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Almost-Midseason Awards For Penn State Football

It’s (almost) that time of the year.

Penn State football is one game away from reaching the halfway mark in the season, at which point most outlets would assign midseason superlatives. However, we here at Onward State are a little different. We got bored after the bye week and decided to jump the gun on awards.

And so, with just days until the season is ~ officially ~ at a midway point, here are our almost-midseason awards for the Nittany Lions.

Most Valuable Player

Joe Lister — Kalen King: This might come across as a hot take, but Kalen King just might be the most important player of this Penn State team. The Nittany Lions are established as the best defense in the country, and King has been an integral part of that. His coverage has been so good that opposing quarterbacks rarely throw the ball his way. And when the ball doesn’t end up in King’s hands, it often ends as an interception for the likes of Daequan Hardy, Cam Miller, and others.

CJ Doebler — KeAndre Lambert-Smith: Keandre Lambert-Smith has been a consistent bright spot in a passing game that still needs some work with almost half the season gone. Lambert-Smith put up a team-high 123 yards in Penn State’s season opener against West Virginia and followed the performance up with a 74-yard game against Delaware. Since then, Lambert-Smith’s numbers have leveled off a bit, and he currently sits at 372 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Lambert-Smith was also on the receiving end of the longest touchdown pass this season: a 72-yard strike on Drew Allar’s second throw of the season.

Nolan Wick — Olu Fashanu: Left tackle Olu Fashanu still hasn’t allowed a sack in his collegiate career. Pro Football Focus gave him a 92.9 passing grade, and he’s only allowed one pressure over 155 pass protection snaps. Fashanu is so dominant that he has far and away been the biggest bright spot not only on the offensive line but the entire team.

Offensive Player Of The Year

Joe Lister — Drew Allar: I was initially going to make this pick someone other than Drew Allar, but I think I have to. I really wanted to give this award to Olu Fashanu, who still hasn’t given up a sack this year and has been rated as one of the best offensive tackles, and players overall, who will be eligible for the next NFL Draft. That being said, I feel that Allar’s 1,000+ passing yards without an interception, as well as his nine passing touchdowns, are just too important to overlook. Allar isn’t always pretty — yet — but he has been what Penn State has needed at the quarterback position through five games.

CJ Doebler — Olu Fashanu: While the offensive line has had its ups and downs this season, Fashanu has repeatedly shown why he’s going to be a first-round draft pick in next year’s draft. At left tackle, Fashanu has one of the most important jobs in blocking Allar’s blind side. As a young quarterback, it’s important for Allar to have a reliable pocket to allow him to work through his reads, and Fashanu has been instrumental in creating that. Fashanu has never allowed a sack in his collegiate career and has only allowed one quarterback hit since joining the Nittany Lions.

Nolan Wick — Tyler Warren: Tyler Warren does it all. He blocks, he makes catches, he scores, and just about anything else one could ask of a tight end. Warren leads the team with four receiving touchdowns, while his 115 receiving yards are second. He has continued to be a reliable target for Drew Allar as the duo has developed strong chemistry this season, so his high production should continue to get even better.

Defensive Player Of The Year

Joe Lister — Chop Robinson: Beyond King, Robinson has just been a force on the defensive line this year. He doesn’t always pile up the statistics, but Robinson has been excellent with stopping the run and pass games. Against Iowa, Robinson stole the show and demonstrated that he can be a top pass rusher in the country. He might only have one sack and one forced fumble under his belt this year, but Robinson has contributed in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet.

CJ Doebler — Zane Durant: Zane Durant has been the perfect complement to Robinson’s dominant play over the last few weeks. Durant has had success breaking through offensive lines and recorded 4.5 tackles-for-loss resulting in 25 total yards lost. Durant’s numbers have been trending upward, culminating in three tackles-for-loss and a quarterback hurry in the game against Northwestern.

Nolan Wick — Curtis Jacobs: Believe it or not, Penn State’s leading tackler isn’t Abdul Carter, Robinson, or Durant, but it’s Curtis Jacobs with 18. Jacobs also has three quarterback hurries, two tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, and a sack. He’s proven to be a versatile player who is all over the field, which gives opposing teams quite the headache.

Special Teams Player Of The Year

Joe Lister — Dom DeLuca: It’s often hard to find players on special teams to highlight that aren’t either punt/kick returners or kickers/punters, but Dom DeLuca has done just that. He’s been the coaching staff’s favorite player to talk about, and he’s shown up as a real leader in the locker room. He does all that while seeing increased rep counts on defense, and he’s having a great overall season.

CJ Doebler — Alex Felkins: Alex Felkins entered the 2023 season as the team’s backup placekicker but quickly saw game action after a tough first half from Sander Sahaydak against West Virginia. Felkins stepped into the role and hasn’t looked back in the midst of a position battle that has been fluid since the beginning of spring practice. Felkins is currently 7-9 on field goals with a long of 47 yards while also converting from both 45 and 46 yards.

Nolan Wick — Alex Felkins: Felkins seized the job in the West Virginia game and has an efficient 77% success rate on field goal attempts. This level of production hasn’t been the difference-maker yet, but could be in games against Ohio State and Michigan.

Coach Of The Year

Joe Lister — Ty Howle: The real answer to Coach of the Year is Manny Diaz, but I have to shout out Ty Howle. Fans and media alike were wondering how Penn State would use its tight ends in a year where the team has two starters, but Howle has figured out how to get reps for both his starters and reserves. Allar’s season looks far worse without Tyler Warren, Theo Johnson, and Khalil Dinkins. Howle, who has coached a number of talented tight ends, has done it yet again.

CJ Doebler — Deion Barnes: Barnes is largely responsible for the success of a defensive line that is arguably one of the best position groups on the team. Teams have often found nowhere to go on the ground against the Nittany Lion line. During the White Out, Iowa managed just 20 total rushing yards during the shutout. The defensive line has also consistently pressured quarterbacks and disrupted all facets of an offense.

Nolan Wick — Manny Diaz: Since Penn State’s defense is statistically one of the two or three best in the game, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz naturally deserves the award. The group ranks first with 1,053 yards allowed and 210.6 yards per game, and second with 3.79 yards per play in the entire country. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a championship-caliber defense, everyone.

Honorable Mentions

Joe Lister — Trey Wallace: People are going to say that Trey Wallace can’t make any part of this list because he hasn’t played the last couple of games, but that’s the point. Wallace not playing against Illinois, Iowa, and Northwestern showed just how far Penn State’s wide receiver corps has to come and how important he is to that unit. The Nittany Lions are going to need Wallace down the stretch if it wants to have multiple offensive options against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan.

CJ Doebler — Dante Cephas: Dante Cephas has started to cement himself as a viable third option for Franklin’s receiving corps. Through five games, Cephas has now amassed 103 yards on seven receptions but has yet to find the end zone. Cephas has also gained more reps as the season’s gone on and was targeted seven times during the win over Northwestern.

Nolan Wick — Drew Allar: Drew Allar’s only flashy, highlightable stat is that he hasn’t turned the ball over yet. His other numbers are evidence that he’s still developing but that a path to a successful collegiate career is present. Just give it time.

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