From a puzzling and disappointing opening loss to Ohio to a satisfying overtime defeat of Wisconsin, the 2012 Penn State team usually made things entertaining. In his first season at the helm, Bill O'Brien got contributions from veterans and rising stars at most positions throughout the course of the season. Today, Lions247 awards final grades to each position and examines what they meant to the team as a whole. Part I will grade the offense, while Part II will take a look at the defense and special teams.
A big second half by Zach Zwinak gave the Nittany Lions' running back grade a boost.
Quarterbacks -- A-
Midseason Grade -- A-
Matt McGloin put up one of the finest statistical seasons by a Penn State quarterback and, just as importantly, was a leader on the field for an offense that had only two returning starters and just three other seniors in the lineup this season. McGloin's decision-making and accuracy improved this season and his ability to get the Nittany Lions in the right play was crucial in Bill O'Brien's offense and a product of McGloin's knowledge of that offense. He threw a couple of bad interceptions and took a few bad sacks, and wasn't as sharp down the stretch as he had been in the middle part of the season, but for the most part was one of Penn State's most consistent and productive players, and did so from the most important position. True freshman Steven Bench, the only other Nittany Lion to see action under center, gets an "incomplete" because he played so little.
Running backs -- B+
Midseason Grade -- B
Of all the breakout players on the 2012 Penn State team, Zach Zwinak might be the most compelling. The powerful but soft-spoken sophomore went from the nether regions of the depth chart to a player who averaged 147 yards over the final four games, against arguably the toughest part of the schedule. Zwinak's north-south style and ability to get yards after contact were huge and his pass protection was solid, though his tendency to cough up the ball was concerning. Senior Michael Zordich provided energy and some power running of his own when Zwinak needed a break as Bill Belton, Derek Day and Curtis Dukes drifted out of the spotlight late in the season.
Wide receivers -- B+
Midseason Grade -- B
Sophomore Allen Robinson had a sensational season, leading the Big Ten in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. His ability to make plays one-on-one and get yards after the catch complemented the coaches' ability to find different ways to get him the ball quite nicely. Junior Brandon Moseby-Felder took advantage of Shawney Kersey's departure to become a reliable No. 2 who made 25 catches over the final seven games. Slot receiver Alex Kenney closed the year with five catches in the last three games, though he wasn't featured for the bulk of the season. True freshman Trevor Williams did some good things with the limited targets he received. Stan Hixon's group got open, caught the ball, blocked downfield and gave McGloin options on almost every play.
Tight ends -- A-
Midseason Grade -- A-
Penn State's wide receivers likely would have had more impressive numbers if the tight ends hadn't been so involved, but the big guys were just as productive, particularly around the end zone. Kyle Carter, the smallest of the bunch at 6-foot-3, would have likely given teammate Deion Barnes a run for his money as Big Ten Freshman of the Year had he not missed three games with injuries but still finished second on the team with 36 catches. Former walk-on Matt Lehman and freshman Jesse James used their size, hands and deceptive speed to make big plays all over the field and combined for eight touchdown catches. Garry Gillliam did most of his work as a blocker but was productive when the ball was thrown his way. O'Brien, coach John Strollo and this group changed the way tight ends will be used at Penn State and were a major part of what made the offense go.
Offensive line -- B+
Midseason Grade --B-
With five solid starters and a few players rotating in and out of the lineup, Penn State's front five ranged from holding its own to taking it to opponents. Teams usually needed to blitz McGloin to bring him down (and many of the quarterback's sacks were on him, not his blockers) and the Nittany Lions' running game steadily improved from the first game to the last. Penn State had some issues with holding and some early missed assignment troubles but was communicating very well by season's end. Matt Stankiewitch and John Urschel were reliable and steady on the inside, senior Mike Farrell was somewhat of a pleasant surprise at right tackle and also filled in admirably when Donovan Smith, who was very impressive in his first season of action, was injured on the left side. Mac McWhorter did a nice job of getting players like Ty Howle, Angelo Mangiro, Adam Gress and Eric Shrive experience in meaningful spots, which kept his starters fresh and should help put the line ahead of schedule for 2013.
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