FOOTBALL

Penn State report card: How the freshmen got their groove on in Indy

Frank Bodani
York Daily Record

Penn State gave about everything possible, considering the circumstances going against the Indiana Hoosiers.

The Nittany Lions were coming off two crushing, emotional losses over the past three weeks.

They were missing three starters on their building offensive line.

And they were playing on the road in a listless environment and dealing with wicked winds.

The result?

A rather sharp, focused effort after one bad series on defense and one more Sean Clifford turnover.

The rest of the day was a dominating, all-around performance on defense and a punishing day of running by their freshmen tailbacks to dispatch an overmatched opponent as expected.

The final of 45-14, while yielding a late touchdown by backups, was about everything that could be asked for.

Penn State's Coziah Izzard (99) celebrates his sack of Indiana's Jack Tuttle (14) during the first half of the Indiana versus Penn State football game at Memorial Stadium on Satruday, Nov. 5, 2022.

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Freshmen dominated from beginning to end with runners Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton leading the way.

Here are your grades for the seventh victory of the season:

Offense: B+

Nov 5, 2022; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) runs the ball past Indiana Hoosiers linebacker Dasan McCullough (0) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The running game starred behind a makeshift offensive line. Kudos to true freshman left tackle Drew Shelton making his first college start and for guards Hunter Nourzad and Saleem Worley playing hurt.

That group paved the way for 483 total yards and a produced a comfortable lead that was never really in doubt, even with some early mistakes.

Sean Clifford played decently, overall, through two and a half quarters, but still missed opportunities you'd expect from a sixth-year quarterback. He threw a tipped interception (sixth turnover in three games) and didn't see some open receivers and overthrew a possible touchdown to Mitch Tinsley running the sideline.

He did have a potential TD vanish when tight end Theo Johnson dropped his strong throw near the goal line just before halftime.

Allen was the true star of the day with 86 rushing yards (4.8 per carry) and another 72 receiving and three touchdowns. He's becoming a more formidable runner by the week with his patience, vision and surge through the line.

Brenton Strange pulled in a remarkable first-down catch just before Clifford exited. And rookie QB Drew Allar impressed, as well, leading most of the second half and throwing two short touchdowns.

Defense: A

Nov 5, 2022; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Daequan Hardy (25) intercepts a pass during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Just that one bad drive in the first quarter when new QB Jack Tuttle's running and throwing produced a quick touchdown to tie.

Soon enough, though, these guys knocked Tuttle from the game and overwhelmed a struggling offense with six sacks and a stunning 16 tackles behind scrimmage.

Everyone got involved. No better sign than redshirt freshman linebacker Kobe King leading the team in tackles with eight and TFLs with 2.5. His thin position group really needed his improved effort after Curtis Jacobs left with an injury.

Splash plays littered the day, from first career interceptions from Kalen King and Dani Dennis-Sutton to Abdul Carter stalking the line of scrimmage to Daequan Hardy making a copy-cat pickoff of his return in the snow last November at Michigan State.

Hardy came up just a bit short of the goal line, this time.

No matter. His defense held the Hoosiers and their three quarterbacks to just 196 total yards.

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Special teams: B

Start and end with Jake Pinegar connecting on a career-long 50-yard field goal just before halftime. Heck of an effort in winds that gusted over 30 mph.

Otherwise, a solid but unspectacular day.

Parker Washington did spring one nifty punt return to provide great field position. Punter Barney Armor was steady-good but did miss a couple of shots to pin the Hoosiers inside their 10.

That almost seemed like a downer. That's how good he's been all season.

Coaching: B+

Impressive work to keep this young team focused and energized after those crushing defeats to Michigan and Ohio State.

The Lions had to generate all of their own mojo, trying to rebound inside uninspired Memorial Stadium against a listless opponent. Mission accomplished.

While so many talented freshmen played big roles, still impressive work from key veterans like Washington and fellow receiver Mitch Tinsley (combined 9 catches, 93 yards) and Strange, who's wrap-around catch on third down was one of the best all season.

Seemed as if Allar could have gotten in earlier, though not so much because of the game flow. Rather, he has too much potential to not play until the game's completely out of hand. Not in Indiana. Not now.

Overall: A-

Nov 5, 2022; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive tackle Dvon Ellies (91) celebrates with Penn State Nittany Lions defensive tackle Coziah Izzard (99) after a sack during the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

Impressive, business-like effort, free of drama or ups-and-downs in tricky weather conditions.

You wouldn't have known at all that passing and kicking was an adventure.

The Lions are now truly building a demeanor and identity with their physicality around scrimmage − from impressive offensive line work from various blockers to the relentless energy from Allen and Singleton and those tight ends.

Really, more to come from all three position groups, but in the most positive ways.

Overall, good vibes building for a potential race car challenge from Maryland next Saturday in Beaver Stadium. The Terrapins' defense, though, simply may not be able to handle this team up front.

Play of the game: Brenton Strange third-quarter catch

It was a pass play that defied logic.

Third down. Penn State backed up near its own goal line. Sean Clifford fired a fastball up the middle in the direction of tight end Brenton Strange. The problem was that a defender was glued to his front. It almost looked as if Clifford was trying to throw the ball right through IU's Noah Pierre.

No problem, Strange somehow reached around the defensive back as he was falling to the ground − grabbing the ball and prying it from around Pierre's back.

Penn State got a first down. Strange picked up 25 yards.

And the Lions scored four plays later to put away the game for good.

Player of the game: Kaytron Allen

IPenn State's Kaytron Allen (13) avoids Indiana's Tiawan Mullen (3) during the first half of the Indiana versus Penn State football game at Memorial Stadium on Satruday, Nov. 5, 2022.

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The freshman tailback about did it all against the Hoosiers.

He ran hard through the middle, displaying a patience following blocks and vision hitting holes like a guy who's played a lot more than nine college games. But he also starred on the outside and in the open field, evidenced by his slalom through the Indiana defense on a screen toss.

That catch-and-run went for 45 yards, just one play after Strange's highlight catch.

Allen ran for a team-high 86 yards and scored three times. He looks the part of a No. 1 runner, no questions now.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at fbodani@ydr.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.