Penn State Midseason Report Card
After starting 0-2, Bill O’Brien and his new look Nittany Lion football team put together a four game winning streak, including two wins in the Big Ten. Now, the team travels to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes in primetime at 8 p.m. With the midway point of the season upon us, now is a good time to grade the team.
It is safe to say that redshirt senior Matt McGloin has exceeded all expectations that were given to him before the 2012 season. Take away the second half against Ohio and parts of the game at Virginia and he easily gets an A+. McGloin has only thrown two interceptions through six games, one of which bounced off the hands of a receiver and into the hands of a defender. He has made great decisions with the ball, not forcing passes into tight coverage. More importantly, he has found ways to escape the pocket for positive yardage. He is putting up unreal numbers if you look at the thin wide receiving corps he is working with.
Wide Receivers: B+
A group that isn’t particularly deep has been done enough to produce in Bill O’Brien’s offense. Led by sophomore Allen Robinson, the wide receiving core that features zero starters from a year ago has blended well with the tight ends and has developed into good targets for McGloin. Robinson himself primarily leads this group, but Brandon Moseby-Felder and Alex Kenney are getting the job done. Kenney’s speed has been effective on the outside with screen passes and short yardage. The bottom line is that, as long as Robinson continues to play like a superstar and Kenney and Moseby-Felder can catch the football on the outside, they will get the job done for Penn State.
Running Backs: B+
After losing Silas Redd, sophomore Bill Belton was thought to be an adequate replacement. But after an injury in the season opener, others needed to step up. After the first two games of the season, with Belton injured and the discovery of Zach Zwinak yet to occur, the running game looked like it would be extremely weak. It took until the third game for this to really happen, but since that Navy game, Zwinak and Michael Zordich have stepped in and played much better than expected. Zwinak has gone over 100 yards in back-to-back games, and Zordich has provided a good balance as well. If Belton can get healthy, the running game could be the best part of this Penn State offense. Belton’s versatility and the power of Zordich and Zwinak could be an outstanding combination for the Nittany Lion offense.
Tight Ends: A
In the past, tight ends have reigned in a Bill O’Brien offense. While Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez don’t play for Penn State, Kyle Carter, Matt Lehman and Garry Gilliam have certainly been enough for O’Brien’s offense to work. Led by Carter, this talented group has lived up to its’ hype through six games. Carter has blank and blank. Probably the most surprising tight end is Matt Lehman, who has 12 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Also not to be forgotten is true freshman Jesse James. By no means is James the feature tight end, but he is just another weapon for McGloin. This group deserves an A because, quite frankly, they are serving as the second and third options for McGloin. Without them, this offense would not be where it currently sits going into Iowa.
Offensive Line: A
Offensive line was a concern preseason, but it might be the deepest group on this offense. Offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has been able to rotate seven or eight guys throughout the season and every one of them has done their job when called upon. Left tackle Donovan Smith has been injured at times but Adam Gress and Eric Shrive were able to step in nicely while Smith was hurt. Those three, along with seniors Matt Stankewitch and Mike Farrell and juniors Miles Dieffenbach and John Urschel, who have started all year, have protected Matt McGloin. As long as they are doing that and opening holes for the slew of running back Penn State will feature, they will continue to have success.
Defensive Line/Linebackers: A-
This group was supposed to be and still might be the strongest part of this Nittany Lion team. Senior linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges as well as defensive linemen Jordan Hill they have held opposing offenses to only 16 points a game which ranks 14th in the nation. The only reason why the minus is next to the A is because of their inability to create pressure on the quarterback, especially on third down. It showed mightily against Ohio and Virginia in the second halves. Their work on third down has improved, but the caliber of quarterbacks has gone down since those games. With James Vandenberg this weekend and Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller looming, pressure needs to increase on third down.
The secondary has been the most criticized part of the Penn State defense, but it has seen improvement since week one. Adrian Amos is the most talented piece in the secondary and can literally play everywhere, but due to the lack of depth at cornerback he has been forced to play there. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong has played better since the Virginia game, but once again they haven’t played a Taylor Martinez or Braxton Miller yet. Improvements need to be made and it starts with Amos and Obeng-Agyapong. They did not play well against Ohio or Virginia and have allowed over 200 passing yards in each game thus far. The talent is there, but opponents' talent will get better as the season progresses so improvement must continue to be made.
Special Teams: C-
Sam Ficken’s struggles have been talked about all season, but while they are valid, the specials teams have other struggles. Punter Alex Butterworth has improved his punting but it still needs to be better. He has had some punts that have been very deep and others that barely go over 30 yards. A consistency has to be found as Big Ten play progresses and the teams get tougher. Punt and kick returning hasn’t been anything special for Bill O’Brien this year. Linebacker Gerald Hodges started the year as the kick returner, which was a questionable decision, especially after Hodges muffed a kick against Ohio. Alex Kenney and Adrian Amos now return kicks, but they haven’t returned many kicks into the second level. Now you can’t expect them to take kicks to the house every play, but they need to get the offense better field possession than they have six weeks in. A similar story for the punt returners Jesse Della Valle and Evan Lewis, who have not done much. All of these groups, including Ficken, must improve over the next six games. If they do not, it could be what separates the Nittany Lions from destiny, and that is a Leaders Division title.
Head Coach Bill O’Brien: A
Considering the circumstances and the start his team had to the 2012 season, it would be a crime to not give Bill O’Brien an A. Some people thought he could only lead his team to three wins this whole season, but it has been proven that his team has bought into what he is selling. The way he has transformed this offense that lost almost every key component from a year ago is absolutely unbelievable. Not only did he keep the team and community together, but he has produced results on the football field. If the Nittany Lions finish with seven or more wins, he is the clear-cut coach of the year in my mind. Nobody in the country has done a job similar to what O’Brien has considering the circumstances and if he can keep the magic going it would be one of the best stories this year in all of college football.
Mike Esse is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism and is a ComRadio Sports Director. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Mike Esse is a senior from Grosse Pointe, Mich., majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in business. He is a reporter for the Centre County report with a primary focus in sports. Additionally, he serves as the Student General Manager for ComRadio as well as being a producer, talk show personality and play-by-play voice.
Mike also is a staff writer for gopsusports.com where he covers Penn State women’s basketball and baseball and works for Penn State Athletics in video production. He has completed internships with MLB Advanced Media in Summer 2014 and Westwood One Sports in summer 2013.