Penn State vs. Michigan: Gameday Grades
Penn State’s 43-40, four-overtime classic, win should not be overlooked for young freshman Christian Hackenberg. He had tremendous poise on the field, while under a lot of pressure in potential game-ending situations.
The 18-year-old was 23 for 44 for 305 yards and added three touchdowns. Hackenberg led his team 80 yards down the field with just 50 seconds left and no timeouts to send the game into overtime. Unfortunately, the quarterback still had a few freshman mistakes. He threw for two interceptions and struggled to recognize a few blitzes, which led to some big losses.
Running Backs: B
There was no breakout running play this week for the Nittany Lions. The running backs picked up the small yards needed to get the ball into field goal range and to eventually score the two-yard game-winning touchdown.
Bill Belton led the backs with 27 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. Zach Zwinak, had a mere eight carries for 24 yards and Akeel Lynch was non-existent.
Even though Belton recorded the game-winner, the usually strong running attacks did not put up large numbers in this game, nor were they able to find the end zone until the last play of the game.
Overtime was made possible due to three huge receptions by wide receivers Brandon Felder and Allen Robinson racking up 79 yards in 50 seconds. Felder recorded 97 yards and two touchdowns on six catches, while Robinson had five catches for 84 yards.
Sophomore tight end Jesse James picked up 67 yards on six catches and notched his first touchdown of the season. The only mistake made by a receiver, was Allen Robinson’s fumble in the third overtime, which did not end up hurting the team. The receivers recorded 305 out of the 390 total yards for Penn State.
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line gave their quarterback enough time to allow big plays to develop and produce. Unfortunately, Hackenberg was sacked five times on the night and the running backs averaged 3.1 yards per carry.
The offensive line needs to work on creating holes for the running backs in order to create explosive running plays. They also must hold the defensive line, so Hackenberg doesn’t feel as rushed in the pocket making it less likely to throw interceptions and incompletions.
Defensive Line: B
Just when it seemed Michigan was taking the game into their own hands, defensive ends Anthony Zettel and C.J. Olaniyan forced multiple turnovers and sacks on the Michigan offense. Zettel got the start over reigning Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year, Deion Barnes.
He had an interception off Michigan quarterback, Devin Gardner, and ran it back 18 yards. Penn State would go on to score one play later to take back the lead.
Olaniyan racked up three tackles before the half, with an additional 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He added another sack early in the third quarter. The senior defensive end was named the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week for his performance on Saturday.
In overtime, the line stopped the running game and held them to just field goals, giving their offense the opportunity to win it with a touchdown. Michigan ran for 149 yards against the Nittany Lion D-Line.
The usually electric Wolverine running back, Fitzgerald Toussaint, was held to just one yard per carry. A major issue with the Penn State defensive line was allowing quarterback, Devin Gardner, to get out of the pocket and run for 121 yards averaging five yards per carry.
The linebackers combined for more than 30 tackles. However, they did not stand out much in this game. They were not able to contain the quarterback or create any turnovers.
“Linebacker U” did not live up to its full potential and need to step it up especially in the upcoming game against Ohio State.
Defensive Backs: C+
The secondary was a big reason why Michigan was able to put up 40 points. Sophomore cornerbacks Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas struggled again this. The Wolverines totaled 240 passing yards (207 yards between Michigan’s two main wide receivers).
Jordan Lucas did manage to find the ball once in the first quarter after intercepting a pass intended for wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and setting up Penn State for what would be their first score of the game. Safeties Ryan Keiser and Adrian Amos totaled nine tackles in the game, but no forced turnovers.
Special Teams: B
Penn State kicker, Sam Ficken, was 3/5 on field goals with his longest being 45 yards long. Ficken missed a big 40-yard attempt to start off the first overtime. Fortunately, special teams managed to block the next field goal attempt by the Wolverines to force the game into double overtime.
Aside from the blocked field goal, special teams played a decent game with no big break out run backs. They totaled 39 yards in kick returns and 26 yards in punt returns. Special teams struggled to hold Michigan after kickoffs giving up 154 total yards on just the runback.
This was a big win for Bill O’Brien and his coaching staff. They evened out the running and passing game leaving Michigan questioning which play would come next. O’Brien made use of his stellar receivers by throwing the deep ball in necessary situations.
There were a few times where O’Brien tried to play it safe, but he realized on a 4th and 1 play, the Lions needed to go for it. The coaching decisions and the player’s ability to execute led to an exciting Penn State victory.
This was one of the most exciting games any fan could have watched. The 107,884 in attendance stayed until the end. There was white in almost every seat of Beaver Stadium until the end of the alma mater after the game. Even when the team looked like they were going to lose with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarte, or or when Ficken missed the field goal in overtime, the fans were extremely loud and on their feet the entire game. The White Out crowd definitely had an impact on the pressure against the visiting Michigan team.
Penn State secured a well-needed victory against Michigan at home for their Homecoming game.
There were multiple situations where the Nittany Lions looked like they were going to lose, but they kept their composure and rallied down the field.
Giving up 40 points to an opposing team isn’t great, but the team pulled it together and won as, “One Team”. They go into their bye week next week with momentum and will focus on re-energizing for the big game at Ohio State the following week.
Ariel Epstein is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.