Penn State Football – 2013 Midseason Review

Over half-way through the 2013 season and Penn State sits at 4-3 with 5 Big Ten games remaining. We’ve seen a lot in 7 games. Moments of excellence, moments of frustration and failure.

The highest of highs…

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Bill Belton game winning TD over Michigan in 4th overtime

To the lowest of lows…

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Christian Hackenberg sacked in a 63-14 loss at Ohio State

A lot to be excited about,  a lot that needs to be improved.  Here are the highlights:

Allen Robinson

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A-Rob’s leaping catch helps take Michigan to overtime

Best player on the field for Penn State, Allen Robinson, continues to improve his draft stock.  Last year, A-Rob finished the season with 77 catches, 1018 yds and 11 TDs.  In 7 games, A-Rob has already hauled in 55 catches for 878 yds and 6 TDs.  That includes plenty of all-star performances.

Running attack

Bill Belton lost the starting spot to Zach Zwinak last season.  Looks like Zwinak has lost the starting spot to Belton this year.  He’s quicker and more reliable in recent games (Zwinak with multiple fumbles).  Don’t count out big red though.  Zwinak is still a solid run-through-you type of a guy and provides solid pass-protection.  Expect to see both RBs through the rest of the season as well as young Akeel Lynch aka ‘Big Maple’.

RBs

Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch

Tight End U?

Adam Breneman running against Kent State

Early knee injury took out Matt Lehman, walk-on success story and key player on the 1st team offense.  This led to early playing time for true freshman Adam Breneman with Kyle Carter (Jr) and Jesse James (So) getting majority of the playing time.  Redshirt freshman TE, Brent Wilkerson, still out for the season (back issues).  Therefore, injuries have certainly plagued one of the trademark positions of the O’Brien offense.  No worries though, a stud TE out of New Jersey, Mike Gesicki, committed to Penn State (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1815993-mike-gesicki-commits-to-penn-state-nittany-lions-land-stud-4-star-te).  Hopefully a sign of more to come…

Hack City

We shouldn’t be surprised that true freshman Christian Hackenberg got the starting spot.  He was destined to be the foundation of O’Brien’s offense.  He was one of the top rated high school QBs in the country, could’ve played any where he wanted, yet he stayed committed and chose Penn State even after the sanctions were announced.

Hackenberg drives the field to put Michigan in OT

However, taking the reigns on day one is no small order.  Hackenberg has shown signs of greatness.  Driving the field with 50 seconds remaining (give credit to WRs – amazing catches) to tie the game and beat Michigan in 4 OTs will remain a classic in Penn State history.  Hackenberg has also shown signs of a true freshman with a lot to learn (i.e., 63-14 loss to Ohio State).   The remainder of the season will be a good barometer of what to expect for the years to come. Backup QB Tyler Ferguson is a solid player as well.  Never count out the next guy in line yearning for his chance to shine (e.g., Matt McGloin).  But at the end of the day, this is Hackenberg’s team.  Hack City.

Defensive struggles

The ‘tough Penn State defense’ reputation and ‘Linebacker U’ moniker being called out this season, rightfully so.  They’ve yet to keep a Big Ten team from scoring less than 40 points. Some point the finger at the defensive coordinator, some blame talent.  Maybe a little bit of both.  One thing is for sure, the scholarship limitations (i.e.,  lack of depth) have been more apparent on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve seen a lot of different players getting time on the defensive line, with senior DaQuan Jones leading the pack. Secondary core continues to be mixed around, with some clear youth and areas of improvement still needed.  Glenn Carson remains a solid presence at middle LB, but the outside LB position seems to change depending on who’s healthy.  Starting outside LB Mike Hull missed some time early in the season, just now getting back to 100%.  Ben Kline never seems to be a 100% after recovering from shoulder surgery.  True sophomore Nyeem Wartman has been getting the start with Stephen Obeng-Agyapong coming over from safety on occasion.  Clearly, a team having to make adjusts on the defensive side of the ball.

These struggles shouldn’t come as a surprise though, they’re expected with a first year defensive coordinator and young players, including many seeing the field for the first time.  They lost their best defensive players from last season, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges — all playing in the NFL.   Now you have younger players filling the holes as well as walk-ons competing for playing time.  Ohio State and the like will take advantage of that every time….

Special teams running steady

Ficken still kicken.  He started off hot, missed a couple here and there, but still much improved.  Punter Alex Butterworth has been consistent too.  Certainly not an exciting return team though.  Wide-receiver and kick-returner Geno Lewis definitely has the ability to make big plays….still waiting.

Season Finish

5 weeks, 5 Big Ten match ups.

Penn State faces Illinois (3-4) this weekend at Beaver Stadium in what hopes to be a rebound game for the Nittany Lions after an embarrassing loss at Ohio State last weekend.  The Fighting Illini are coming off a blowout loss themselves, getting beat 43-3 by Michigan State (43-3) at home.

Next week the Nittany Lions head to Minnesota (6-2) to face a much improved team coming off an impressive home victory over Nebraska.  Follow that up with a home game against a struggling Purdue (1-6) team.

Matt Lehman TD ruled fumble at Nebraska

The final home game of the season against Nebraska (5-2) falls on November 23rd, first Saturday of the Thanksgiving break for students — hopefully still get a filled student section as this should be a good match-up.  Penn State has yet to beat Nebraska since they’ve joined the Big Ten (0-2).  Both games have been very close though (and controversial).

Finally, the last game of the season at Wisconsin looks to be the 2nd hardest game of the season (after Ohio State).  It will be a cold late November game in Madison, WI.  And I’m sure the Badgers haven’t forgotten their OT loss to Penn State last year.  They came into the game already knowing that would be playing in the Big Ten Championship game.  This year, Wisconsin once again has a shot at winning the Leaders division (needs an Ohio State loss).  So they’ll be motivated more than ever.  Wisconsin likely a big favorite, but never count out the Nittany Lions. 

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