Game Grades: Minnesota

Story posted October 2, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Ellie French

On a gloomy afternoon in State College, PA, the Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2, 1-1 B1G) entered Saturday’s matchup against the Minnesota Gophers (3-1, 0-1 B1G) hoping to bounce back from last week’s tough defeat at Michigan. Penn State started the first half slow, but emerged as an entirely different team in the second half. By gaining momentum and executing key plays, the Nittany Lions persevered until the end sending the game into overtime and boosting the team to an exciting 29-26 victory at home. Here are the game grades for each of the team’s individual units:

Quarterback: A+

One word can be used to describe Trace McSorley in this game: effortless. McSorley’s passing was accurate for almost all of the first half, but the junior outshined himself during the second half by consistently connecting with receivers for big plays. The redshirt sophomore sent the ball soaring to Irvin Charles for an 80-yard pass at 9:54 in the third quarter that gave Penn State their first touchdown of the game and boosted the score to a 13-10 deficit . However, the excitement didn’t stop there. McSorley not only continued to execute with the pass game, but also exceled in his ability as a dual-threat quarterback to run the ball in for another touchdown with 2:27 left in the third quarter to send Penn State from a 13-13 tie with Minnesota, to a 20-13 lead over the Gophers. McSorley’s awareness all game was pivotal in helping the team to gain 335 passing yards that helped send the Nittany Lions into overtime and allowed them to walk away with the win.

Running Backs: B+

The run game appeared slow during the first half of the game and continued to be limited into the second half.  Saquon Barkley had a nice 23-yard run in the first quarter, but only small gains came from the sophomore for the rest of the first half. The second half appeared similar as pockets for running backs continued to be limited, causing the run game to fall short for a majority of attempts. However, the run game emerged when needed as Barkley effortlessly took it to the house for 25 yards in overtime, sealing the win for the Nittany Lions. The running backs receive a B+ this week for being silent all game, yet securing the victory in overtime when needed.  

Receivers: A-

Penn State’s receivers seemed to wipe the sleep from their eyes in the second half as key catches helped to boost the team’s confidence and allow necessary plays to be made. Irvin Charles’ first career catch of the season in the third quarter took the sophomore by surprise, but he quickly snapped out of the shock securing the team’s first touchdown of the game. The catch helped to hype things up on the receiving end. Chris Godwin came alive in the second half of the game, making key catches for the Nittany Lions that helped to get the ball moving. McSorley connected with Godwin with just under eight minutes in the third quarter at the Minnesota six-yard line and continued to make solid catches when needed throughout the rest of the third and fourth quarter as well.

Tight End: A

Gesecki was not only solid all game with catches, but was strong in how he carried out the completions. Standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 252 pounds, Gesecki rammed through Minnesota’s defense all game long. His ability to power through defenders and fight until the end helped to boost Penn State into the red zone multiple times throughout the game. McSorley and Gesicki put Minnesota’s defense to the test all game, but the two continued to execute without worry. McSorley connected with Gesicki on a wide open downfield throw towards the end of the third quarter that sent the Nittany Lion’s into the red zone. Gesecki has proved to be a major player for Penn State’s offense week after week as he continues to step up and deliver when needed. He ended the game with five receptions for a total of 70 yards. 

Offensive Line: B

After trailing 7-0 in the red zone during the first half, the offensive line stood strong against the Minnesota defense during the second half, allowing McSorley to scan for options with poise and execute even more on the pass game. The offensive line continued to stand strong all game allowing zero sacks on McSorley and zero interceptions to occur by decreasing pressure on the ball. Even though the offensive line blocked well to create a solid pass game, they receive a B this week for not creating enough holes for the run game to work with. 

Defense: B-  

After losing key players from last season as well as starting linemen to injuries, fans have been watching heavily to see how the Penn State defense would react in the face of adversity. Pressure from the defensive line appeared prominent early in the game. Players such as Brandon Smith, with a beautiful tackle for loss at 8:45 in the first quarter, fought hard to break Minnesota’s offensive line. However, the defensive line struggled early in the game to close pockets in Minnesota’s run game, allowing the Gophers to find open gaps. Penn State’s man-to-man coverage on defense was questionable during the first half in regards to if the Nittany Lions were playing off Minnesota more than they may have needed to. The same was noticeable at the start off the second half as well, but proved to be successful through broken up passes and a first-career interception for Jordan Smith in Minnesota’s end zone that ceased the Gophers’ potential to pull ahead in the fourth quarter. The defense receives a B- this week because although they continued to stay accurate throughout most of the third quarter, they allowed the Gophers time to gain critical yardage late in the fourth quarter. The defense allowed Minnesota time to move the ball down field late in the fourth quarter that allowed the team to kick a 37-yard field goal to put them ahead 23-20 with only 0:54 left on the clock.

Special Teams: A-

With solid punt and kick off coverage throughout the game, special teams performed their duties with efficiency. In week five of the season, kicker Joey Julius continues to show that even though he may be on special teams, he loves to get just as physical as any lineman. Julius not only delivered strong kicks but also kept the momentum going by helping to tackle at any given opportunity. Even after suffering a late hit from Minnesota’s Jalen Waters, who was ejected from the game following further review, Julius appeared to bounce back after receiving help from coaches to the sideline. Kicker Tyler Davis shined in the matchup as well and walked away with a new Penn State kicking record under his belt. Davis went into the final field goal of the game with 16 for 16 in career field goal attempts, breaking former Penn State kicker Sam Ficken’s previous record. With all eyes on Davis to deliver, the senior did so flawlessly nailing the 40-yard field goal that sent the Nittany Lions into an overtime victory against the Gophers.

Coaching: B+

The play calling during the first half was very conservative. Penn State stuck with their typical short throws to the side for small gains a majority of the first half aside from executing on long passes to Gesicki. I give the coaching staff a B+ this week for their ability to realize that the run game and short passes didn’t work in the first half and changing the calls up in the second. They opened up the field more in the second half by creating longer pass opportunities that continued to work for the remainder of the game.

I was impressed with the coaching staff’s decision to use both timeouts with a little over a minute left in the fourth to allow Penn State’s offense maximum time to move the ball forward toward field goal range.

 

Ellie French is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email epf5072@psu.edu