Season In Review: A Look Back at a Memorable 2012 Penn State Football Season
When the game clock hit zero and the Ticket City Bowl versus Houston ended many Penn Staters knew an era was over. On that day, January 2nd, the 30-14 loss to the Cougars wasn’t what was important, as it was answers everyone in the Nittany Nation was seeking. Former Head Coach Joe Paterno was fired and very ill with cancer, interim coach Tom Bradley was viewed as just that, and the overall stature of the program was in doubt. There was much speculation as to who exactly the next head coach would, and many felt it would be someone with Penn State ties, they were wrong.
On January 7th, just five days after the bowl game, Bill O’Brien, the New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator at the time, was hired and introduced as coach. Having never been a head coach or having no affiliation to the school, many doubted this hire. But as the months went by O’Brien slowly started to win his team and fan base over. With his morals, loyalty and pride in Penn State he shortly became a fan favorite. For years the Penn State sideline was not only home to Joe Paterno, but also the much-loved coaching staff that went with him. And since this was a new era many expected most, if not all of the previous coaching staff to be gone.
Being an offensive guy the feeling was O’Brien would want his own guys on that side of the ball, but Penn State’s defense had been the staple of the program for so many years. So when O’Brien announced he would retain Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson Sr. and Linebackers Coach Ron Vanderlinden to coach alongside newly hired Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof, hope was restored in this team and its defense.
Selecting a new coach and with that a new staff, was job number one on this journey. The next was winning over the team and selecting all the starters, including the quarterback. Winning over the team, much like with the fan base came easy for O’Brien. What didn’t was selecting all his starters.
The choice at quarterback was a quick and rather easy one for the coach as he selected the experienced Matt McGloin over the young, talented Paul Jones. But not all of the decisions were so easy, especially with the announcement of the NCAA sanctions. While better than the reported four year death penalty, the sanctions were harsh and immediately took a toll on the program. A four year bowl ban, a loss of scholarships, and the immediate option of transferring were the most costly of the penalties. The bowl ban and loss of scholarships caused many top recruits, such as Dorian Johnson and Ross Douglas, in the 2013 class to de-commit. But in terms of this year and this team, the ability to transfer without penalty is what hurt the most.
Among those who left were number wide receiver Justin Brown, former Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Year and the team’s punter/kicker Anthony Fera, and most notably starting running back Silas Redd. Just like that all the feeling comfort, which was previously restored, was gone. The best player in Redd, who previously stated he wasn’t leaving, left and created a big hole on offense. But then on July 25th Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich delivered a speech which will forever live in Penn State football infamy when they rallied the team together outside the Lasch Football Building a declared their allegiance to Penn State and the football program. Everyone knew the Nittany Lions weren’t going anywhere.
Fast forward to football eve and the much anticipated debut of this team led by Head Coach Bill O’Brien and this remarkable senior class. The message was made clear. Despite the events of the previous year and the inability to play in a bowl game this squad, in unison with the student body, was about to combine on a “One Team” mission to show the world what Penn State was all about.
When the Nittany Lions took on the Ohio Bobcats on September 1st, there was more than just football on the minds of people. All the events of the past year, including the passing of long-time beloved Coach Paterno, were all behind us and the university was ready to start fresh. But the Bobcats were not a team that should be looked over or even taken lightly. Winners of ten games the previous year, many viewed the Bobcats as a potential BCS buster.
The game kicked off and the emotions were pushed aside, and the Lions roared out to a fast start. Dominating much of the first half, Penn State entered the locker room at halftime with a 14-3 lead leaving many believing this team would cruise to a victory a 1-0 start to this season. Unfortunately after a tipped ball, which resulted in a touchdown, and strong second half play from Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton the Bobcats owned the second half and won 24-14.
After a tough emotional loss the Lions traveled to Virginia to take on the then 1-0 Cavaliers. In a game Penn State’s defense absolutely dominated the offense and kicker Sam Ficken struggled mightily. The offense would have the ball in the red zone time after time, and would be forced to settle for field goal attempts. In a game which would malign Sam Ficken for most of the year, he struggled and went 1 for 5. Despite that the Lions led 16-10 with their defense on the field. Much like the week before though, the opposing quarterback came through late and the Cavaliers beat the Lions by a score of 17-16.
At 0-2 many feared this Penn State team was in a world of trouble. Fortunately, though, its next game was against a Navy team which came into Beaver Stadium at the perfect time. Winning 34-7 over the Midshipmen, the Lions got their first win of the season and carried the momentum into a series of victories. In the weeks that followed Lions tallied up a five game winning streak against teams such as Temple, Illinois, Northwestern, and Iowa. These wins didn’t come without surprises. In addition to the the stars on defense, the offense brought some new dominant faces.
Matt McGloin, who many doubted should be starting quarterback in the spring, played extremely well and began to be recognized as a potential player of the year in the Big Ten. Zack Zwinak, when many though Bill Belton would be the replacement for Silas Redd, emerged as a starting running back, and sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson took Penn State fans by storm. After senior Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma, the wide receiving core was left with a inexperienced players. Robinson continued to post huge numbers game after huge game, and quickly became McGloin’s go to wide receiver.
Now at 5-2 the Lions were riding high and ready to take on an undefeated Ohio State team led by new head coach Urban Meyer and star quarterback Braxton Miller. In a game which saw some where around 100 recruits on the sidelines to watch, both teams came out firing on that Saturday night in October. With the score 7-7 at halftime, the Beaver Stadium crowd had high hopes of upsetting the Buckeyes. But Braxton Miller had other ideas as he carved up the Lions defense in route to a 35-23 in front of a Penn State sell out crowd. At 5-3 the Lions realized, despite the tough loss, the season wasn’t over. The following week they destroyed Purdue 34-9 before traveling to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers of Nebraska.
In a game many members of the Penn State nation thought the Lions should have won, they led 20-6 at half. The Huskers came out strong in the third quarter to tie the game at 20 before eventually taking the lead into the fourth. That’s when a controversial call occurred as Penn State’s Matt Lehman scored what was originally ruled the go ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. After further review the call was overturned and ruled a fumble recovered by Nebraska. The Nittany Lions never recovered after that and eventually lost to the Cornhuskers 32-23.
The final two games were to be home games with Penn State currently standing at 6-4. The first game came against the Indiana Hoosiers, a game in which Penn State cruised to a 45-24 win. This win did not come without a cost, however, as during the first quarter the Lions lost the heart and soul of the team in senior linebacker Michael Mauti to a knee injury. The injury proved to be significant and caused Mauti to miss the Senior Day game against Wisconsin.
Already a lock for the Big Ten Championship game, with both Penn State and Ohio State ineligible, Wisconsin had little to nothing to play for against Penn State. The Lions on the other hand were out for that impressive eighth win, and to send the seniors out on top. After an emotional pregame ceremony in which the seniors were honored and this team was recognized with the year “2012” placed in the stadium alongside all the other great years of the program’s past, there was still a game to be played.
Falling behind fast by a score of 14-7 in the first quarter the heart of this Penn State team was once again tested. They showed resiliency battled to take the game to overtime tied at 21. They lost the toss and took the ball first in overtime. After going three and out, it was up to the previously maligned Sam Ficken to kick the game saver. Ficken made the field goal and Penn State took a 24-21 lead in overtime.
Wisconsin now had the ball and Montee Ball was stuffed by Penn State it was third down. Phillips, the Wisconsin quarterback, dropped back and threw a ball which went right through the hands of Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson setting up a field goal attempt on fourth down. And in a moment which will never be forgotten by Penn Staters around the world, the kick missed left and Penn State won 24-21.
The Beaver Stadium crowd and the team erupted. In that moment, all the events of year’s past were forgotten. The fact that there was no bowl game was irrelevant. An 8-4 season after starting 0-2 not only exceeding every expectation but proved Penn State football isn’t going anywhere.
Now, as Penn State enters the offseason and prepares for the loss of McGloin, Hodges, Hill, Zordich and Mauti among others, there is still confidence that Bill O’Brien and the incoming recruiting class with Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman, along with the self-proclaimed “Supa Six” will carry on the Penn State football tradition. The NCAA can take away bowl games, but they can’t take away the heart of the program. That “2012” represents this team, the fan base, and strength that is Penn State which will never die.
Joe Garofalo is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.