In an afternoon where very few Penn State players stood out, linebacker Brandon Bell put together a dominating performance. In total, Bell finished the afternoon with five tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and the first fumble recovery of his career. Bell was relentless all afternoon, and his playmaking ability was perhaps the sole reason the Nittany Lions remained in striking distance of pulling off the upset until late into the game.
Penn State's outstanding defensive line, which is brimming with NFL talent, rightfully receives the lions' share of credit for the unit's success. But it can easily be argued that Bell is the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions defense. Bell has taken on the role as the emotional leader, one that became ever so important following the loss of his main counterpart Nyeem Wartman-White early in week one. Bell is constantly communicating with the young linebackers who have been thrust into early action, and his energy is non-stop as he fires up the rest of his teammates. Perhaps most importantly, his vicious hits and fiery play regularly light a fire for the rest of the team.
With the right pieces and parts around him, Bell's major plays would have been game-altering. On a day when Jake Rudock hardly missed, Bell read his eyes perfectly and made a break on the ball for a momentum-shifting interception in the first quarter, just as it seemed Michigan would take an early two-score lead. Bell also had the presence of mind to find an open lane for a 25-yard return that included a stiff-arm that would made Leonard Fournette envious. As the game appeared to be permanently slipping away late in the third quarter, Bell had another of his signature moments that have become commonplace this season with a strip-sack and fumble recovery to set up a field goal that gave Penn State a fighter's chance heading into the homestretch. Bell's gamebreaking performance against Michigan contained the type of moments that could have lived on in Penn State lore. Unfortunately, the team's troubling and recurring trend of not being able to capitalize on opportunities in big games meant that Bell's incredible performance is likely to be swept away with the bad memories of another disappointing missed opportunity against a ranked opponent.
Perhaps not much from Saturday will be remembered for Penn State fans. But that shouldn't be the case for Bell, who more than made his presence known for 60 minutes. Great work, Brandon. Keep fighting.
Chris Godwin- Not many other candidates, but Godwin was able to pick up three receptions for 51 yards against an extremely stingy Wolverines secondary. His incredible fourth down catch and run on the last play of the third quarter not only kept Penn State alive, but nearly picked up six by dragging a slow of Michigan defenders towards the end zone.