Penn State Football’s Midseason Report Card

Penn State’s season is just over halfway through, and the Nittany Lions find themselves at 6-1 heading into their crucial matchup against No. 2 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium this weekend.

James Franklin’s squad got off to a hot start, taking down Purdue and Auburn in its first two road games. Since then, the Nittany Lions have kind of stalled before being struck down 41-17 to Michigan in the Big House last week. Each area of play has varied a lot over that stretch, so let’s go more in-depth.

Quarterbacks: B+

I don’t think it’s fair to be too harsh in this category, as Sean Clifford’s play is a big reason why Penn State is in this spot, to begin with. He may not be the elite quarterback that fans dream of having on their team, but his game-management skills are unmatched, and he always knows how to limit mistakes and do what it takes to win a football game.

Through seven games, Clifford has thrown for 1,445 yards, 13 touchdowns, and three interceptions with a 61.5% completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 146.1. Meanwhile, we all know that Drew Allar has been making noise as Clifford’s backup. He’s struggled a bit lately after making a big splash early against Ohio University.

Running Backs: A-

I think we can officially say that Penn State’s running game is back. After a four-player rotation with Keyvone Lee, Devyn Ford, Nick Singleton, and Kaytron Allen to start the season, the two true freshmen have emerged as Penn State’s clear 1A and 1B running backs. So far this season, Singleton leads the Nittany Lions’ rushers with 561 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Allen is not far behind him, though, with 396 yards and four touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry. When both of the freshmen are on top of their games, it propels the offense to a whole new level.

The backs have struggled in a few games, though. After coughing up four fumbles to Northwestern at the beginning of October, Singleton and Allen combined for only 35 rushing yards on 12 combined carries. Like most of the team, they had a bounce-back game against Minnesota, though, combining for over 150 yards.

Wide Receivers: B+

Penn State also has a 1A and 1B situation when it comes to its receivers, with Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley leading the pack. Washington is Penn State’s leading receiver with 388 yards on 30 catches and a touchdown. Tinsley is also right there with 340 yards on 28 catches and four scores.

Mike Yurcich has done a great job of mixing up the pass distribution on Penn State’s offense, which helps a lot. The only thing plaguing this group is the dropped balls, which we saw more at the beginning of the season and a little bit against Michigan.  

Tight Ends: A-

The tight ends have been a shining light on Penn State’s offense so far this season. At first, Brenton Strange took the lead when Theo Johnson was injured for the first few games of the campaign. Not only is Strange Penn State’s third-leading receiver with 245 yards and four touchdowns, but he has also done an excellent job working alongside the offensive line to block and open up chances for the run game. Now, Johnson is back after a breakout game against Minnesota last weekend. The redshirt sophomore recorded 75 yards and a touchdown on five catches. The Nittany Lions arguably have a top-five tight end room in the country.

Offensive Line: B+

The only reason we’re not giving the group a higher grade here is because of its performance against Michigan, a game in which Sean Clifford had almost zero time to throw the ball. Other than that, the group has been much better than last year.

Sean Clifford has only been sacked five times this year. Through seven games last season, he was sacked a whopping 11 times. Not only that, but the group’s performance has very much attributable to the run game’s success this year, as well. Left tackle Olu Fashanu has been an absolute brick wall at left tackle this season, which has been crucial to the offense’s overall success.

Front Seven: B+

Penn State’s front seven has been very good to start the season, too. Surprisingly, true freshman Dani Dennis-Sutton currently leads the team in sacks with three on the season, followed by Johnny Dixon at two. Before giving up 418 rushing yards to Michigan, the Nittany Lions, statistically, had one of the best rushing defenses in the country. That game skewed Penn State’s stats, as it’s now up to 140.1 rushing yards given up per game. But, the team still has a great rushing defense that’ll surely be tested by Ohio State this weekend.

Abdul Carter and Curtis Jacobs have been anchors for Penn State’s linebackers. Carter’s explosiveness has taken the defense by storm, as he has 31 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Jacobs is second on the team in total tackles with 36, and he has a pick-six and two fumble recoveries on the year.

Secondary: A+

After coming into the season with a lot of questions pertaining to the reliability of the secondary, this group has outperformed its expectations by a mile and a half. Led by Joey Porter Jr. at cornerback, this group is buzzing. Porter is tied for second in the country with 11 pass breakups, while Kalen King is tied for third with ten.

Ji’Ayir Brown and Zakee Wheatley have also demonstrated their athleticism this season, too. Brown leads the team with three interceptions, and Wheatley is second with two. Each has a forced fumble on the year.

Special Teams: A

Punter Barney Amor is the man. He’s reliable, and he’s very talented. He doesn’t have the biggest leg, but he has a special ability to just drop a ball inside the 10-yard line.  

Meanwhile, Jake Pinegar had a shaky start to the season, missing two field goals and two extra points against Ohio University and Central Michigan, but he’s been perfect ever since. He also has ten touchbacks on kickoffs for the year on 15 kickoff attempts.

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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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