Report card: Grading Penn State’s Week 1 victory at Purdue

·4 min read

To say Penn State’s season opener at Purdue was a roller coaster of emotion would be an understatement. A game with seven lead changes and decided in the final minute is a heck of a way to start a new college football season. Penn State came out on top in a tilt-a-whirl 35-31 victory on Thursday night to get an early jump on the Week 1 schedule.

Now comes the fun part: evaluating the performance.

Let’s go through the postgame report card to evaluate Penn State’s season debut for the 2022 season.

Quarterback

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Grade: B-plus

On a night when your starting quarterback turns in four passing touchdowns, runs for one and leads the drive of the game in the clutch, it is incredibly difficult to be too harsh with an evaluation. Was it a great game by Sean Clifford? Not at all. Clifford passed for 282 yards and four touchdowns, including a 67-yard pass to tight end Brenton Strange at the end of the first half to inflate the stats a bit. He completed 20 of 37 pass attempts. He also had a bad overthrow of Mitchell Tinsley in the fourth quarter that was picked off and returned for a touchdown that gave Purdue the lead in the fourth.

But you get credit for the toughness and guts in this situation. We can’t quite deliver an “A” here, but it’s darn close under the conditions.

Drew Allar played one series in place of Clifford in the third quarter. He completed two of his four pass attempts for 26 yards and showed off a solid arm. But he was clearly a freshman on the road in a tough spot. His time will come.

NEXT: Running backs

Running Backs

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Grade: C-minus

Penn State dedicated the game plan to spreading the football around its running backs. The result was a team rushing total of 98 yards. Freshman Kaytron Allen led all players with 31 rushing yards on eight attempts, and Keyvone Lee added 30 yards on nine attempts. Nick Singleton added 22 yards on nine carries.

We’ll see how long Mike Yurcich continues to spread the ball like this, but the team needs more production out of the running game. Much of that perhaps starts with the offensive line.

Next: Wide receivers and tight ends

Receivers

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Grade: B

KeAndre Lambert-Smith had a couple of tough moments, but he also scored a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter to make up for it. Newcomer Mitchell Tinsley led the team with 84 receiving yards in his Penn State debut, and he and Lambert-Smith each caught a touchdown pass from Clifford.

Parker Washington had a quiet night with 30 yards on two receptions (he also had a four-yard run on a sweep that didn’t have much chance to succeed. There were dropped balls by multiple receivers and tight ends as well, which didn’t help Penn State’s chances to sustain a few drives.

Tight end Brenton Strange had 77 yards, including 67 on one play for a touchdown. Tyler Warren caught three passes on a night when Theo Johnson did not see the field.

NEXT: Defense

Defense

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: C

The key matchup of this game was the Penn State secondary against Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell. O’Connell picked Penn State apart for 356 yards but completed just 29 of 58 pass attempts, so the yards were bound to be there for the Boilermakers. And the secondary went through its share of highs and lows.

The defensive pass pressure was seldom there, and the defense didn’t record a sack until the fourth quarter when Jonathan Sutherland brought down O’Connell. Penn State ended with two sacks; one came on Purdue’s final drive of the game.

There were a good number of issues that popped up against a competent Purdue team, and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz now knows what he needs to work on moving forward.

Joey Porter Jr. nearly had an interception in the first half, but he found himself in the right place at the right time for a fumble recovery late in the first half.

NEXT: Special teams

Special Teams

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Grade: A

Penn State never sent the field goal unit out on the field, so we will still have to see how Jake Pinegar handles being the field goal kicker. But punting doesn’t seem to be much of a concern.

Barney Amor had eight punts that averaged 46.9 yards per punt. Three punts sailed over 50 yards and three were downed inside the 20-yard line. And if not for an overzealous punt coverage team knocking the ball into the end zone when it appeared the ball was about to die inside the two-yard line, it would have been one more.

Penn State used Nick Singleton and DaQuan Hardy on kickoff returns; neither broke one. Parker Washington fielded two punts and netted one yard.

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