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Takeaways and Grades: PSU v Pitt Report Card

On Saturday, the Nittany Lions of Penn State and the Panthers of Pittsburgh played the 100th installment in the Keystone state’s greatest collegiate rivalry. Penn State hung on to win a nail-biter, 17-10. Keep reading below for my PSU Takeaways and Grades vs Pitt!

The Takeaways:

Once Again, Give The Opponent Credit

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. Credit: YorkDailyRecord.com

Another week, another time the first takeaway is giving credit to an unranked opponent for sticking around. Well, unlike Buffalo, Pitt didn’t just “stick around,” they almost won. If it were not for one of the worst coaching decisions of the young 2019 season, Pitt could have tied the game 17-17 with roughly 5 minutes left.

But alas, Patt Narduzzi decided to try and kick a field goal, and a boink off the left upright later, Beaver Stadium knew it’d just clinched a win. Either way, Pitt must be praised for going in there a 17.5 underdog and passing for a whopping 372 yards on an “elite” defense. This wasn’t done on just lucky 50/50 balls either, Pickett hit some NFL-level throws against the Lions’ secondary. The Panthers also converted three(!) fourth downs and played turnover-free ball. Many State fans like to look down upon their western rivals, but Pitt came into Beaver Stadium and punched James Franklin’s squad in the mouth.

PSU Must Fix Their Offense. Now.

York Daily Record.

Where do I start? Well, as mentioned before, Penn State was a 17.5 point favorite. They scored 17 points in total. The lack of points wasn’t the only problem, as Penn State once again looked dreadful on third down, going 4-13 on third-down conversions. This is certainly a pattern in Ricky Rahne’s offense. An offense predicated on “chunk” plays to leapfrog up the field takes big hits when those chunk plays aren’t completed. Drives are shortened because that 50-yard bomb was incomplete on 2nd & 10, and now you’re stuck on third and long.

Well, the lack of chunk plays hurt PSU big-time. Clifford admitted as much after the game. The first-year starter missed KJ and Jahan Dotson on would-be tuddies, and on one play, two PSU receivers ( for the second game in a row) ran the same deep route. I wish I could tell you guys that Clifford’s deep accuracy was the only problem but:

All-Too-Familiar Problem For PSU

Jaylen Twyman (#97) blows right past PSU’s Mike Miranda. Credit: PGH Sports Now

Penn State’s offensive line is once again, average at best. Upon re-watching this game, average would be a kind way to describe the performance of Limgrover’s unit. Happy Valley’s o-line looked completely overmatched by basic stunts, and on several passing plays, let Pitt linemen run through unblocked. Former 5-star Michal Menet got completely swiped off by Jaylen Twyman — twice. Mike Miranda was also a victim of Twyman’s, in addition to being left looking for a block while Clifford was sacked. Gonzalez double-teamed several times when he should’ve slid off to block a blitzing LB. Not being able to pick up basic stunts is due to poor communication, and thus poor coaching. There’s no excuse for how much pressure (3 sacks, 5 QB hurries) Clifford faced against a d-line missing its two best players.

If you didn’t pick it up in my first few articles, I hope you take the hint now: Matt Limegrover should be working for another school in 2020.

The Nittany Lions stumble into a bye-week before traveling for the first time in 2019. Penn State will begin Big Ten play in College Park against a Maryland team that must be taken seriously. Don’t laugh. After scoring an incredible 142 points in two games, the Terps lost to Temple in South Philadelphia, 20-17. But they’re young, hungry, and anxious to prove they actually belong in the Big Ten:

PSU Grades:

Offense:

So, as previously mentioned, Penn State’s offensive performance was painful to watch. Both in-person and on YouTube. Aside from the burst-out run by Journey Brown, the running back committee was held in-check until Noah Cain came in during the 7th drive. The true-frosh led Penn State on a 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. He touched the ball seven times during said drive, finishing it off with this nifty 13-yard run:

Then…Noah never touched the ball again. That’s inexcusable, especially after James Franklin said he’d “go with the hot hand” when it came to the backs. Clifford had the worst game of his short career, completing only 46% (14/30) of his passes, for 222 yards and zero touchdowns. I think it must be noted, this included three drops (two by Hippenhammer and one by Brown). As usual, Ricky Rahne had questionable and predictable play-calling, so much so, that a fan embarrassingly pointed this out on twitter:

The predictability of Rahne, as pointed out by @TruthHurts_135.

Yeah. You’re not beating Don Brown or Greg Schiano with that BS. Someone tell Rahne this isn’t high school. Anyway, given the fact Pitt was unranked, and you were home, this performance reeked of a team soiling itself due to lack of preparation/execution.

Grade: D

Defense:

PSU’s Lamont Wade (#38) and Donovan Johnson (#3) after getting Moss’d by Taysir Mack (#11)

Darn. Just when you thought Penn State’s defense was bordering elite status after week 1, they get gashed on the ground by Buffalo and torched through the air by Pitt. Not a good look. In addition to the secondary’s ineffectiveness in 50/50 balls, the defensive line failed to record significant pressure for the second consecutive game. When an unranked team drops back to pass 51 times on your defense, you have to record more than three sacks.

Unlike the offense, there are some positive things to be said about the defensive performance on Saturday. For starters, they pitched a shutout in the second half, and only allowed a measly 24 rushing yards on 25 attempts. I guess James Franklin read my article on Buffalo (lol), and started PJ Mustipher alongside Robert Windsor. The two tackles ate up rushing lanes all afternoon, but unfortunately, just could not generate interior pass-rush.

Plus, no turnovers and a couple of penalties by Brent Pry’s squad. Not a great day, but if you hold any Power 5 opponent to 10 points, you did your job.

Grade: B –

Special Teams:

Jordan Stout.

That’s the answer to the question: What happens when you put an NFL-ready kicker on a college team? The Touchback God leads the nation in touchback percentage (duh), with an incredible 24/25 kickoffs going through the endzone or fair caught. Then on Saturday, when it looked like PSU was going to trail an unranked opponent at halftime for the second week in a row, Jordan Stout happened. Above, you could hear Beaver Stadium go mad as the former Hokie breaks a school record with a 57-yard field goal! Also note: that dude from Pitt beneath the posts, who doubted Jordan’s leg, awkwardly walk away like he just got rejected by a girl at a bar.

Virginia Tech, I just don’t know what to say anymore.

Oh, yeah. Blake Gillikin also demolished a 53-yard punt and averaged 42+ yards on each attempt. Save for one stupidly called penalty, this special teams unit was elite.

Grade: A-

Overall Grade: C –

As always, keep it locked on Overtime Heroics all season for more Penn State and college football coverage. Don’t agree with my grades? Let me know on Twitter or our forums!

Gabriel De Leon
Just recently graduated medical school, and will soon start my residency! Huge fan of: Mets baseball, Penn State football, Jets football, Aston Villa FC, Barça, MMA, and Knicks Basketball! Yes, my sports torture me.

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