Games Grades: Penn State vs. Buffalo
Although the numbers may not show it, Christian Hackenberg looked worlds better this week against Buffalo. At times, he would still miss receivers short, but all in all he was making the throws this week he did not against Temple. He had better pocket presence and looked more mobile on some of the play actions, which opened up plays downfield. His receivers did drop a few, leading to his 14 for 27 performance with only 128 yards and one touchdown. Not to mention the playcalling did not have many passes downfield in the first half. But when the plays were called, Hackenberg was finding the players hands and showed that first round potential the scouts thought he had.
Running Backs: A-
In the first half when the offense looked stagnant, Akeel Lynch was in at running back and had nothing going. Then, midway through the third quarter, true freshman Saquon Barkley was brought on and it posed the question: Does Penn State finally have a running back? He broke off long run after long run, totaling 12 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown. His spark ignited a sputtering offense and provided a balance in the backfield that has been lacking for some time now.
To say this group was underwhelming would be an understatement. There were numerous occasions throughout the game when Hackenberg made the throw, but the receivers did not haul it in. This was most notable in senior Kyle Carter, who dropped a few passes which hit him directly in the hands. When Chris Godwin was not the target, it was unclear whether that ball was coming down for a catch. If the offense looks to continue to improve, this is the area that needs the most improvement.
Offensive Line: B
How do you go from 10 sacks to zero sacks? From 80 to 200 rushing yards? The offensive line showed improvement to instill some hope that Hackenberg will spend more time on his feet than his back. Hackenberg had a comfortable, safe pocket to work in, while the line created numerous holes to run through. They get a B this week, but this has to be consistent before anyone believes this line can be trusted. This was a Buffalo defense that was not as strong a temple, making the task of keeping Hackenberg upright simpler.
The defense was better than last week, only allowing 14 points this week compared to the 27 against Temple. Nassib led the defense with an interception, five tackles and three sacks. Austin Johnson led the team in tackles with 9 tackles, while other players contributed. My concern here however is the secondary. They were flagged on a few occasions for pass interference and the Buffalo QB Joe Licata was able to complete 24 of 35 to his receivers. When the secondary had to make the plays, rarely did it happen and both of Buffalo’s touchdowns came through the air. The front seven looked as good as it always has, even without Wartman-White. But look for improvement in the secondary to take this defense to the next level, because right now it is only slightly above average.
Special Teams: C+
Although rainy, Joey Julius did miss one of his three field goals on the day and on one attempt the snap was bobbled. Rainy conditions can explain this, but will negatively affect this unit’s grade. Pasquariello had an average of about 38 yards per punt, similar to last week, and the returners played very well. They gave the offense generous field positons on a few returns that helped lead to scores later in the game.
What happened at halftime? Did the play caller change? Because by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, there were actual play calls involving a pass downfield of more than five yards. And then once Barkley hit his stride, the coaching staff recognized and just kept giving him the ball. The first half represented much of the same of last week, with lots of head scratching and cries from the fans for a new play caller. Something changed in the second half and I cannot tell you what is was, but it showed on the field. Whoever was calling the shots second half needs to do it all game against Rutgers in order to get a complete game from this offense.
David Arroyo is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.