Penn State Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IOctober 16, 2013

Penn State Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Penn State has been all over the map this year. Halfway through the season, the Nittany Lions have lost at home to UCF, shut out Kent State, won a squeaker in the Meadowlands and were all but blown out by Indiana.

    So what exactly is this Penn State team?

    Well, the midseason grades are in and not every unit has fared so well. Others are among the top groups in the country. Let's have a look!


    All stats courtesy of


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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Sure, there was the Kent State game when Bill O'Brien seemed to hate running the ball and a few times when the secondary looked lost under new defensive coordinator John Butler. O'Brien has remained aggressive on fourth down and it hasn't always been pretty. The decision to move Amos to safety hasn't made a ton of sense yet and the tight ends haven't been as involved as we expected.

    Still, this staff has taken 75 percent of a normal roster and developed some of the best players in the conference while juggling fatigue and injuries.

    It's been far from unicorns and rainbows but the staff earned some extra credit with the win over Michigan. 


    Bill O'Brien is as good a football coach as there is. Penn St. is fortunate to have him.

    — Trent Dilfer (@TDESPN) October 13, 2013




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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Christian Hackenberg has been pretty much everything that everyone hoped he would be. There have been a few "freshman moment" throws that you know he would like to have back and at times he forces the ball rather than taking what the defense is giving him.

    The fact is, Hackenberg is leading the Big Ten in passing yards and stuck his toe in the waters of legends against Michigan. Three times in six weeks he has been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week and his 278.7 yards per game is good enough for 21st in the country, just between Marcus Mariota and Zach Mettenberger.

    Penn State fans should savor the next few years, watching Hack grow into one of the best college quarterbacks in the country. 



Running Backs

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    This is a tough assignment to grade. 

    No Penn State running back is averaging more than 70 yards per game and the Nittany Lions rank just 79th nationally in yards per game.

    Yet as a whole, the backs are averaging 5.24 yards per carry while Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch each have at least one 100-yard game on the year. Zwinak is tied for the 10th most rushing touchdowns in the country and Belton played a huge part in the win over Michigan last week.

    It would be nice to see one of these guys emerge as the "go-to" running back down the stretch.



Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Allen Robinson is leading the conference in catches and yards and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns. Despite missing a game, Brandon Felder is ranked in the top 20 in each of those categories.

    Penn State's tight ends lead the Big Ten in catches.

    Robinson has a legitimate shot at becoming Penn State's first Biletnikoff Award winner since Bobby Engram and this group has played a huge part in the success of its freshman quarterback. There isn't much criticism to go around here.



Offensive Line

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    Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

    Tight end-turned-offensive tackle Garry Gilliam has made a lot of progress and Donovan Smith has lived up to the hype but, as a whole, we haven't seen this unit play up to its potential.

    The line was unable to open holes against an Indiana defense that is near the worst in the country and they've allowed 14 sacks already, despite having played primarily weak defensive fronts.

    Got to tip your hat to some of these guys who are playing a ton of snaps, but the schedule doesn't get any easier for them. We'll see if the bye week gives them a chance to mesh and get healthy before facing a strong Ohio State in Week 7.



Defensive Line

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones is having an All-American worthy season and is leading the conference in tackles for loss. Defensive end C.J. Olaniyan is tied for fourth.

    In all, Penn State has 10 defensive linemen who have registered a tackle for loss.

    Deion Barnes doesn't have the sack numbers that everyone expected, but he has really improved over the last few games, although he did not start against Michigan.

    Despite allowing the sixth most rushing yards in the conference, Penn State held Syracuse, Kent State and Eastern Michigan under 75 rushing yards each and, last week, Michigan's running backs averaged just one yard per carry on 30 attempts.




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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    This unit wasn't deep enough coming into the season to have struggles on the front line. Factor in Mike Hull's injuries and Nyeem Wartman's inconsistency and the Penn State linebackers aren't where we're used to seeing them. 

    Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong has spent a lot of his time this year at linebacker and has had some success in space, but he isn't built to play the run as a member of the front seven. 

    Steady senior Glenn Carson has played strong against the run and is doing a great job of keeping things together, but he can't do it all from the "Mike" spot. Through six games, the linebackers have just 7.5 total tackles for loss.



Defensive Backs

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Sophomore Jordan Lucas has had a very productive season with seven pass breakups and an interception to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss. Outside of Lucas, the bright spots are slightly more difficult to find. 

    Senior safety Malcolm Willis has had a disappointing season after seeing significant snaps in each of the last three years. Although Adrian Amos has been more effective at corner than starter Trevor Williams, he hasn't had the impact that people expected. 

    Despite their struggles, Penn State is just fourth in the conference in passing yards allowed and tied for second with just eight passing touchdowns allowed. A healthy Ryan Keiser could make an impact in the second half of the season.






Special Teams

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    The Nittany Lions rank sixth or worse in the conference in punt average, punt return average and kickoff return average. They haven't returned a kick or a punt for a touchdown yet this year and Geno Lewis had a critically muffed punt against Indiana.

    On the other hand, Penn State's special teams unit is allowing just six yards per punt return and hasn't given up a touchdown. The blocked field goal against Michigan may have saved the game.

    Sam Ficken has scored the third most points in the Big Ten and, despite changes at long snapper and holder, he has become extremely reliable.

    While you'd like to see more big plays from the special teams, this unit isn't doing much to hurt the team.