Game Grades: Minnesota
Penn State suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday to Minnesota, 31-26.
The Nittany Lions were resilient and fought until the very end, but overall, it was a poor performance across the board. Penn State really never deserved to win the game. The Nittany Lions were not only outplayed but out-coached too.
Both the coaches and players deserve a portion of the blame for the loss, so let’s hand out some game grades and figure out what exactly went wrong.
Minnesota was able to set the tone early with an interception of Sean Clifford and would later tack on two more, including the one that sealed the win.
Clifford was off all day, completing only 23 of 43 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown, alongside those three interceptions. Penn State registering 518 yards of total offense but only putting up 26 points alludes to those turnovers.
Pat Freiermuth and KJ Hamler showed up and showed out, but one could say that was expected as those two have been Penn State’s most consistent offensive weapons all season. Journey Brown also had an excellent day, rushing for 124 yards on 14 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Aside from that, Nick Bowers did catch a big touchdown, and Jahan Dotson nearly took an in-route to the house on Penn State’s final possession, but there’s a huge drop off after that. No one else stepped up.
Justin Shorter was a massive disappointment yesterday and has been all season. There’s no other way to put it. Dan Chisena dropped a ball that hit him right in the hands. Daniel George committed a backbreaking offensive pass interference penalty on Penn State’s final drive that moved the Nittany Lions back to Minnesota’s 25 yard-line, when they could’ve been on the 2-yard line with plenty of time left to score instead.
In short, it’s Penn State’s inconsistency on offense that has been one of the narratives all season long, and it reared its ugly head once again on Saturday.
It was a very uncharacteristic day for Penn State’s defense, which let up 31 points: the most that Nittany Lions have allowed in a game this season.
Some credit is due for stepping up after halftime and only allowing seven points in the second half. Most of that was due to stout play from the front seven and the ability to contain Minnesota’s rushing attack. But the secondary was absolutely dismal from the start.
Minnesota does have some decent playmakers at wide receiver in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, but Penn State’s defensive backs just couldn’t handle them. The secondary looked clueless all day. At times, it seemed like they forgot how to cover.
Aside from the fumble recovery, the defense didn’t do much to change the outcome of the game.
Special Teams: A-
There’s not much to say about the special teams unit in this one. Jake Pinegar connected on his two field-goal attempts, but there were no game-altering plays made on special teams this week.
Once again, James Franklin failed to win the big game. The coaching in this game was really poor. Even though a lot of the blame can be placed on the team, Penn State’s coaches didn’t put their players in the best position to win on multiple occasions.
It wasn’t Ricky Rahne’s worst outing, as there were some good play calls throughout the game, but the goal-line sequence at the beginning of the fourth quarter was just abysmal.
Electing for two runs up the middle, a quarterback draw, and throwing a low-percentage fade out of bounds to 5-foot-9-inch KJ Hamler on fourth down is not ideal. For having a whole extra week to prepare a game plan, it didn’t seem like the coaches were prepared at all.
Ultimately, the decision to go for the 2-point conversion after Nick Bowers’ touchdown at the end of the third quarter and failing to convert, then deciding to toss a fade to Hamler on fourth-and-goal instead of taking the points and kicking a field goal, ended up coming back to bite the Nittany Lions.
Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.