Game Grades: Northwestern
Throughout this matchup in Evanston, the Penn State Nittany Lions dominated Northwestern. Although it seemed like Penn State had control during the whole game, there were many aspects of their play that may lead some Nittany Lion fans to some skepticism.
Starting quarterback Trace McSorley looked more comfortable in the pocket than in previous games. He finished the contest with 245 yards and one passing touchdown with a completion rate of over 73 percent.
Despite limited protection and an experienced opposing defense, McSorley navigated through his progressions successfully and connected with his receivers for big plays. In the rushing department, McSorley finished with one rushing touchdown but due to numerous sacks, his rushing tally concluded at -0.1 yards. Overall, McSorley had a stellar performance, which provides some optimism as the toughest opposition for Penn State comes within the next few weeks.
Running Back: C
Although Saquon Barkley finished with 75 yards and two touchdowns, his performance will be highlighted by the Heisman critics for his subpar first half. It seemed as if the Northwestern defensive line had his number on every play, leading to numerous carries that went for negative yards. Barkley’s standard tactics of meandering his way to the sidelines while eluding rushers did not seem to work.
In the second half, Barkley figured out how to break off for some familiar major runs. Barkley did not do anything to harm his Heisman trophy campaign, but he did not necessarily to anything to stretch his lead in the process after positive weeks by other contenders. Look for defenses to continue focussing their game plans around disrupting Barkley’s rushing game, which could to lead to more of a dominant attack through the air.
Wide Receivers: A
Last year’s Big Ten Championship standout Saeed Blacknall led the receiving corps with four receptions for 75 yards after playing very few snaps in previous games. The rest of Penn State’s wide receivers shared the sugar with similar amounts of catches. The Nittany Lions’ most prominent pass catchers all showed up for big receptions of over 20 yards.
By far the most entertaining catch came from Penn State’s offensive swiss army knife Tommy Stevens when the backup quarterback scored from the red zone. It seems that whenever Stevens lines up as a receiver or running back, his presence is definitely felt regardless of if he catches the ball or not. Penn State not having a clear number one receiver makes it much harder for opposing teams to prepare for the Offensive Coordinator’s complex offense.
Tight End: D+
Mike Gesicki’s status of play was in question until Saturday morning after exiting last week’s game against Indiana. His final statline concluded with two receptions for nine yards with his largest reception coming on a five yard pass.
Despite his lack of production, Gesicki’s presence was felt with some good blocks throughout the game. With Penn State’s bye week occurring this upcoming week, Gesicki will have some time to recover and prepare for the Michigan game the following week where his dominance will be crucial for Penn State to defeat their rival.
Offensive Line: F
The offensive line continues to struggle immensely as this season progresses. With McSorley being the mobile quarterback that he is, it is essential for the line to be able to give him maximum time which is not happening right now. The offensive line gave up five sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
This group serves as Penn State’s weakest link and their success truly depends on how they can improve. The upcoming bye week is important for every player at every position, but no unit needs the time off in terms of preparation more than the line.
With the Nittany Lions facing 3 consecutive conference champion contenders in Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, James Franklin and his staff must make some sort of adjustment to the line if they want any chance at contending against the Country’s best competition, let alone the Big 10’s best.
With a flashy offense highlighted by two of the nation’s most exciting players, it is easy to overlook the defense, but there are not many other programs that are as talented on the defensive side of the ball as Penn State. Yesterday’s showing was arguably the most complete performance, as it seemed like every position group showed up to play.
The defensive line was highlighted by Shareef Miller who finished with four tackles, a sack and one tackle for loss. The defensive line also saw a great showing from sophomores Ryan Buccholz, Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons, who provide much needed depth to the unit.
The linebackers consistently asserted their dominance against an inferior Northwestern running game.
The secondary was responsible for two interceptions and locked down the Wildcat receiving corps from producing any major breakout plays. Overall, the defense keeps getting stronger and deeper and looks to be as good as any of the NCAA’s best units.
Special Teams: B+
Blake Gillikin came up big when he was called upon with another fantastic punting performance. He averaged 43 yards per punt with a long of 57 yards. In the kicking department, Tyler Davis continued his struggles. He went 1-2 on field goals with one miss coming from 35 yards.
The bottom line is that every championship contending program must have a consistent kicker that can be relied upon in big moments. Tyler Davis must improve in order to regain the confidence of Penn State fans.
This game showed Penn State’s improvement from last week’s underwhelming showing against Indiana. With the bye week occurring this weekend, James Franklin and his team have a good opportunity to rest and go back to the drawing board before the toughest games on the schedule begin on Oct. 21 with Michigan visiting Beaver Stadium.
Jordan Kalfon is a Freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org .