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Presenting the highs and lows of Penn State’s regular season

It’s time to present our annual Penn State football awards, marking the highs and lows of the Nittany Lions’ 10-2 regular season before they play Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl Saturday in Atlanta:

Offensive Player of the Year: Left tackle Olu Fashanu became Penn State’s first consensus All-American offensive lineman since Jeff Hartings in 1995. Fashanu has not allowed a sack in 382 pass-blocking snaps and has played a large role in the Lions leading the Big Ten in scoring and rushing. He’s projected as a top-10 draft pick in the spring.

Defensive Player of the Year: Defensive end Chop Robinson had four sacks, five quarterback hurries and 7.5 tackles for loss despite often being blocked by two or three players. He has an exceptional burst of speed and is projected to be a first-round pick. He will not play in the Peach Bowl.

Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson is projected to be a first-round pick in the spring. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson is projected to be a first-round pick in the spring. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Rookie of the Year: Linebacker Tony Rojas added about 30 pounds from his enrollment in January to the end of spring practice. He has played behind Abdul Carter and made 16 tackles, three in the backfield, one interception and one forced fumble.

Transfer Players of the Year: Kicker Alex Felkins (Columbia) and punter Riley Thompson (Florida Atlantic) have made huge impacts in their first season at Penn State. Felkins has made 18-of-22 field goal tries, and Thompson has helped the Lions rank 10th nationally in net punting.

Unsung Hero of the Year: Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon has lined up at multiple positions on the defense and has made plays. He has 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble. He was no better than an All-Big Ten third-team selection by the coaches.

Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon has enjoyed a productive season. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Penn State cornerback Johnny Dixon has enjoyed a productive season. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

Best play: After Indiana tied it 24-24 in the final three minutes, Drew Allar connected with KeAndre Lambert-Smith for a 57-yard touchdown pass that sent the Lions to a 33-24 victory.

Best game: Ohio State 20, Penn State 12. The Lions stayed close by making two stops inside the 5-yard line in the third quarter and by recovering a fumble. But they failed to convert on fourth-and-4 from their 43 while trailing 13-6 midway through the fourth quarter. That led to a Buckeyes touchdown and their seventh straight win over Penn State.

Worst game: Penn State 42, Michigan State 0. The Lions outgained the disinterested Spartans 586-53 and pulverized them at Ford Field in Detroit by their largest margin of victory in the series since 2002.

Best individual performance (offense): Allar made a spectacular starting debut, completing 21-of-29 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-15 win over West Virginia.

Best individual performance (defense): Defensive end Adisa Isaac had 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in a 63-0 win over Massachusetts.

Best call: With Penn State leading Iowa 3-0 in the second quarter and facing fourth-and-1 from the Hawkeyes’ 9, Allar faked a handoff and found tight end Khalil Dinkins sprinting across the end zone for a touchdown. The Lions ended up winning 31-0.

Worst calls: Penn State coach James Franklin decided to go for it twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter while trailing by one score in losses to Ohio State and Michigan. Against the Wolverines, the Lions trailed 17-9 and went for it on fourth-and-6 from their 30. Michigan stopped them with 4:21 to go and then scored the game-clinching TD on the next play.

Best run: Kaytron Allen broke several tackles on his 40-yard run against Michigan State.

Best pass: Allar showed off his arm strength and accuracy when he hit Omari Evans in stride behind the defense for a 60-yard completion to the Michigan State 2.

Best catch: Wide receiver Dante Cephas managed to get both feet down when he made a diving catch for a 6-yard touchdown against Maryland.

Penn State wide receiver Dante Cephas gets the award for the best catch of the season. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State wide receiver Dante Cephas gets the award for the best catch of the season. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Biggest snubs: Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wasn’t a finalist for the Broyles Award, presented to the nation’s top assistant coach, and left tackle Olu Fashanu wasn’t one of seven finalists for the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation’s top lineman.

Good Guy Award (for cooperation with the media): Tight end Theo Johnson has always given thoughtful answers no matter the question throughout his career.

Better Late Than Never Award: Daequan Hardy hadn’t returned a punt for Penn State since his arrival in 2019 before he replaced Kaden Saunders in the Massachusetts game. All Hardy did was set a school record by returning two punts for touchdowns.

Best quote by a player: “He (then-defensive coordinator Manny Diaz) kind of gets everyone on the defense riled up to where we want to take somebody’s head off just for him.” — middle linebacker Kobe King.

Most accurate quote: “There’s no doubt this Penn State defense is one of the best. They’re pretty good at every level. They’re fairly special. They’re fast, long, explosive and violent.” — Delaware coach Ryan Carty.

Biggest understatement: “I felt like we could have run the ball a little more.” — Franklin after then-offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich called 50 passing plays against 18 running plays in a 20-12 loss at Ohio State.

Best quote: “If you can equate offensive football to your favorite (Dairy Queen) Blizzard and understand that what it’s going to look like is going to be a messy piece of deliciousness, it’s fundamentally just composed of vanilla ice cream and your favorite candy.” — Penn State offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki at his introductory press conference.


Source: Berkshire mont

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