Grades: Michigan State
Penn State got its third win of the season yesterday against Michigan State, improving to 3-5.
The Nittany Lions totaled more than 400 yards of offense, and although the defense was exposed at times, Brent Pry and the players rallied in the second half, allowing just a field goal in the third quarter.
After reviewing the film this morning, we look back on yesterday's win with a look at how each position group performed.
Quarterback - Sean Clifford had another solid day, making smart decisions throughout. He was also the team's leading rusher with 48 yards, although most of that came on his 31-yard draw that went for a score in the second quarter. Michigan State's defensive alignment is what sparked that score. We're still not sure what to make of all the playing time for Will Levis. The wildcat works in short yardage situations, but is it worth screwing up any rhythm in earlier downs?
Running Backs - Penn State totaled just 119 yards rushing, and the running backs were held in check all day, totaling just 39 yards. With that said, it was clear from the start that Michigan State was going to force Penn State to beat them through the air. They brought up their safety regularly.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Jahan Dotson had his best game since the performance against Ohio State in week two. His punt return will get most of the attention, but his eight receptions were tied for the second-most this season. Parker Washington also had a very good day, while Brenton Strange had what was probably his most consistent game yet. With that said, this team really needs a third option at wide receiver.
Offensive Line - Michigan State didn't have a single sack, and they also had just two tackles for loss. When you consider that their defensive line is arguably the team's strength, that's a real positive for the Nittany Lions. They did struggle to get a push at times in the run game, but Penn State was also telegraphing their run plays more often than not.
Defensive Line - Shane Simmons totaling seven tackles, including two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks was a lot of fun to watch. He's been behind some great players in recent years, yet never looked to go elsewhere. It was great seeing him have success. Antonio Shelton was again solid, while Shaka Toney and Adisa Isaac combined for five quarterback hurries. From what we saw, they performed as expected, especially without Jayson Oweh.
Linebackers - Michigan State hasn't been able to run all year, and that was again the case on Saturday. We've seen steady improvement from this unit when it comes to gap control and they continued that yesterday. Jesse Luketa had his best game of the season, totaling seven tackles and not being charged with a single miss. In fact, the linebacker corps totaled 17 tackles and only had one missed tackle between them. That was probably their best game of the year.
Defensive Backs - Payton Thorne threw for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter alone. You can point fingers at just about all of the defensive backs for that surge from Sparty, but give them credit for tightening things up in the second half. Lamont Wade had his best game of the season, but most of the cornerbacks struggled. Jaquan Brisker led the team with nine tackles, but he also made a few costly mistakes in coverage.
Special Teams - There hasn't been much to get excited about on special teams this year, but we finally saw a game-changing play, as Dotson and the punt return unit helped put the game away early in the fourth quarter with an 81-yard score. Props to Jonathan Sutherland on that return. His block (which was more so a pick) is what sprung the return. Jordan Stout had one or two poor punts, but he did put three within the 20-yard line. Wade had a nice 37-yard kick return which helped lead to a score. We haven't given out many A's this year for any position. Props to Joe Lorig and the players.
Coaching - James Franklin and his staff have often been criticized for a lack of adjustments at the break, but whatever they did yesterday seemed to really hit the spot. The Levis package is now the new thing everyone wants to gripe about, but it does work more often than not when just a yard or two is needed. It took learning the hard way to figure out what this team can and cannot do. Now that they know their limitations, the staff has put them in a position to potentially finish with a .500 record. None of us saw that coming after the Iowa game.
• Talk about this article inside The Lions Den
• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue-White Illustrated
• Like us on Facebook