The season could not have ended better for the Penn State Nittany Lions. They won their season finale at home against Wisconsin, 24-21, in overtime. Thirty seniors celebrated senior day and were cheered by fans for their decision to stay at true to their school in 2012.
After going down 14-7 in the first quarter, the Lions turned things around and completely dominated the Badgers in the second half, holding them to just seven points after halftime.
Penn State was led by sophomore running back Zach Zwinak, who ran straight through the Wisconsin defense for 179 yards and a touchdown. Senior quarterback Matt McGloin threw for 200 yards and a touchdown, finishing the year with a touchdown pass in every game.
The win against the Badgers gave the Nittany Lions eight wins on the year, with six coming in the Big Ten. The emotional victory taught us many things about this 2012 team.
The following slides highlight 10 things that we learned from the victory over the Badgers.
Despite all of the negativity surrounding Penn State, fans still came out to support the team at Beaver Stadium. While there was only one game with a population over 100,000, the game against the Badgers showed that even 95,000 fans make it a tough place to play.
On a day where the temperature was near freezing and snow flurries were falling, the fans at Beaver Stadium were still loud, especially in the second half and overtime.
Wisconsin was outplayed after halftime, and that only fueled the raucous crowd.
It's hard to tell what to expect in the coming years, but as long as fans still make the trip to State College on Saturdays, it will continue to be one of the toughest stadiums to play in.
Senior quarterback Matt McGloin didn't have his best game against the Badgers, but he still got the job done. McGloin showed that he can come through in the clutch and is comfortable running an NFL-style offense.
During the fourth quarter, McGloin converted a key fourth down by tossing a 41-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jesse James.
The signal-caller finished the year with 3,266 passing yards and 24 touchdowns.
Though he'd likely be no more than a second- or third-string quarterback, he does have a skill set that can transfer to the NFL.
Anyone who watched him struggle in the first half against the Badgers, then turn it around had to be impressed.
Heading into the tilt with the Badgers, the Penn State rushing attack ranked just eighth in the Big Ten, averaging 142 yards a game. They had a tough task going up against a Wisconsin defense that was tops in the conference, giving up just 107 yards a game.
Against the Badgers, the offensive line played its best game of the season. They pushed around Wisconsin's front seven and opened up huge holes for running back Zach Zwinak.
Seniors Mike Farrell and Matt Stankiewitch turned it on for their last game before passing the guard to the younger players behind them.
After struggling to run in 2012, the Penn State offensive line really impressed against the Badgers and set the tone for the rest of the offense.
There's no question that the Penn State defense was led by its core group of seniors in 2012. Senior linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges led the team in tackles. Hodges finished with 109 and Mauti, who missed the final game, finished with 95.
Against Wisconsin, and without its defensive captain, Penn State proved that it will be OK in 2013. Sure, senior Jordan Hill had a huge game with 12 tackles and two sacks, but he didn't even lead the team.
Junior linebacker Glenn Carson led the defense with 13 tackles in the game. Mike Hull, who replaced Mauti in the starting lineup, made five tackles against the Badgers.
Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who made eight tackles in the finale, will be an anchor along with Adrian Amos in the Penn State secondary next season.
The seniors will be missed in 2013, but the performances by others in the Wisconsin game should give fans hope for next season.
Recruited as a fullback, Zwinak found himself buried on the Penn State depth chart to start the year. Injuries opened the door for him to see action, and he made the most of it.
His 179-yard performance in Week 13 against Wisconsin proves that he has what it takes to be a starting running back at the collegiate level.
Zwinak saw his first real action in the fourth game of the year against Temple. In that game, he rushed for 94 yards. He continued to run well and finished the season with six 100-yard games, including four in a row to end the year.
An unknown to most fans before the season, Zwinak looks to be a key part of the Penn State offense moving forward.
After a terrible start to the season in which he missed four field goals and an extra point in a Week 2 loss, kicker Sam Ficken really turned his season around. In the Week 13 game against Wisconsin, Ficken proved that he's not as bad as he once showed.
Ficken was a huge part of the Lions' victory, converting on all three of his field-goal attempts, including the 37-yard game winner in overtime.
The sophomore, who was showing improvement in recent weeks, quieted his critics who were calling for him to be benched early in the season. Since October 6th, Ficken has hit on 12 out of 13 field goals.
Fans may have preferred not to have the game come down to a kick; however, he clearly showed that he was able to block out all of the negativity that he faced and come through in the clutch for his team.
Even without the team's second leading receiver, tight end Kyle Carter, McGloin was still able to rely on that position to make key receptions. Freshman Jesse James started in place of Carter and had a stellar game against Wisconsin.
James led the team with 90 yards receiving and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a key play in the fourth quarter. Penn State converted on a 4th-and-6 with a 41-yard pass that James took to the house.
Fellow tight end Matt Lehman caught two passes for 22 yards against the Badgers.
When Kyle Carter returns from his injury and with the addition of top tight end recruit Adam Breneman, the Lions should be set at that position for years to come.
In today's world of option and spread offenses in the college game, Bill O'Brien has shown that a pro-style passing attack can be successful at the collegiate level. His offense features a pocket passer and big, pass-catching tight ends.
McGloin, who really struggled last season, flourished under O'Brien and led the prolific Penn State passing attack in 2012. Heading into the Week 13 game, Penn State was ranked second in the Big Ten in passing offense.
Coming from the New England Patriots, it was no secret that O'Brien utilized the tight ends differently than most. That has proved true at Penn State, as three of the top five receivers on the team in 2012 are tight ends.
The game against Wisconsin was no different. Tight end Jesse James was a favorite target of McGloin and caught the only Penn State touchdown pass.
This was perhaps the most difficult coaching job to walk into in recent memory. With all of the negative feelings and the NCAA sanctions that were facing Penn State, nobody would have blamed head coach Bill O'Brien if he would have left for an easier situation.
Instead, O'Brien embraced the opportunity, and his team followed suit. With a victory over the Badgers, the Nittany Lions finished 2012 with a record of 8-4, something that many though was impossible after an 0-2 start.
During halftime of the Wisconsin game, with his team down 14-7 and playing bad, O'Brien took the blame and insisted that he had to coach better. That's the attitude he has had all year, never pointing fingers at the players or even at the referees after a few questionable calls over the course of the season.
The team came out with a fire in the second half and ultimately came out victorious.
Bill O'Brien has been the perfect coach for this season and should clearly be considered for Coach of the Year.
Agree or not, the sanctions that were handed down by the NCAA allow for current players to transfer after this season without penalty. The Nittany Lions had to deal with that last season when Silas Redd, Justin Brown and Anthony Fera all chose to go elsewhere.
Most of the young Penn State players were virtual unknowns before the season stated. However, after the 2012 season, many are known now.
Running back Zach Zwinak surely impressed the college football world with his 179 yards against the tough Badgers defense. Zwinak, who was known as a fullback, will likely receive much attention after this season.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson, who was fairly quiet against the Badgers, four catches for 35 yards, is also sure to be on the radar of top schools. Robinson finished the year as the top wide receiver in the Big Ten Conference with 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Freshman tight end Jesse James was also impressive in the win over Wisconsin and could also receive attention from any school seeking a good tight end.