The grading continues today as it's time to distribute Penn State's season report card.
The unit slogged along for most of the season, and Penn State won nine games largely in spite of its offense. Penn State used a confounding quarterback rotation of Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden and had eight games with fewer than 200 pass yards and four games of fewer than 120 pass yards. If not for heroic sophomore running back Silas Redd, who emerged as a workhorse and one of the Big Ten's top ball-carriers, Penn State would have had a real struggle putting up points. The offensive line seemed to make strides as the season progressed and a creative game plan against Ohio State led to good results, but Penn State underachieved on offense much of the fall.
No unit in the Big Ten carried a team more than Penn State's defense, which was simply fabulous this season. All-American tackle Devon Still led the way as arguably the nation's most disruptive interior lineman. Penn State overcame the loss of standout linebacker Michael Mauti and received big contributions in the midsection from Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson and Nate Stupar. The Lions held nine of their 12 opponents to fewer than 20 points and ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. There's no way Penn State would have started the season 8-1 without huge contributions from its defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
The Lions had some bright spots in the kicking game, such as punter Anthony Fera and kickoff returner Chaz Powell, who averaged 28.3 yards per runback with a touchdown. Penn State was mediocre on kickoff and punt coverage and missed more field-goal attempts (8) than any Big Ten team (the Lions also attempted a league-high 24 field goals). Special teams played a key role in wins like a 24-18 triumph against Purdue.
Penn State exceeded most outside expectations with an 8-1 start and put itself in position to win the Leaders Division. The defense undoubtedly carried the team and had only one poor performance (at Wisconsin). We'll never know how Penn State's season would have ended if the sex-abuse scandal hadn't surfaced and Joe Paterno hadn't been fired, but the closing stretch always appeared daunting. There are many unknowns going forward for the Lions, but they have an excellent foundation on the defensive side of the ball.