Trace McSorley: B+
One of the best Penn State quarterbacks of all time put together a season that felt rather underwhelming. Other schools in the Big Ten would look at his year and scoff at a B+ grade because they would take his talents without hesitation. It may be unfair to judge McSorley based on his potential, but that is exactly what this is.
After an improbable 2016 campaign for a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth, McSorley had an explosive statistical year in 2017. In 2018 his numbers regressed significantly. At the end of the 2017 regular season, McSorley had 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. This year he only has 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
Of course, he wasn’t aided by the plethora of drops from the wide receiver core throughout the year, but I’m sure even McSorley would admit that he is capable of better quarterback play.
Miles Sanders: B+
Miles Sanders didn’t fill Saquon Barkley’s shoes, but you can’t hold that against him. He wasn’t the offensive atom bomb that Barkley was in the backfield, he was Miles Sanders. Sanders practiced more north-to-south running and could give that elusiveness – he had it on display against Michigan State.
Sanders will probably pass Barkley’s rushing yards total after Penn State’s bowl game, despite lacking his touchdown total coming up way short of Barkley’s. In 2017, Barkley rushed for 1271 yards and 18 touchdowns, Sanders currently sits at 1223 yards and nine scores.
What hurts Sander’s grades are his lackluster numbers in the games that mattered most. Against Ohio State and Michigan in 2018, Sanders averaged 2.5 yards per rush (as opposed to 5.9 on the season). This was the same issue that his predecessor, Barkley encountered.
Is it possible that they both are suffering from a weak offensive line in front of them? That may be true, but no matter what kind of line is in front of him, 2.5 yards per rush is not acceptable when the goal is to win the Big Ten.
Sanders, if he stays for his senior year, will be the centerpiece of the offense and has the potential to be the top rusher in the nation.
Wide Receivers: B-
Drops, drops and more drops. The Nittany Lion receivers couldn’t seem to shake off this problem from the start of the year.
Redshirt junior Juwan Johnson had a disappointing year despite his one highlight reel one-handed grab against Ohio State in the first quarter. Redshirt freshman KJ Hamler, however, provided the rejuvenation this offense needed.
Hamler was a stand-out in the slot as he was able to do it all when it came to running routes and making big plays.
It was nice to see the freshmen duo of Jahan Dotson and Justin Shorter get some reps in at the end of the year. They will see plenty of snaps alongside Hamler in the 2019 season with the departure of senior receiver, Deondre Thompkins.
Tight End: A-
Jesse James, Mike Gesicki, and now Pat Freiermuth?
It sure looks like Freiermuth is the latest gifted tight end out of Penn State. As just a freshman, Freiermuth was the Nittany Lions’ third leading receiver, and is putting up numbers that are even more impressive than Mike Gesicki.
Freiermuth had 330 yards and seven touchdowns in this 2018 regular season and looks to be improving game after game.
In the run and pass blocking portion of his game, he is excelling as well. What was seen as a weakness in Gesicki’s game seems to possibly be one of Freiermuth’s strengths.
Offensive Line: C
Will it ever end? It seems like every year Penn State is just an offensive line away from making noise nationally, and yet the line’s progress has been slight. They were absolutely eaten alive against Michigan which led to the beat down in Ann Arbor.
This year was supposed to be different. All of the season previews you may have read targeted the line as an actual strength for this team heading into 2018.
Blame it on coaching, the recruiting, or anything that you may want to, but the offensive line was once again a liability when it mattered most.
Ricky Rahne stepped into his first season as offensive coordinator and simply did not perform. Was Joe Moorhead spoiling Penn State fans with top tier play designs? Possibly, but only scoring 20 points against Rutgers with the amount of talent on offense is unacceptable.
Despite the underwhelming performances against Penn State’s weaker opponents, the play calling down the stretch in important games was a blatant problem all season. Do I have to revisit the draw play on fourth-and-5?
A big issue was Coach James Franklin’s game managing in general. Just one of many examples was against Ohio State early in the year. With 12:22 to go in the fourth quarter, Penn State scored a touchdown to go up 19-13. At this point in the game, it makes the most sense to go for two because a 6-point lead isn’t too valuable with Ohio State only having a couple possessions left. Franklin, instead, elected to kick the field goal, and Penn State inevitably ended up losing by one single point.
Side note: What ever happened to using Tommy Stevens effectively in “the lion” position? It’s looking more and more like this title that was given to Stevens was a last-ditch effort to prevent him from transferring elsewhere.
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