abandonment of the run late, but a 2.9-yard-per-carry average isn’t going to get the job done.

Factor in a bad drop and a killer pass interference call (both caused by Singleton), and the day looks even worse.

Wide Receivers: C

Some of Penn State’s wideouts had a quietly productive day. Mitchell Tinsley picked up 57 yards on five catches, Parker Washington’s day saw three catches for 33 yards, and Trey Wallace totaled 57 yards on a pair of grabs.

Still, the receivers were well-defended by Michigan’s secondary. As has been a common refrain thus far, it’s hard to penalize the receivers for unfavorable situations, but they didn’t do much to elevate themselves either. It was a pretty average day for the group.

Tight Ends: C-

Brenton Strange entered Saturday’s game as the team’s second-leading receiver. On the day, Strange managed just one catch for nine yards.

Tyler Warren and Theo Johnson didn’t make an impact on the stat sheet, though they saw the field in offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s heavy tight end packages.

The trio of tight ends didn’t do much to help the day’s abysmal blocking display either, though, the majority of those duties didn’t fall on them.

Offensive Line: D-

In his postgame press conference, head coach James Franklin said Michigan controlled the line of scrimmage, and it was a core reason behind Penn State’s collapse. The offensive line delivered a terrible performance.

Running backs and quarterbacks alike were met with pressure immediately on most plays. The offensive line failed to open holes for Penn State’s backs to run through, leading to the 41-yard result, and blitzing defenders disrupted the timing of the passing game. The offense was unable to comfortably move the ball at any point in the game and it showed in the final time of possession — just 18:04.

The only saving grace for the front five was only allowing two sacks, but if it weren’t for the footwork of Clifford and Allar to avoid pressure, that number would almost certainly be higher. Not great, folks.

Front Seven: D+

Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher described the front seven’s performance best, calling it “embarrassing.”

Franklin’s postgame comments about the trenches were not solely focused on the offense. While Penn State may have expected to face trouble stopping Michigan running back Blake Corum, it couldn’t have expected the difficulty it actually did face.

Backup running back Donovan Edwards torched the Nittany Lion defense, alongside quarterback JJ McCarthy. The three aforementioned ball carriers combined for an overwhelming 396 yards on the ground.

It’s unfair to overlook the second-quarter pick-six by Curtis Jacobs and the occasional quarterback hurry, but overall the inability to stop the run kneecapped any sign of life for the Nittany Lions.

The defensive front gets a slightly higher grade than the offensive front, as it’s obviously difficult to maintain control of a game when you see the field for nearly 42 minutes, but the time of possession issues can’t explain every missed tackle.

Secondary: B

For all intents and purposes, the secondary was average. They were not tested much, as JJ McCarthy only threw four of his 24 passes beyond 15 yards. But on those four passes, the Nittany Lions only allowed one completion.

Safety Ji’Ayir Brown was one of the few glimmers of hope early for Penn State’s defense. Brown led the team with nine tackles, all of which came in the first half.

Special Teams: B-

Punter Barney Amor was efficient as usual. Amor averaged 43 yards on each of his three punts, including one that landed inside the 20-yard line. As the game started to get out of hand, Penn State pivoted away from punting, though, so Amor’s day was a relatively quiet one.

Kicker Jake Pinegar converted both extra points and his lone field goal attempt from 27 yards. The Nittany Lions’ kickoff struggles continued, as Gabe Nwosu kicked one out of bounds, but when Pinegar re-assumed control of the role, the unit’s day seemed to level out.

In addition to his weak day on the ground, running back Nick Singleton made two bad mistakes in the return game as well. Singleton fumbled a second-half kickoff and though he recovered the ball, he was only able to bring it to the 20-yard line.

Later in the game, Singleton motioned to allow a kickoff to be left alone for a touchback, but the ball bounced back toward the field of play at the 3-yard line. After his hesitation, Singleton could only get back to the 13-yard line. Coming off the field, Singleton was maligned by special teams coordinator Stacy Collins.

Penn State’s offense was obviously not clicking on all cylinders, but the poor management of starting field position served as an insult to the squad’s injurious performance.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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