Let’s C here. This was a crazy C-son for Penn State. The kind of C-son we will never C again, at least hopefully. We were forced to C the worst start in program history at 0-5, then the Nittany Lions gave us something interesting to C as they finished with four straight wins.
Add it all up, and this is my conclusion: This Penn State team was mediocre, average, a C student that could have been much better in class if only it had paid more attention to detail, studied harder, been prepared and actually turned in all the work that was assigned on time.
The 0-5 start was an abomination. Getting destroyed by Maryland was unacceptable, and the low point of the James Franklin era. Having Sean Clifford get benched was an unforeseen aspect.
There also were good stories, such as Jahan Dotson having a breakout year, Keyvone Lee impressing as a freshman and the way the players fought and battled.
Here’s my report card:
Sean Clifford was awful early with costly turnovers, then much better late when he protected the ball and stopped trying to do too much. I’m not including Will Levis here because Levis still, to me, is just a running back taking snaps.
Running backs: C+
Man, this group could have been fantastic. But the sad news about Journey Brown and unfortunate injury to Noah Cain early on put the position in flux the first half of the year. Keyvone Lee emerged as a quality true freshman back.
I’m including TE in this, as well. Jahan Dotson emerged as a legit No. 1 guy, and Parker Washington showed great promise as a true freshman. Pat Freiermuth played as expected, until getting injured and having to miss the end of the season.
Just like the entire team: Bad early, better late once the competition got weaker.
Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney were both first-team all-Big Ten. The line got pushed around some by the better opposition and controlled the trenches against the weaker teams the second half of the year.
Not a good year for Linebacker U. Tackling was really bad at times, and they didn’t cover middle of the field well on short throws. Brandon Smith has potential, but overall this group underperformed.
Burned for too many big plays and poor tackling. Tariq Castro-Fields missing second half of season, and cornerback depth was a problem. Jaquan Brisker a bright spot. Lamont Wade looked really good at times and really bad at others.
Special teams: D+
There were some highlights, including Dotson’s punt return for TD. But for most part, these units were way too inconsistent.
James Franklin and his staff get an A for keeping the team together and bought in so it could win the last four. But this program has a major problem when it comes to slow starts, and that put the team behind five 8 balls with the awful start. Yes, the Lions lost many good players who were expected to contribute. But there’s just no reason Penn State should consistently play so poorly in the first half, then look like a completely different team in the second half.