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Penn State Football: Midseason Honors For Three Nittany Lions

by on October 13, 2016 11:15 AM

Midway through the season Penn State sits at 4-2, a record that is just about what you could expect from a team playing one of its biggest regional rivals on the road and going up against a Top 5 team. Penn State could have beat Pitt but the Nittany Lions never truly had a shot against Michigan.

And so it's the second half of the season that will ultimately determine how the 2016-17 season is remembered. Outside of a meeting with Ohio State, it is a slate of winnable games and only two victories from a trip to the postseason. With Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers all remaining on the schedule, not to mention a beatable Iowa and Michigan State, there are plenty of wins to be had. In theory.

But before the focus shifts to what is still to come, here are the three MVPs of the season so far for the Nittany Lions at the midway point of the year. 

Offense: Trace McSorley

There isn't any doubt that Saquon Barkley is the best player on Penn State's roster, but McSorley has run the show so far for the Nittany Lions. Completing 58 percent of his passes while picking up eight touchdowns and 1436 total yards through the air is a hard thing to object to. Add in the fact that McSorley's decision making on the read-pass option plays has been consistently strong and you've got a guy who is beating teams with his physical and mental tools at the same time.

McSorley also has three rushing touchdowns and 186 yards on the ground to add to his resume. This past week against Maryland his dual-threat status was firmly stated thanks to 152 yards passing and 81 on the ground. Five different receivers have caught more than 10 passes this year and six different targets have caught touchdowns in 2016.

All told McSorley has been the complete package for Penn State and a big reason why a 4-2 record isn't worse. A quarterback transition is always a rough time, but McSorley's transition has been smooth, and he's only getting better.

*Yes Saquon Barkley is very good*

Defense: Marcus Allen

The last line of defense on a unit that is decimated with injury, Allen has been a steady presence in the secondary as the Nittany Lions ride the wave of new faces coming in for injured veterans. Jake Cooper, Manny Bowen and Brandon Smith have all done admirably for Penn State at the linebacker position, but Allen has made seven or more tackles in five straight games so far. The peak was a 22-tackle effort against Minnesota that was only a few shy of tying a program record. Allen doesn't have an interception to his name yet this year, but given that teams aren't passing that far down the field on Penn State, it isn't as though he has had tons of chances to begin with.

Penn State's defense is full of players stepping up to the call, but on performance alone, Allen has been one of the most consistent players on a weekly basis. He hasn't been able to avoid the team-wide tackling woes, but Penn State is a better team when he's playing.

Special Teams: Blake Gillikin 

For a program that hasn't had a decent punter, or at least a consistent punter in years, it's pretty clear that Gillikin's cannon of a leg gets the nod here. A blocked punt last week against Maryland is about the only bad thing on the season so far for the freshman but his 42.3 yard average and a 61-yarder out of the back of the end zone against Michigan is about all you need to know. Four of the six games this season have featured punts of over 50 yards, capped off by a 69-yarder against Pitt.

It should be mentioned that Tyler Davis, who is perfect on the year and in his career at kicking field goals, and Joey Julius, who is quite talented at hitting people, both deserve nods here. But Davis isn't kicking field goals from great distances and Julius is prone to a few kickoffs out of bounds or short at bad moments in games. Gillikin, for as good as those two players have been, has swung field position on a consistent basis, and area in which Penn State has struggle in over the past few seasons. That reason alone is why he gets the nod.  



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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