News & Analysis

OSU-PSU grades: Run game, defense fuel Nittany Lions' upset win

Penn State Nittany Lions 24, Ohio State Buckeyes 21

Here are the highest-graded players and biggest takeaways from Penn State's 24-21 upset win on Saturday night:

Penn State Nittany Lions

Quarterback grade: Trace McSorley, 71.4

The headline figures for McSorley were not impressive: a completion percentage below 35 percent, less than seven yards per attempt and only eight completions. However, McSorley’s performance was better than his numbers would suggest, particularly considering the pressure he was under. Pressured on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks, he picked up his touchdown pass under pressure and added 36 yards on eight scrambles to dig the Nittany Lions out of the hole his left tackle was often trying to put him in. After a rough start to conference play against Michigan and Minnesota, McSorley has put in two solid displays for Penn State, even if his box-score stats suggest he is yet to turn the corner.

Top offensive grades:

RT Brendan Mahon, 87.6

C Brian Gaia, 79.7

RB Saquon Barkley, 73.3

WR Saeed Blacknall, 67.7

WR Chris Godwin, 56.0

Nittany Lions flip the script for Barkley

A year ago in Columbus for this matchup, it was the Saquon Barkley Show, as the then-true freshman single-handedly tried to keep the Nittany Lions competitive in a lop-sided defeat. That night Barkley gained 126 yards after contact and broke 10 tackles for the second time that season. A year later, the Penn State offensive line set up Barkley with 41 of his 99 rushing yards before contact, and Barkley didn’t have to break any tackles while coming up just a yard shy of a 100-yard game. The star on the offensive line for the third straight week was RT Brendan Mahon, who dominated the Ohio State front on the ground, combining particularly well on double teams to blow the Buckeyes' defensive tackles out of the middle of the play and disrupt the linebackers behind them.

Top defensive grades:

DT Kevin Givens, 86.8

DE Garrett Sickels, 81.7

CB John Reid, 80.5

CB Grant Haley, 79.0

DE Evan Schwan, 78.7

Strength in numbers for the Nittany Lions' defense

This was a defensive battle — “old-school Big Ten football” — and it was the Penn State defense that came up with the plays to capitalize on its momentum in the fourth quarter to clinch victory. It was a team effort at that, with 13 of the 16 Nittany Lions defenders who played more than 20 snaps earning an overall grade of 70.0 or higher. LB Brandon Bell led the defense with eight defensive stops, and was one of only four starters not to miss a tackle. The Nittany Lions’ relentless pursuit meant that they could overcome their season-high 20 missed tackles to put the shackles on the Ohio State offense and notch the program’s biggest win in years.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Quarterback grade: J.T. Barrett, 75.5

So much of J.T. Barrett’s performance was assured, accurate and kept the Ohio State offense ticking, but what was lacking for Barrett was a single big play that might have turned this game in Ohio State’s favor. The lack of that big play kept the Nittany Lions hanging around, and ultimately, the pressure surrendered by his offensive line ensured that after the blocked field goal touchdown return that gave Penn State the lead in the fourth quarter, the shell-shocked Buckeyes couldn’t recover. Barrett completed a lot of passes in the short and intermediate range but couldn’t deliver deep last night. Pressured on more than 50 percent of his dropbacks, he went 0-for-4 on deep balls and could only pick up two gains of 10 yards or more on the ground, as the Penn State pass rush ultimately limited his impact on the game.

Top offensive grades:

RG Billy Price, 77.5

RB Curtis Samuel, 74.3

C Pat Elflein, 67.6

TE Marcus Baugh, 66.1

WR Terry McLaurin, 60.8

Lacking strong pass protection, the Buckeyes fail to pull away

After establishing a 21-7 lead after a wild long snap midway through the third quarter, you would have been forgiven for expecting the Buckeyes to roll over Penn State in this game, but the platform provided by their offensive line, or lack thereof, prevented Ohio State from doing that. Billy Price and Pat Elflein were strong once again as pass protectors, but the entire unit struggled in pass protection, surrendering a staggering 34 pressures between them, with RT Isaiah Prince accounting for almost half of those by himself. The spark of Curtis Samuel’s untouched 74-yard touchdown run and Marcus Baugh’s tackle-breaking exploits in the first quarter weren’t repeated in the final 25 minutes of the game.

Top defensive grades:

CB Marshon Lattimore, 81.5

DE Nick Bosa, 80.4

S Damon Webb, 79.6

DE Jalyn Holmes, 76.8

DT Robert Landers, 75.1

Backups stake their claim for more playing time

Three of the top five graded players on the Ohio State defense Saturday night were not among the starters, with defensive linemen Jalyn Holmes, Nick Bosa and Robert Landers staking their claims for increased playing time in the coming weeks as the Buckeyes look to rebound from this loss. Bosa led the Buckeyes with seven pressures, but it is perhaps Landers who is pressing the strongest claim to jump into the starting lineup. Starting defensive tackles Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill struggled for the second straight week (longer still for Hill by himself), as Penn State gained 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles, with Jones and Hill frequently backed up into the second level when they faced double teams. After giving up 137 yards between the tackles to Wisconsin last week, the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear in the Ohio State run defense right now, and Landers has been performing well enough to justify a spot in the starting lineup.

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