Penn State Football Midseason Awards
Sitting at 1-1 in the Big Ten and 4-2 overall, Penn State should be proud of their performance thus far this season. The loss to UCF was a heartbreaker, and the beatdown in Bloomington at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers is something every Penn State fan would like to forget, but the team has rebounded after a rocky start.
If last week’s thrilling victory over Michigan is any indication, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this team and the future of Penn State football.
At the midway point of the season, it’s time to take a look at who shined brightest in the Blue and White. Here are your 2013 Midseason Awards.
Offensive MVP – Allen Robinson, WR
Let’s face it. Without Allen Robinson, this team would be nowhere near as competitive this season, sitting at 4-2 entering the bye week. From the moment he stepped on the field during the second half against Syracuse, Robinson has been the difference maker for Penn State’s offense. With a 37” vertical and dazzling playmaking ability, the junior from Southfield, Michigan has solidified himself as the best wide receiver in the Big Ten, hauling in 43 catches for 705 yards and five touchdowns through the first six games.
What makes Robinson so valuable to Penn State’s offense is his ability to create the “big play”. Like any great wide receiver, he can create separation from the defender, giving the young and inexperienced Hackenberg a big target to throw to down the field. His ability to make people miss in the open field and run after the catch is unrivaled, which can turn a run-of-the-mill bubble screen into a 53-yard touchdown.
And who could forget #8’s catch in final seconds of Penn State’s four overtime thriller against Michigan that set up the game-tying touchdown, which will be remembered as one of the best catches in Penn State history. Nittany Lion fans knew Robinson was a force to be reckoned with, but after his heroic grab at the end of regulation, the entire college football world took note.
Defensive MVP – DaQuan Jones, DT
In the last few seasons dating back to 2009, Penn State has produced a number of outstanding players at the defensive tackle position, including Jared Odrick, Jay Alford, Devon Still, and Jordan Hill. Each was a standout player while they wore the Blue and White, and were selected within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. DaQuan Jones appears to be the next Nittany Lion ready to carry on the lineage of tough Penn State lineman.
Jones, listed at 6’3” and 318 lbs. has been an absolute force in the middle of Penn State’s defense this season, collecting 2 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in the first six contests. The senior, who NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt listed as the best senior defensive tackle in the nation before the season, has been so impressive that he is garnering major attention from NFL scouts as a potential first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
For Penn State to continue to win against a tough slate of Big Ten opponents, Jones will need to keep wreaking havoc in the opponent’s backfield.
Diaper Dandy – Christian Hackenberg, QB
It’s hard to believe that only four months ago, Christian Hackenberg was preparing to spend his first day on campus as the top ranked high school quarterback in the nation. Fast forward to Saturday’s upset victory over Michigan, and you would have thought he was playing in his final home game at Beaver Stadium. The true freshman from Fork Union Military Academy has been every bit as impressive as advertised – and more. He has guts, intelligence, a big arm, and perhaps most importantly, poise beyond his years. For a true freshman to come in and play as well as Hackenberg has in his first six starts (58.4% completion, 1,672 yards, 11 touchdowns), is nothing short of remarkable.
You have to understand, the last time Penn State had a true freshman quarterback receive this much hype and generate so much buzz, he fell flat on his face and ended up leaving the team to be a benchwarmer for LSU (I’m looking at you Rob Bolden). So forgive me if I’m overreacting just a little.
After leading a remarkable comeback against Michigan, Hackenberg was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the third time this season, the third-most selections of any B1G player since 2010. In addition, he was named Athlon Sports National Freshman of the Week.
Bill O’Brien and the coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for preparing the young QB for the season, but without Hackenberg’s raw talent we wouldn’t have just experienced one of the best victories in Beaver Stadium history.
Most Improved Player – Bill Belton, RB
Belton was the number one ball-carrier heading into last year’s season, but quickly found himself watching from the sidelines after some fumble issues and the emergence of Zach Zwinak. In 2013, Belton has emerged as one of the Nittany Lion’s most dynamic playmakers, rushing for 387 yards and three touchdowns and catching eight passes for 86 yards and another two scores.
Against Michigan, Belton carried the ball 27 times to the tune of 85 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown scamper over the left tackle to seal the victory for Penn State and send the Whitehouse crowd of 107,884 into a frenzy.
Belton’s shifty and elusive running ability serves as a great compliment to Zwinak’s hard- nosed, north-south running style, but his pass-catching prowess out of the backfield is what makes him a unique weapon and force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
Unsung Hero – Brandon Felder, WR
Often overlooked as the “second option” in Penn State’s passing attack, Felder exploded in the victory over Michigan, catching six passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. What was most impressive about Felder’s performance was his ability to fight off defenders and come down with the ball in traffic. His first touchdown catch was an amazing display of ball skills, as he snatched the ball over the head of the Michigan defender to secure six points. Also, his 29-yard grab in traffic during the final drive — the play that would set up Robinson’s electrifying leap — was an amazing catch, and went largely overlooked after the final whistle.
Remember the endless stream of questions asking who would step up and emerge as Hackenberg’s number two target? I think Felder’s performance thus far has finally put those questions to bed.
Most Consistent Player – Glenn Carson, LB
There’s a lot to be said about consistency. To put in the effort and the work necessary to deliver great performance after great performance as a student athlete at a big-time university is no small task. That’s why linebacker Glenn Carson deserves praise for giving a rock-steady performance during every practice, every game, and every snap.
One of the few returning players from last year’s defense, Carson has embraced his role as a leader both on and off the field. The senior from Manahawkin, New Jersey leads the team with 34.5 tackles, including one sack, four tackles for loss, and two pass breakups. Carson has started 24 career games as a Nittany Lion, by far the most of any player on the current roster, and is the unquestioned anchor of Penn State’s defense.
“Linebacker U” is one of the most prestigious fraternities in sports, and Carson has only added to its legacy this season.
Breakout Performer – C.J. Olaniyan, DE
After receiving Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors at the end of last season, it appeared as if Deion Barnes was going to be an elite edge pass rusher for the Lions for years to come. However, the first six weeks have been relatively quiet for Barnes (11 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks), while senior defensive end C.J. Olaniyan has burst onto the scene.
Olaniyan had a huge game against Michigan, recording a career-high 2.5 sacks and forcing his first career fumble late in the second quarter to halt a potential Michigan scoring drive. In his first full season as a starter, the Warren, Michigan native has racked up 3.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and ranks fifth on the team in total tackles.
For his stellar performance against the Wolverines, Olaniyan was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, as well as the Iron Workers Local Union No. 3 “Ironman of the Game”. Along with cornerback Jordan Lucas, Olaniyan received the prestigious 2013 Jim O’Hora Award earlier this year, given to a defensive player for “exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement” during spring practice.
With the emergence of Olaniyan and the continued excellence of DaQuan Jones, Kyle Baublitz, Anthony Zettel, and Deion Barnes, Penn State’s front four has the potential to put together a very special season.