It's been four up and two down for the Penn State football team in the first half of Bill O'Brien's first season. The Nittany Lions have made it interesting each week, working through some growing pains along with injury and depth issues while showing some terrific flashes of potential. Six more games lie ahead, but first, we give a position-by-position breakdown of how the Nittany Lions performed in the first half of the season. Part I will focus on the offense, Part II on the defense and special teams.
Matt McGloin has accounted for 17 total touchdowns in six games.
Quarterbacks -- A-
Steven Bench has seen action in just one game this season (throwing seven passes), meaning Matt McGloin, for the first time in his career, has been the man -- the only man -- under center. He's having the best season of his career, accounting for twice as many touchdowns (12 passing, 5 rushing) through six games as he had (eight total) in 12 games in 2011. McGloin needs to improve his consistency and has a habit of taking a bad sack from time to time, but he's done a lot of good things already and showing signs of progress each week.
Running backs -- B
Injuries got this group off to a slow start, though they also paved the way for sophomore Zach Zwinak to make his way up the depth chart and into the team's busiest runner. The Nittany Lions don't have a true home-run threat in this group and won't until Bill Belton gets healthier, but they do have players -- Zwinak, Michael Zordich, Curtis Dukes and even Derek Day -- who are willing to run hard inside and fight for extra yards. Blocking from the position has been adequate, and Zwinak and Zordich showed against Northwestern that they could be options in the passing game.
Wide receivers -- B
Allen Robinson has been superb, compiling an impressive number of receptions from different areas of the field (most notably, the end zone) and finding ways to spring big plays. He's had a few drops, though, as have some of the other wide receivers. Shawney Kersey hadn't made much of an impact before he left the team, and Brandon Moseby-Felder has shown promise, if not consistent production, in his absence. Alex Kenney has been a solid third-down option in the slot, though he's averaging just 10.8 yards per catch. The reserves -- Trevor Williams, Evan Lewis, Christian Kuntz, Matt Zanellato -- have made minimal impact, and it's looking like freshmen Eugene Lewis, Malik Golden and Jonathan Warner will take redshirts.
Tight ends -- A-
As expected, no position has changed as much in the O'Brien era as the tight end spot. Or spots, to be more accurate. Penn State is utilizing two and sometimes three tight ends on several plays and McGloin is finding them. Kyle Carter is second on the team with 23 catches and, though he has dropped a couple of passes as well, has the speed, size and reach to make plays over the middle or on the perimeter. Matt Lehman and Jesse James, two even bigger targets, have shown promise and have three touchdowns between them, and Garry Gilliam has been steady if unspectacular in his role as a blocking tight end. Look for the tight ends to get a steady dose of targets as defenses devise more ways to limit Robinson.
Offensive line -- B-
This group has improved since a shaky start to the season and weathered a foot injury to Donovan Smith reasonably well. Center Matt Stankiewitch and guards John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach have been solid and senior Mike Farrell has been a pleasant surprise at right tackle and has held his own at left tackle when Smith is out as well. Reserves Adam Gress, Eric Shrive and Angelo Mangiro haven't been as consistent but are getting good reps with the first team each week. Penn State has allowed only eight sacks in six games and (with the notable exception of the Temple game) kept the penalties to a minimum. The Nittany Lions are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, though, and that's with players like Zwinak getting extra yards themselves.