- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
Every day for two weeks, NittanyNation is taking a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.
John Butler tried to motivate his defensive backs by rattling off snippets from the media before this season started. There was plenty of motivation -- using an array of adjectives, this secondary was labeled inexperienced, shallow and weak.
The secondary didn't do much in the early games to prove critics wrong, but as the season wore on, an improvement was definitely easier to see. There were mistakes along the way -- allowing 454 passing yards to Indiana, watching Wisconsin's Curt Phillips go 6-of-7 on the game-tying drive, etc. -- but, overall, this secondary offered a mediocre performance when most expected the unit to fare much more poorly.
Cornerback Adrian Amos earned an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team, and teammates called safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong the most improved player since Week 1. Stephon Morris provided leadership, and Malcolm Willis was known as the quarterback of the secondary. It wasn't a great season, but it could have gone much, much worse.
NittanyNation rating: C
Season highlight: Oct. 20 at Iowa. This game seemed to be a turning point. James Vandenberg struggled through the air, completing less than half his passes and throwing two interceptions to one touchdown.
Granted, both of those interceptions came from linebackers. But the defensive backs' tight coverage ensured Vandenberg had to test the linebackers by throwing to the tight ends. The leading receiver ended up being tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who had five catches for 35 yards. On 36 pass attempts, Iowa completed just two longer than 18 yards.
What was missing at this position? Depth. Sure, at times, the secondary struggled forcing interceptions or stopping third-down completions, but the real enemy of this secondary was depth. Penn State didn't trust another cornerback and never installed the nickel. Butler lamented how shallow this unit was and, outside of safety Jake Fagnano, no other backup saw significant playing time. Da'Quan Davis and Ryan Keiser showed flashes of potential, but they both finished the season with just five tackles each.