It's hard to assess the overall performance of Penn State in its 37-21 victory over San Diego State, other than saying it was a streaky affair for the Nittany Lions in practically every facit of the game. Let's take a look at the highs and lows.
THE HIGH FIVE
TURN, TURN, TURN: Penn State managed 21 points off of turnovers, one of the takeaways from the special teams unit off a heady recovery, and two from the defense highlighted by Austin Johnson's 71-yard fumble scoop and scamper.
STEP UP: While the Lions got a one-two punch dealt them with the loss of running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch, the Blue & White got a much-needed spark from Mark Allen. He scored his first career TD on a 13-yard reception.
PASSING LANE: Christian Hackenberg had his moments of struggle throughout the game (more on that in a bit), but he deserves credit for converting some big plays, going 21 of 35 for 296 yards and three TDs. He also delivered balls to seven different targets, led by Saeed Blacknall, who grabbed four catches 101 yards. Also, the offensive line gets a nod for giving the QB time despite their own issues (more to come on that, as well). It was refreshing to see more rollouts and pocket movement for Hackenberg to find opportunities.
SPLIT 'EM: Penn State's placekicker Joey Julius had a strong showing going three for four on field goals and four for four on extra points. He did have a 55-yarder blocked, but proved to be a critical weapon once again for the Lions. But he did not have a good day on kickoffs.
PLUS COLUMN: As much as PSU struggled at times throughout the game, the squad continued to battle and came away with a needed (and expected) victory despite San Diego State refusing to go away.
ALL HEART: As someone who lost a parent as a student at Penn State after their battle with cancer, my heart goes out to Anthony Zettel. Zettel lost his dad, Terry, on Friday. I hope his grief is eventually overcome with a lifetime of memories of his father. He played a heck of a game, which no doubt his dad was watching.
THE LOW FIVE
SIDELINED: There were perhaps no lower lows for the Nittany Lions than having both of their key running backs sidelined in Barkley and Lynch, which dealt the offensive a major blow. The ground game was not the same afterward.
BREAK IN: While the Lion offensive line handled its pass protetion duties pretty consistently (despite two sacks), giving Hackenberg time to deliver passes, the unit struggled fairly consistently with its run blocking duties. While Barley averaged 7.8 yards per carry, of the other four backs the best YPC was from Lynch with 1.8. PSU's line simply struggled with SDSU's blitzes, allowing it to get consistent penetration and often grabbing TFLs.
TRIP UPS: Despite the defensive and special team units creating key turnovers, both units also gave up some big key plays to the Aztecs, including a key 31-yard touchdown pass and a kickoff touchdown return, both of which gave SDSU much needed sparks in the contest.
DISCONNECTED: While Hackenberg deserves a hat tip for some key big plays, including three passing touchdowns, he and his receivers missed several opportunities as the intermediate passing game continues to struggle at times with mis-delivered and dropped balls. In the end PSU only converted four of 15 third downs, many of which were long situations.
SETTLING SHORT: On three different occasions the Lions had to settle for fieldgoals after stalled drives. This is certainly a point of concern that the coaches have to address as the head toward the meat of the schedule.
WASTED TIME: Penn State's use of its final two timeouts in the last minute of the first half seemed like nothing more than a baffling delay of halftime. It was a confusing move by the PSU staff.