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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Midseason report: Penn State

By Adam Rittenberg

PENN STATE

Record: 4-2 (2-0 Big Ten)

When Sam Ficken's fourth and final wayward field-goal try hooked left Sept. 8 at Virginia's Scott Stadium, those who hadn't previously written off Penn State pressed the delete button on the Nittany Lions.

After an offseason like no program had experienced, complete with a midsummer player exodus because of NCAA sanctions, Penn State stumbled to an 0-2 start under Bill O'Brien. The downturn most had expected seemed to be starting early.

Five weeks later, there's a decidedly different mood in Happy Valley.

O'Brien and his players have turned things around in impressive fashion, recording four consecutive wins, including two in Big Ten play. Few Big Ten teams, if any, are performing better right now than the Lions, who can't play for a league title or a bowl berth but have found motivation to play for each other.

O'Brien has bolstered an offense that lingered near the bottom of the FBS in production last fall, and no player has benefited more from the coach's arrival than Matt McGloin. The Lions senior quarterback has been decisive and effective in the pocket, forming the Big Ten's top passing connection with surprise star Allen Robinson, a sophomore receiver. Penn State's offensive line is making strides and receiving production from unlikely sources like running back Zach Zwinak.

The senior class deserves a ton of credit for refusing to let the season slip away, and no Nittany Lion has played better than senior linebacker Michael Mauti. Although Notre Dame's Manti Te'o gets more national attention, Mauti has been just as effective for his team, making game-changing plays every Saturday.

Tougher tasks await the Lions, beginning with this week's night game against Iowa, but O'Brien's crew already has exceeded expectations and brought light to Penn State after a dark offseason.

Offensive MVP: QB Matt McGloin. One of the Big Ten's worst quarterbacks in 2011 has become one of the league's best this fall under O'Brien. McGloin is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (12) and has thrown just two interceptions in 221 pass attempts. He also has added five rushing touchdowns, including the go-ahead score Oct. 6 against Northwestern. Robinson also merits a mention after recording 41 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: LB Michael Mauti. He has been Penn State's emotional leader and best player, showing how effective he can be when healthy. Mauti leads Penn State with 57 tackles, including 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks, to go along with two interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. He earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts against Illinois and twice earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors through the first six games.