Quarterbacks: Sean Clifford played well before he suffered an unspecified injury at Iowa in the sixth game. He was mostly inconsistent, though, finishing seventh in the Big Ten and 76th nationally in pass efficiency. While he cut down on his turnovers, he had basically the same completion percentage as he did in 2020.
Running backs: Keyvone Lee was the most productive of the four backs that Penn State used, gaining 530 yards and averaging 4.9 a carry. The backs were hurt by the four-man rotation, inadequate blocking and impatient play-calling. It was the first season since 1978 that the Lions didn’t have a 100-yard rusher in a game.
Receivers: Jahan Dotson enjoyed a magnificent season, finishing with 91 receptions for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. Parker Washington was a nice complement with 64 catches for 820 yards and four scores. KeAndre Lambert-Smith had an up and down season, and tight ends Theo Johnson and Brenton Strange weren’t used enough.
Offensive linemen: This undoubtedly was Penn State’s most disappointing group. Despite returning three starters, the Lions ranked 13th in the Big Ten in rushing and 118th nationally with just 106.6 yards per game. They also finished last in the conference and 94th nationally in sacks allowed (34). It was just an awful performance.
Offense’s overall grade: D+.
Defensive linemen: Arnold Ebiketie and Derrick Tangelo, a pair of transfers, helped solidify the front four after an offseason injury to Adisa Isaac, who did not play. Losing defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher to a season-ending knee injury for all but one series of the final eight games hurt, especially against the run.
Linebackers: Ellis Brooks and Curtis Jacobs stood out throughout the season and helped Penn State hold opponents to 17.3 points per game, tied for sixth nationally. Brandon Smith showed his athletic ability at times, but he missed too many tackles and took too many poor angles to the football.
Defensive backs: It might have been the best secondary Penn State has had. The Lions ranked sixth nationally in pass defense efficiency and allowed just two opponents to pass for more than 268 yards. Safeties Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown were outstanding, making several big plays with games on the line.
Defense’s overall grade: B+.
Special teams: Jordan Stout had the greatest season by a Penn State punter, setting a school record for average (46.01). He also was outstanding on kickoffs, sending 59 of his 66 kicks into the end zone for touchbacks. Stout, though, was not great with his placekicking, and the Lions were not productive in the return game.
Coaching: James Franklin and his staff were never able to make the running game productive. They deserve some blame for not having Ta’Quan Roberson or Christian Veilleux more prepared when Clifford was injured at Iowa. They also didn’t adjust quickly enough on defense in the nine-overtime loss to Illinois or on offense in the defeat at Michigan State.
Team’s overall grade: C.
Source: Berkshire mont