Report Card: High Marks And a Few Duds at Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Give the new Indiana Hoosiers this much — they sure are fun to watch every week.
Gone are the days of ugly and gruesome blowouts, and it’s a great feeling to know that Indiana can go on the road and fight to the finish with a top-10 team. That’s the way it was at Penn State Saturday, where the Hoosiers had their shot but came up a little short, losing 34-27 to the 9-1 Nittany Lions, who are ranked No. 9 in the country.
I’ll be honest. This was a difficult report card to do, probably the hardest of the year. The reason? Because grading on a curve isn’t allowed anymore, either.
Here’s how the Hoosiers graded out in my 10th Report Card of the season:
Rushing offense: C-plus
Stevie Scott, Indiana’s workhorse running back, could manage only 54 yards on 17 carries against Penn State, which just wasn’t good enough, only getting 3.2 yards per carry. He had only one run for more than 10 yards.
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey helped with his legs a bit, but he was also being careful to not get hit, sliding a bunch and getting out of bounds when he could. He rushed for 31 yards on 12 carries and scored two 1-yard touchdowns. I have no problem with him being careful at all, by the way, because Indiana needs to keep him healthy. But having success on the road means you need to get in that 125-to-150 yard range and Indiana was nowhere near close to that.
Passing offense: A-minus
The passing game was wonderful. Ramsey, who’s the starting quarterback now the rest of the way after Michael Penix Jr. had season-ending surgery, threw for a career-high 371 yards and was very accurate most of the day, completing 31 of 41 passes. He had a huge day with Ty Fryfogle, who had five catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
It was hard to lose Whop Philyor to a concussion early in the second quarter, but true freshman David Ellis did a great job of filling in at the slot receiver position. He had seven catches for 85 yards. The only real negative was Donovan Hale dropping a pass in the end zone on a third-down throw. It forced Indiana to kick a field goal instead, so that one drop cost them four points. That alone turned this A-plus grade to an A-minus
Rush defense: C-minus
Here’s where the grading gets hard. The eye test tells me that Indiana’s effort in stopping the run was mostly good, and it was. But the problem was big plays once again that completely changed the tone of the game.
Journey Brown, who had 100 yards on 21 carries, scored on the first play after Indiana’s botched fake punt (more on that — much more — in just a minute), going untouched on a 38-yard touchdown run that suddenly gave Penn State a 13-point lead. He averaged only 3 yards a carry otherwise. And quarterback Sean Clifford had several big runs, epecially on third down, that kept Penn State on the field for far too long. The Hoosiers were mostly good, but they just couldn’t make enough plays to alter the outcome.
Pass defense: A-minus
A combination of things made this a pretty good grade for the Hoosiers. A good pass rush much of the day sacked quarterback Sean Clifford three times and forced him into a lot of hurried throws. He was just 11 of 23 passing (47.8 percent) for 179 yards. That was his second-lowest yardage total of the year.
No Penn State player had more than two catches and the three sacks were all good for Indiana. One big play to KJ Hamler was all that really hurt, and a few third-down conversions to tight end Pat Freiermuth hurt, too. All in all, pretty darn good, though.
Special teams: D-minus
Again, what the heck am I supposed to do with this grade? There were two huge special teams blunders, but I’m having a hard time ripping all 11 players in either case. The first issue was the botched punt by return man Whop Philyor. He couldn’t get to the ball in time to catch it on the fly, and when it bounced right toward him, he went after it. It was ruled that he touched the ball and Penn State recovered. I’ve watched the replay a dozen times though, and I never see the ball hit him. So how critical can I be?
The botched fake punt in a whole different matter. As I said on Sunday, it should have never come to that anyway. You’re only down six, so bury them with your great punter and go play defense. But instead, what was apparently a mistake by true freshman long snapper Sean Wrecher turned this into a disaster. Indiana had checked out of a fake, but Wrecher apparently didn’t get the message and snapped it to the up man, Peyton Hendershot. Instead Penn State scored a play later to go up 13, a lead that Indiana couldn’t overcome. A bad day for special teams, for sure.
Indiana’s offense scored 27 points and had 462 yards against a very good Penn State defense, so that was all good. The defensive game plan was solid, and the added pressure on Clifford all day paid off, but the Hoosiers are still out of alignment too often on broken plays by quarterbacks. Clifford, often unaccounted for, had several huge runs that kept drives alive. That’s been an issue in all three of Indiana’s losses, so it’s a shame to see it repeated so often.
And the fake punt disaster? To me, that’s on the coaches. It was totally the wrong call, and they even wasted a timeout in coming up with it. Timeouts are extremely valauble in the second half of games, and that one was a mess.
Let’s be clear here, there is no room for moral victories now for this Indiana program. They absolutely have turned the corner under Tom Allen, and to go on the road and compete like they did was commendable. This is a hard place for ANYONE to win, but Indiana went up there confident, and it played like it.
The mental process that they can play with anyone right now is refreshing. Getting the win would have been major icing on the cake. But to see them answer every challenge, and then really be hurting afterward when it was over, was a sure sign that the Hoosiers have arrived as a respectable college football team.