Game Grades: Penn State vs. Indiana
The Penn State Nittany Lions improved to 5-1 on Saturday, dominating an injury riddled Indiana Hoosiers football team in a 29-7 victory. The Nittany Lions attacked on all sides of the football yesterday and the combination of aggressive play calling, a duel threat day from Christian Hackenberg, and a suffocating defense were too much to handle for Indiana. Here are the game grades for Penn States offensive and defensive groups:
The version of Christian Hackenberg that we have watched over the last three weeks is the same one that Penn State fans fell in love with back in 2013. Hackenberg eclipsed 260 passing yards and threw at least two touchdowns for the second time in his last three games. While normally that is not thought of as impressive for a player of Hackenberg’s stature, the junior quarterback did not play inspiring football in his first three games of the season. Hackenberg was firing bullets all day to his wide receivers and even connected on a long touchdown to Brandon Polk on a fake jet sweep wheel rout down the right side line. A lot of Hackenberg’s success came on the ground yesterday as he had two rushing touchdowns along with a 22-yard scamper late in the game.
Running Backs: B
The running back group as a whole played well. Both Nick Scott and Mark Allen each had a run longer than 25 yards, however neither running back found the end zone. Scott and Allen were both efficient in their running, averaging around five yards per carry. With top running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch out for the second consecutive game, Penn State has had to rely on the passing game more often, but Allen and Scott have played well in their absence.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends: B
The receiving corps still has not had a player emerge to take over the roll as Christian Hackenberg’s top target. At this point last season, that roll clearly belonged to DaeSean Hamilton, but besides Hamilton’s 39-yard touchdown reception yesterday, he has been largely non-existent. Chris Godwin played solidly again yesterday, tallying four catches for 41 yards and came up with some clutch catches throughout the game. Tight Ends Mike Gesicki and Kyle Carter played ok as well, with Gesicki making up for an early drop with a big 16-yard reception on second down and long at the end of the first half. Overall the group played solid enough. Hackenberg was spreading the ball all over the field yesterday as eight different receivers recorded a catch.
The defense was dominant once again. Indiana had one of college football’s most explosive offenses with running back Jordan Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld starting. But that was not the case yesterday as both were injured. Instead quarterback Zander Diamont and running back Devine Redding played, and were underwhelming against Penn State’s dominant defense. Carl Nassib registered two more sacks to put his nation-leading total to 10 sacks. Garrett Sickels and Austin Johnson also registered sacks. Indiana came into Saturday averaging just under 500 yards of total offense a game. The Nittany Lions held the Hoosiers to just 234 yards and a lone touchdown in the first quarter. Through the first two conference games, the defense has yielded a total of 10 points, the best two-game start since the blue and white joined the Big Ten in 1993.
Finally. It took six games, but finally John Donovan put the ball in Christian Hackenberg’s hands and called plays that worked to his strengths. Hack took multiple shots down field throughout the day, connecting with a wide receiver for a touchdown on two of the throws. Donovan’s creativity in his play calling worked with the flow of the game, not against it as it has in recent weeks. With the absence of the Penn State’s top two running backs, Donovan had to change the identity of the offense yet again, and you saw the transition start last week. This week, Hackenberg looked like the first overall draft pick prospect that he was tagged as at the beginning of the season, and you can thank Donovan for part of that transformation this past week.
Jesse Finver is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org