Penn State Football Report Card: Grading the Lions' win over Ball State
STATE COLLEGE -- Penn State fired on all cylinders to beat back Ball State, 44-13, on Saturday at a packed Beaver Stadium.
Head coach James Franklin's team won almost every battle that matters, save for the penalty one, and that ultimately didn't impact the team on its way to a 2-0 start.
It's time to hand out the grades following the latest Nittany Lions victory.
It's hard to knock the effort offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich's group put on display throughout the game.
The Nittany Lions did not turn the ball over and started the contest in an almost exactly opposite fashion compared to how they kicked things off a week ago at Wisconsin. Quarterback Sean Clifford, who finished with 230 passing yards and a touchdown on a 21 of 29 day in addition to a rushing score, led a surgical 13-play, 78-yard drive out of the gate to give the Nittany Lions a lead they would hold for the long haul.
If there is anything to nitpick, it's a somewhat lackluster second quarter that produced only 107 yards of offense but still 10 points and Ta'Quan Roberson's first series, which resulted in an ugly three and out.
The ground game came to life after barely starting up in Week 1 to the tune of 240 total yards, which was headlined by a 69-yard performance from starter Noah Cain on 20 carries, and 10 different players caught a pass with Parker Washington leading the way after a six-catch, 57-yard afternoon.
Maybe you wanted to see more explosiveness, or perhaps you thought that 493 yards weren't enough after the Cardinals' defense was bludgeoned by FCS foe Western Illinois last Saturday, but ultimately, it's quite challenging to give any grade but this one, and the offensive line deserves a shoutout, too.
Ball State did not score a touchdown against Penn State's starting and top of the rotation defenders, and even though it did finally find the end zone late, the backups and reserves deeper down the depth chart played a pretty good game while seeing expanded action.
This was a complete performance from coordinator Brent Pry's bunch. Jesse Luketa continues to simply be terrific at defensive end, and it was fitting that his drop in coverage led to a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Some were disappointed about the linebackers play last week, but Brandon Smith and Curtis Jacobs both showed up on this afternoon as they finished with seven and two tackles, respectively, while the latter player had both a sack and tackle for loss.
The turnovers keep coming, too, as an offseason of focusing on producing more of them has finally made a difference. Who knows if it's more because of luck, the opponent, something new safeties coach Anthony Poindexter is teaching, or just better ball awareness, but it's working, as Daequan Hardy also snarred a Drew Plitt pass.
There's nothing to be disappointed about the day after the game from this unit. It stood up following a grinding performance last week and answered the bell to knock Ball State out over and over again. One final thought: Cardinals' weapon Justin Hall was basically an afterthought, as he finished with three carries for 16 yards and six catches for only 35. The Nittany Lions bottled him up from start to finish and no one else could make an impact play for the visitors.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
It was another mostly good game for do-everything specialist Jordan Stout save for one blemish that will continue to make fans nervous moving forward.
As a punter, Stout boomed three boots for an average of 51.3 yards and didn't allow a Ball State kickoff return. He also made three field goals from 45, 26, and 22 but also horribly missed a different 45-yard attempt in the third quarter.
Some will clamor for Jake Pinegar to be brought back into the mix but it doesn't appear that is going to happen anytime soon. The return and coverage teams were fine, but we have to withhold the A because of another missed kick, even if it was a longer one.
There is really nothing to nitpick here. Franklin, who has in the past been sometimes leery about pulling his starters too soon, worked well with the assistants to develop a game plan that spread the workload around and help a tired defense get plenty of rest prior to next weekend's meeting with Auburn.
Yurcich and Pry both called great games, and there were no blunders that come to mind. It was another all-around quality performance.
Last week, we wrote in this space that not every win deserves an A grade. This one, however, certainly does.
The Nittany Lions were good in almost every area, save for penalties, and did exactly what they were supposed to do opposite an overmatched foe. They took care of business, got many players into the game, came through the contest healthy, and left no doubt about why they were the better team for a full 60 minutes.
Winning tends to mask problem areas, but there were not too many of those to look back on in this particular triumph, and that's a big positive heading into Week 3.
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