Penn State players had a lot more free time than usual Saturday as the team rested on its bye weekend. The Nittany Lions will put their four-game winning streak on the line when they travel to Iowa in five days. But before they do, now seems like the perfect time to reflect on the first half of the season and dish out some mid-season honors.
Midway Offensive MVP: Bill O’Brien
This pick makes the “MVP” thing a little misleading because O’Brien is obviously not a player. But Penn State’s first-year head coach/offensive coordinator has injected his style into the team’s offense and has turned Matt McGloin into one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. O’Brien isn’t the one executing plays on the field, but it’s hard to debate he hasn’t been the most vital part of the team’s offense this season. The Lions’ offensive numbers aren’t overly staggering (27 points, 390.2 yards per game), but O’Brien’s offense isn’t all about numbers. It’s lining up tight ends in the backfield. It’s changing pace. It’s using all four downs. And it’s fun to watch. For the record, if there was a player named for this category, it would be Matt McGloin. McGloin has played well enough for this team to be 6-0, and his fourth quarter against Northwestern was impressive to say the least. In six games this season, McGloin has thrown for 1,499 yards and has accounted for 17 touchdowns. In 12 games last season, McGloin threw for 1,571 yards and accounted for eight touchdowns. There’s little doubt the senior quarterback has improved, but he’d be the first to attribute much of his success to O’Brien and his coaching staff.
Midway defensive MVP: Michael Mauti
Not to take anything away from Mauti’s counterpart, Gerald Hodges, but can anyone argue that Mauti isn’t the most important asset of Penn State’s defense? The senior linebacker has already been named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice, and he leads the team in tackles (57), as well as interceptions (two). Mauti made headlines nationally at Big Ten Media Days when he was outspoken about NCAA sanctions and other teams recruiting his teammates. Then he backed up his words on Sept. 29 against Illinois (one of the teams that went after Penn State players after the sanctions). Mauti played one of the most memorable games of his career, tallying six tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned 99 yards only to be tripped up at the 1-yard line. The bottom line about Mauti’s play on the field: He’s made it very difficult to remember that he tore his ACL a little more than a year ago.
Midway Play of the Season: McGloin’s game-winning TD run against Northwestern
Pretty much the only thing that went wrong for McGloin in the fourth quarter against Northwestern was his entrance into the endzone on his game-deciding run. McGloin awkwardly “dived” into the corner of the endzone on his run that capped Penn State’s comeback against the Wildcats and admitted himself that he looked like a “complete fool.” But the fact McGloin was the one who scored was fitting. He marched Penn State’s offense down the field twice in crunch time and was 13-for-15 for 103 yards in the fourth quarter. His run was the most memorable plays in the first big win of the O’Brien era, and the first over a ranked opponent at home since 2008.
Midway quote of the season: O’Brien on Mauti’s performance against Illinois
“Anytime you have things to say, it’s very important to go out there and back it up. That’s kind of what life is all about, in a way,” O’Brien said. “[Mauti]’s a guy who doesn’t have a lot of problems backing things up.”