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Citrus Bowl: Penn State Report Card

January 3, 2019

Quarterback: He didn’t always play well. Trace McSorley missed some throws early, generally got off to a rough start and threw what turned into a back-breaking interception in the third quarter. But his guts, determination and leadership can’t be questioned after playing the second half with what is likely a severe foot injury. All he did was throw for 246 yards, rush for 74 and account for three scores. He went out the right way. GRADE: A-

Running back: Outside of a 13-yard run on a third-and-10 that kept the Lions’ last drive alive, Miles Sanders had a quiet game. He rushed just 13 times for 51 yards, and caught two short passes, but he dropped another. Ricky Slade had a few solid runs, but really, McSorley was the running game, as he piled up almost half of Penn State’s 164 rushing yards. GRADE: C

Receiver: New year. Same story. Penn State just dropped too many passes. DeAndre Thompkins, in particular, had a few hit the turf, one on a perfect throw from backup QB Sean Clifford. Thompkins caught four passes for 74 yards, and the tight ends — Pat Freiermuth and Nick Bowers — each caught touchdown passes. But as was the story all season, just not a lot of big plays from the guys on the outside. GRADE: C-

Offensive line: The big question coming in was whether the offensive line would be able to win enough battles against a 3-4 front that had a ton of size. The answer was no. Penn State quarterbacks were sacked six times, and there just wasn’t enough room for the running backs to get going although, in their defense, McSorley got some gaps to hit. It was a tough matchup in which they simply needed to be a little better up front. GRADE: C-

Defensive line: For most of the game, this was a dominant group. But when it mattered most, when the Nittany Lions needed to stuff the Kentucky running game, there were enough holes for Wildcats bulldozer Benny Snell to hit. He picked up two first downs on the last drive of the game and pretty much exhausted Penn State’s timeouts and the game clock in the progress. GRADE: C+

Linebacker: Micah Parsons was everywhere. He didn’t start, and he only started playing regularly once Cam Brown was ejected for targeting. But he finished with 13 tackles and a forced fumble in an impressive effort. Brown also played well until he got tossed, and Ellis Brooks made a few big plays in limited action against a tough back. So the future of the Penn State linebacking corps is extremely bright. GRADE: C+

Secondary: Kentucky’s passing game hadn’t been dominant all season, and it wasn’t in the Citrus Bowl. It helped safeties Garrett Taylor (10 tackles) and Nick Scott (six) be more active in the running game. Cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields had maybe his best game as a Nittany Lion, and 54 of Kentucky’s 121 yards through the air came on a short throw Lynn Bowden Jr. turned into a big play. GRADE: B+

Special teams: Failed to convert a fake punt. Missed two field goals. Allowed a punt return for a score. Thompkins let a punt fall behind him at the 20 that rolled to the 5. Special teams lost the game for Penn State. GRADE: F

Coaching: The fake punt early made some sense against a Kentucky offense that isn’t exactly explosive. The decision to attempt the field goal on the last drive instead of trying to keep the drive alive on fourth-and-7 again made some sense, considering there were still four minutes left and three timeouts to burn. But the staff put confidence in units that have collapsed before and took the ball twice away from McSorley. These are legitimate concerns as a young team moves forward. GRADE: D+

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