Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Midseason report: Penn State
By Josh Moyer
Bill O'Brien has once again breathed new life into these Nittany Lions.
No, they're not the best in the Big Ten -- they're more of a middle-of-the-road team -- but it will be difficult to count them out of any game going forward. PSU has embraced the underdog role since O'Brien took over, and it should feel pretty good heading into this bye week at 4-2.
PSU dropped its first game in school history against Indiana, in ugly 44-24 fashion, but rebounded with a classic game against Michigan that lasted four overtimes and resulted in an emotional 43-40 victory. That was a critical win for PSU, especially considering what it's up against this season.
O'Brien has said PSU has just 61 scholarship players, and it's clear the talent level on defense is far from ideal. Luckily for PSU, Christian Hackenberg has more than lived up to expectations as a true freshman who's been on campus about four months now.
It will get better for PSU, especially now that future sanctions have been reduced, but it'll be an uphill battle the rest of this season. Future games against Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin will especially be a big challenge for a team short on numbers.
But, if there's one thing PSU's shown the last year and a half, it's that you can never completely write it off.
Offensive MVP: WR Allen Robinson. He's the best receiver in the Big Ten, and his route-running and athleticism are second to none. In four of six contests this season, he's caught at least seven balls for at least 125 yards. And the offense has had a hard timing moving without him. Against Michigan, he ended up with Sportscenter's top play -- and that was during a "down" game, statistically. His 37-inch vertical leap has given defenders fits this season, and he's on pace to break the school's single-season record for receptions (again) and receiving yards. He leads the conference with 43 catches for 705 yards and five TDs. He's only a junior, but he could wind up taking his talents to the NFL early.
Defensive MVP: DT DaQuan Jones. Usually, linebacker is the position of focus at Penn State. But Jones' performance so far has made him difficult to ignore. He's second on the team in tackles (31.5), leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss (8.5) and has already produced two sacks and a fumble recovery. He's a big reason the Nittany Lions' run defense has been mostly stingy and, at 318 pounds, it's pretty incredible to note that no PSU player has more solo tackles than him. He made a statement in the first two games and was a constant force in PSU's quadruple-overtime victory against Michigan.