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Highs and lows of Penn State’s 2021 football season

Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) finishes second in the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss. (Photo/Craig Houtz)

Taking a look at the highs and lows of Penn State’s 2021 football season, which ended 7-6 with a 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl:

Offensive player of the year: Jahan Dotson enjoyed one of the top seasons by a Penn State receiver. He made 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished second at Penn State in career receptions (183), tied for second in career touchdown catches (25) and fourth in career receiving yards (2,757).

Defensive player of the year: This was a tough call, but defensive end Arnold Ebiketie finished second in the Big Ten in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17). A transfer from Temple, Ebiketie also had seven quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. Also deserving were safeties Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown.

Rookie of the year: Tight end Tyler Warren and defensive tackle Coziah Izzard, both redshirt freshmen, share the honor. Warren ran for two touchdowns, including a big one against Auburn, and caught five passes for 61 yards and another score. Izzard finished with 21 tackles, including three in the backfield and two sacks, and one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble.

Comeback player of the year: Junior defensive end Nick Tarburton had been hampered by injuries in his career until he emerged as a starter this season. He had just two tackles before he made 29 stops this season, including one sack and two for losses in the Outback Bowl. He also had two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and two pass break-ups.

Unsung hero of the year: Senior Jesse Luketa didn’t blink when the coaches asked him to split time between defensive end and linebacker. Luketa made five starts at end and two at linebacker and wound up with 61 tackles, including 8.5 for losses. He also had five quarterback hurries and an interception and might have found a future as an edge rusher.

Special-teams player of the year: Jordan Stout had the best season by a Penn State punter, averaging a school-record 46.01 yards. He also boomed 59 of his 66 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. While he didn’t have a great season as a placekicker, he did score 76 points.

Best game: Penn State 28 Auburn 20. The Lions played a superb game to beat a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time in the regular season in 31 years. Sean Clifford had perhaps the best game of his career, going 28-for-32 for 280 yards and two two touchdowns. The defense came up with two stops in the final minutes to preserve the lead and get the win.

Worst game: Illinois 20, Penn State 18. The Illini and the Lions made history by playing college football’s first nine-overtime game, but it was ugly. Neither team could reach the end zone until the eighth overtime when they both scored from the 2 under the new overtime rules. Penn State gained just 227 total yards, including 62 on the ground.

Plays of the year: They came in the season opener at Wisconsin when Brisker and then Brown made interceptions inside the 10 in the final minutes of a 16-10 victory over the Badgers.

Best individual performance (offense): Dotson set a school record with 242 receiving yards in a 31-14 win at Maryland. He had 11 catches, including TDs of 38, 21 and 86 yards.

Best individual performance (defense): Ebiketie had seven solo tackles, including a sack and two for losses, and blocked a field goal in the win at Wisconsin.

Surprise of the year: The performance of Brown, who led the Big Ten with six interceptions in his first season as a starter. He also had 72 tackles, five pass break-ups and one forced fumble.

Disappointment of the year: The play of the offense in general and the line in particular. Penn State averaged just 25.0 points and 376.4 yards a game.

Best call: Warren took a direct snap and scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter against Auburn.

Worst call: Penn State tried a fake field goal in the first quarter against Michigan on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Holder Rafael Checa threw a pass to Stout, who was tackled and fumbled.

Turning point: Clifford suffered an unspecified injury with Penn State leading Iowa 17-3 in the second quarter. The Lions went on to lose 23-20 that day and five of their next seven games. Also, defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter at Iowa. His absence hurt Penn State’s rushing defense.

Quote of the year: “I think our team is way better than what our record is. We didn’t win, so it doesn’t really matter. All that matters are the wins and the losses.” – Clifford after a 30-27 loss at Michigan State.

Source: Berkshire mont

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