Mike Pettigano / Black Shoe Diaries
The 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions might have lost four games this season, but they ended this season as champions. We will never forget what these student-athletes did for this university. Thank you so much, you seniors most of all. You deserved this.
Recap coming in the morning. For now, here's where we can celebrate a fitting and exciting and memorable end to an incredible and emotional season that, despite teeming under the weight of the draconian NCAA sanctions, I wouldn't have traded for the world.
Quarterbacks: B+. McGloin picked up his game in the second half, and didn't get all that much help from his receivers, but early struggles made this only a solid performance from a guy who's had, statistically, one of the best passing seasons in Big Ten history. Still, he didn't make any mistakes, refused to force passes even against a stifling Wisconsin secondary, and, late, made every throw he had to.
Running Backs: A+. Yo, Zach Zwinak just outplayed Montee Ball. God, I am so excited to watch him play for the next three years. He's a bulldozer with speed, a latter day reincarnation of Mike Alstott, and yes, a guy who started this season as the backup fullback on the depth chart just capped off a 1000-yard season. Hats off, Zach. Now you've got a very long offseason to learn how not to fumble.
Receivers: B-. Early on, Penn State's passing offense was remarkably stagnant (at best), as the offensive line collapsed before any receivers could get open. Even later on, the medium-depth routes towards the middle of the field, that McGloin has made a living on all season, weren't really there. There were even a few drops of some very catchable balls. But Jesse James continued to break out in the absence of Kyle Carter, and Allen Robinson became just the second receiver in Penn State history with a 1000-yard season, so kudos are due.
Offensive Line: B+. The first half was not one to remember for the offensive line--Matt McGloin was sacked twice (on one, Adam Gress just absolutely whiffed), and it would've been even more had it not been for some uncharacteristic McGloin mobility to spin out of a couple sacks. But Zwinak was running downhill all day, and McGloin was barely touched in the second half during Penn State's comeback.
Defensive Line: A-. Throughout most of the second half, Penn State was able to generate pressure with just the front four--Jordan Hill and Pete Massaro were breathing down Curt Phillips' neck--and Hill, especially, did a great job plugging up holes as Montee Ball was held about as much in check as you could reasonably hope.
Linebackers: B+. The loss of Michael Mauti was very palpable from the get-go, as Penn State got gashed on Wisconsin's runs to the edge, where Mauti typically excelled. Gerald Hodges, donning Mauti's 42, was a decent enough facsimile (not that he's not a pretty damn good player in his own right), and Glenn Carson and Mike Hull had their share of sticks at the line. After getting run over early, Penn State dominated defensively in the second half, mainly because the front seven plugged holes and didn't let Wisconsin get into third and short situations.
Defensive Backs: C+. Jacob Fagnano came up with a big interception on 4th down deep in Penn State territory, and Curt Phillips completed less than half his passes, but the soft coverage burned Penn State on a number of crucial downs, especially during Wisconsin's fourth quarter resurgence--not to mention the blown coverages on the early Melvin Gordon touchdown. Early on, Penn State's secondary couldn't find Jared Abbrederis, and later, they couldn't seem to locate anyone else.
Special Teams: B+. More good than bad, today: Sam Ficken nailed all his field goal attempts (for a dude to miss four in Week 2, then nail the game winner in Game 12...what a freakin' turnaround!), and Alex Butterworth managed not to suck (thanks in no small part to some very friendly rolls), but once again, Penn State lacked any spark in the return game, and gave up a pair of returns out to midfield.
Coaching: B. O'Brien seemed to push all the right buttons (three crucial fourth down conversions netted two made field goals and a long touchdown pass), and delivered what must have been one hell of a halftime speech, since Penn State played perhaps their best second half of the year. But after the Fagnano interception, he failed to pound the run and allowed Wisconsin to get the ball back with just 53 seconds off the clock. And while Ted Roof made some tremendous adjustments to stop the run in the second half, he dialed up too many blitzes on third-and-long, leading to some big conversions from Curt Phillips.