The 2012 Penn State University football team may reside as one of the most beloved and talked about Penn State football teams ever. They didn’t go undefeated or win a Big Ten Conference Championship. However, the obstacles that this team overcome being in the shadows of the Jerry Sandusky scandal after one of the most trying years that any Division I school has gone through, earned them a spot in the ring of honor where every undefeated and Big Ten championship team that Penn State has had is honored.
It was July 24 when the unprecedented NCAA sanctions were presented to the Nittany Lion football team in result to the scandal and uproar that went on at the school involving the team. These sanctions included a four year postseason ban that prevents the team from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game along with any post season bowl game, a reduction of 20 scholarships over the same four year span and the program was forced to vacate all wins from the 1998 football season to the 2011 football season. All this created the already challenging position first year Head Coach Bill O’ Brien that much more challenging.
To add to the headache, O’ Brien was forced to recruit his own players to stay with the team due to the fact that the NCAA also allowed current Penn State players to transfer to other schools to play football with no penalty that would force them to sit out a year. While O’ Brien was helped by a strong core of seniors led by fifth year senior linebacker Michael Mauti, nine players decided to take advantage of the opportunity to transfer. The list of transfer students was headlined by two of Penn State’s main offensive weapons from the 2011 season. The Nittany Lion’s leading rusher from the 2011 season, Silas Redd transferred to the University of Southern California to play under coach Lane Kiffen. Redd accounted for 1,281 total yards and seven touchdowns in the 2011 season for the Lions.
Also, one of the Nittany Lion’s leading receiver from the 2011 season, Justin Brown, transferred to Oklahoma University. Brown tallied 35 receptions for 517 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 2011 season for Penn State. All-American kicker Anthony Ferra also transferred back to his home state of Texas to play for the Longhorns. The burden of these transfers was felt from the start for the Nittany Lions in their first two games against the Mid Atlantic Conference’s Ohio University Bobcats and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s University of Virginia Cavaliers.
Injuries in the backfield made Penn State’s already thin backfield with the loss of Redd stretch past it’s limits at times using fourth and fifth string running backs as their main form of attack. Also, the loss of Ferra seemed to be most prevalent in the Virginia game when sophomore kicker Sam Ficken missed four field goals including what would’ve been the game winner as time expired. This sent Penn State to their first 0-2 start since 2002. However, the problem of the loss of Redd and Brown was solved when two unknown players before this season stepped up.
Sophomore running back Zach Zwinak stepped up and took control as Penn State’s main running back after the game against the Purdue Boilermakers. Zwinak won the hearts of the Penn State coaches and fans with his powerful, downhill running style. Zwinak ended his sophomore season with 1,177 total yards with seven touchdowns. Ironically, Zwinak out gained former Nittany Lion Silas Redd with his 916 total yards he accumulated during his season in Southern California. Zwinak’s best performance of the season came during the last game of the season where his 135 rushing yards was the most given up by the Wisconsin defense since 2008.
Also emerging as a go to player for the Lions in the 2012 season was sophomore wide receiver Allan Robinson. Robinson, who had 29 receiving yards during his freshman season, came out to be one of senior quarterback Matt McGloin’s favorite targets and a dangerous deep threat for the Lions in the 2012 season. Robinson accumulated 77 receptions for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Lions in the 2012 season. Like Zwinak, Robinson out preformed his predecessor in the 2012 season. Robinson had over 200 more receiving yards than what Brown had at Oklahoma and found the end zone seven more times.
The most outstanding and most improved player on Penn State’s roster however, had to be the starting quarterback Matt McGloin. McGloin was an avid supporter of O’ Brien from the day he was hired after seeing what O’ Brien did with Tom Brady as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, McGloin was part of a quarterback completion with former four star recruit of Joe Paterno, Rob Bolden. With Bolden transferring to Louisiana State University, McGloin earned title of starting quarterback and never looked back.
In his first two seasons of playing time, McGloin was troubles with lack of consistency and had trouble getting the job done. However, McGloin blossomed under O’ Brien’s offense and had a career year throwing for 3217 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing over 60 percent of his passes. Compare this to the previous two years where McGloin had combined 3,119 pass yards with 22 touchdowns. Completing only 54 percent of his passes during this time. After the 0-2 start Penn State finished the season winning eight of their last ten games making O’ Brien the first Penn State head coach to win at least eight games his first season on the job.
The Nittany Lions finished tied with Michigan with the third best record in the Big Ten and finished second in the Big Ten Leaders Division behind the undefeated Ohio State University. O’ Brien was a unanimous decision to win Big Ten Coach of the year and six Nittany Lion were named to the all Big Ten first team. However, with all statistics put aside, this 2012 Penn State University football team may best be remembered on how they came together and exceeded the expectations they had.
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