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PSU Offense Grades Well In Week 2

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Tight end Jesse James can be a big star, but only if he stops making big mistakes. Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images.
Tight end Jesse James can be a big star, but only if he stops making big mistakes. Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images.

Penn State beat Eastern Michigan.

Woo-hoo.

The Nittany Lions rank 123rd in third-down conversions out of 123 FBS schools. While a 45-point performance against Eastern Michigan is nice, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Penn State is 2-for-26 on third-down conversion attempts this season. This is due to two young quarterbacks that aren’t quite up to FBS speed and an offensive line that, aside from a 20-yard Zach Zwinak first down effort, has helped the running backs get 14 yards on 10 third-down carries. The offense has also turned the ball over six times in two games, a rate of mediocrity that would devastate the team against stronger opponents.

Quarterbacks: B-

Christian Hackenberg looked shaky during Penn State's first three drives, completing just one of four passes, two of which were to wide open receivers, and losing a non-contact fumble that allowed Eastern Michigan to score its only points of the game. He caught fire afterward, completing 22 of 29 passes for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The interception could have been avoided had Hackenberg not double pumped. Instead, he hesitated, giving two Eagles defenders time to deflect and intercept a short pass. Grade: B-

Tyler Ferguson completed two short passes on Penn State’s last scoring drive. The defense was focused on shutting down the run, making life in the pocket easier for Ferguson. No fumbling this week. Grade: B

Running Backs: B+

Zach Zwinak softened up the interior of Eastern Michigan’s defense early in the game with four inside rushes, one for a touchdown, on Penn State’s first scoring drive. He carried the ball just three more times the rest of the game and picked up 43 yards. He had the ball for Penn State’s only successful third-down conversion, but also missed a pass block that allowed Hackenberg to get hit. Grade: B

Bill Belton was Penn State’s first 100-yard rusher this season after averaging 12 yards on eight carries. He also seemed to readily pick up yards he would have missed last week. Instead of insisting on creating footraces with the defense on nearly every carry, he regularly put his shoulder down between the tackles, once resulting in a 51-yard touchdown. However, he also missed a key third-down pass block that allowed instant pressure on Hackenberg. Grade: B+

Akeel Lynch got time with the first and second offense, resulting in more carries (12) than any other running back for Penn State. He also picked up 108 yards, though the majority of those were against a physically and mentally gassed defense. Grade: B+

Pat Zerbe, Penn State’s fullback, deserves mentioned this week, too. Zerbe is a victim of circumstance. Penn State has three good running backs, a boatload of talented tight ends and five wide receivers jockeying for position on the depth chart. It’s surprising he isn’t used more, because he has performed well in limited playing time. Grade: A-

Wide Receivers: B+

Eastern Michigan’s secondary had no chance against Allen Robinson, who caught seven of 10 targets for 129 yards and a touchdown. It’d be nice if he stayed on his blocks longer in the run game. Grade: A-

Brandon Felder appears to be Hackenberg’s go-to-guy in a pinch. Felder caught six passes for 56 yards, two on broken plays. He lacks playmaking ability after the catch. Felder made two key blocks on long runs down the sideline. Grade: B+

Geno Lewis, with only one catch for five yards, got a raw deal against Eastern Michigan. Hackenberg badly overthrew him on a deep out route he could have turned upfield, because he had the corner beat by two steps. Grade: B+

Mike Zanellato caught a big first-down pass to take Penn State to midfield, but dropped a screen pass on the next play that hit his hands. Zanellato took his eyes off the ball, leading to the drop and a spot on the bench. Grade: C-

Alex Kenney has been a reliable backup receiver for Penn State, catching two short passes. Grade: B+

Richie Anderson is a freshman wide receiver well-liked by the coaching staff. His short-area quickness makes him a threat to run after the catch. He caught two short passes. Grade: B+

Tight Ends: C-

Jesse James has plenty of talent and even more potential, but he makes boneheaded mistakes that kill drives. Despite catching two passes for 46 yards, he was also called for pass interference and allowed a defensive end to beat him cleanly for sack on Hackenberg. Those two plays cost the offense 27 yards and two drives. Grade: C-

Kyle Carter had a relatively uneventful day with two short catches. He got beat badly on 20-yard run by Belton, which nearly ended in a two-yard loss if not for the running back’s quick cut back inside. Grade: B-

Adam Brenneman had a rough day. He was caught holding on Penn State’s first offensive play, negating a splash play to midfield. He also did not have the ball thrown his way. Still, this was the first real action Brenneman has ever seen. Grade: D+

Offensive Line: B-

Left tackle Donovan Smith got beat on four blocks, one in the run game and three in pass protection, one of which was a double team with Miles Dieffenbach. He has been Penn State’s best offensive lineman through two games. Grade: B

Left guard Dieffenbach may have had his worst game in a Nittany Lions uniform. He got beat on six blocks, two in the run game and four in pass pro. He also failed to block anyone three times while pulling to the right, a huge no-no at this level of football. Grade: F

Ty Howle, at center, was superb in pass blocking, but he struggled in the running game during the fourth quarterback. He was got beat four times, three of which came in Penn State’s second-to-last drive of the game. Grade: B

Right guard John Urschel is supposed to be Penn State’s best offensive lineman, one of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten. While he didn’t slip up much (he got beat four times), he made costly mistakes. He was called for holding on a run play in which the defender was never going to have a chance to catch up to Bill Belton. He also allowed a sack after barely getting a hand on the defender. Grade: C

Garry Gilliam, playing at right tackle, had a solid game. He only got beat once in the run game and twice in the pass game, once resulting in a holding penalty. He was spelled by Eric Shrive late in the game. Grade: B

Eric Shrive relieved Urschel throughout the game and only got beat once in the run game. If Shrive can continue to get opportunities as a backup, he may be a threat to steal a starting job at guard. Grade: B+

Adam Gress came in for Gilliam throughout the game, often at the same time that Shrive came in. He was beat once in the run game and once in the pass game. Both of Penn State’s offensive tackles are playing too well to consider Gress a threat to get more playing time. Grade: B-