December 5, 2021

Penn State football report card: Grading the Lions’ win over Wisconsin – Rivals.com – Alabama

Madison, Wisc. — Penn State led first and last on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium as it took out the Wisconsin Badgers by a final score of 16-10.

There was plenty of good to go around head coach James Franklin’s team following the win, but there were also some concerning things that should be noted.

It’s time to grade the Nittany Lions following a 1-0 start.

The Penn State Nittany Lion football program defeated Wisconsin in Madison to start the 2021 season.
The moment before Arnold Ebiketie blocked a Wisconsin field goal. BWI photo/Steve Manuel

OFFENSE: C

The good news is that Penn State’s offense scored more points than Wisconsin’s offense. The bad news is that it’s not saying much because Badgers’ quarterback Graham Mertz was pedestrian at best.

Sean Clifford put an awful first half performance for him and the entire unit behind him with a second half stat line that featured 11 completions on 19 attempts for 206 yards and a beautiful 49-yard touchdown strike to Jahan Dotson. The quarterback’s final stat line was 18 of 33 for 247 yards and the score.

Noah Cain ramped things up in both the run and pass game after the break, too. He finished with 48 rushing yards and 27 receiving yards off of five receptions. It was a nice return for the talented tailback who was hurt during the first game a year ago.

The receivers were good for the most part. Dotson led all of them with five catches for 102 yards while Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith each had four grabs for 71 and 47 yards, respectively.

Penn State often used two and three tight ends, and whether it was Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson, or Tyler Warren, the blocking was up to snuff for the most part.

Can the same be said about the offensive line? At times, yes, especially late in the game when it mattered most, but Caedan Wallace and Rasheed Walker both got beat a couple of times. It was good that Mike Miranda’s name was never mentioned during his first game as a starting center, and the rotation of Eric Wilson/Anthony Whigan at left guard seemed to work fine.

Put it all together, and it was a fine first game for Mike Yurcich and co., but there is a lot of cleanup work to do. A D for the first half and a B for the second is why we give the unit a C.

DEFENSE: A

It really doesn’t feel like Wisconsin racked up 365 yards of total offense and 30 first downs, but it certainly did.

It’s astonishing, frankly, to realize that the Badgers ran 95 plays and mustered only 10 points, which was mostly due to a crazy one-for-four scoring mark in the red zone. Give Penn State credit for buckling down in crunch time with their backs up against the wall, and also for holding up against that many plays and over 40 game minutes on the field, but not every opponent will fail to score as this one did.

Arnold Ebiketie was the star of the game after he blocked a field goal and otherwise wreaked havoc in the backfield, but Ellis Brooks probably played his best game ever in blue and white, and players like Jonathan Sutherland and Jesse Luketa stepped up in a big way when injuries forced them into action. The latter looked really comfortable and natural at defensive end, too.

Upon further review, this was originally a B, but the effort undoubtedly should equal an A, so that update has been made.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

This is a tough one because Jordan Stout’s missed extra point and missed field goal drag down a unit that otherwise performed pretty well.

Ebiketie blocked a Wisconsin field goal, which turned out to be huge, and Stout’s punting was pretty good. So, too, were Dotson’s punt returns.

While I feel like the grade should be higher, it’s hard to look past the missed extra point, which was hold related as much as anything else, and thus the grade is dropped to a C.

COACHING: A

There really is nothing to complain about in this section. Things were pretty woeful on offense in the first half but Yurcich righted the ship after the break, and Brent Pry called a great game and the position coaches rotated their players well. James Franklin had no in-game blunders, and his time management was fine.

A solid effort all the way around.


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OVERALL: B

Not every win is an A-plus performance, and this is one of them.

Penn State took advantage of Wisconsin’s miscues, made clutch plays at key moments, and survived a hostile environment to start the season 1-0. But, the goal is to play well enough to beat Ohio State and other College Football Playoff contenders, and this effort probably wouldn’t get the job done against those teams.

Thus, we go with a solid B and look forward to seeing how the next week of practice helps fix some of the areas that struggled on Saturday.

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