• George Paterno Awards: Unprecedented season at PSU

    Penn State’s 2011 regular season and the unprecedented events surrounding it will not be soon forgotten.

    To capture the highs and lows of the season and to honor the Nittany Lions’ longtime former broadcaster and unofficial ambassador, let’s once again present the annual George Paterno Memorial Awards.

    Offensive player of the year:  Running back Silas Redd has been the most dependable player on offense, rushing for 1,188 yards and seven touchdowns. Redd posted five consecutive 100-yard games before injuring his collarbone against Nebraska, which limited his effectiveness in the next three games.

    Defensive player of the year: No player in the Big Ten created as much havoc as defensive tackle Devon Still, a consensus All-American and the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Despite facing constant double teams, Still has made 17 tackles for loss and 4½ sacks and is a chief reason why Penn State has had one of the top defenses in the nation.

    Rookie of the year: Cornerback Adrian Amos has made an impact despite not being a five-star recruit, Amos has played in all but one game, made one start and broke up four passes. He has the size (6-0, 205), speed and instincts to be a good one.

    Unsung hero of the year: With much attention focused on Still, defensive tackle Jordan Hill quietly has had an impressive season. Hill, who received only All-Big Ten honorable mention, has eight tackles for loss, 3½ sacks and three fumble recoveries.

    Special teams player of the year: Penn State’s kicking game was a disaster until Anthony Fera became the regular kicker and punter. Fera was named to the All-Big Ten second team after making 14-of-17 field goals. He also has averaged 42.0 yards on 55 punts, dropping 17 of them inside the 20.

    Best game: Penn State 20, Ohio State 14. The Nittany Lions had won just once at Ohio Stadium in nine previous Big Ten games there and reached double digits just twice. But they gained 254 yards and scored 20 points in the first half on their way to the win. Penn State safety Malcolm Willis stopped quarterback Braxton Miller on fourth down at the Lions’ 32 with 1:41 left.

    Worst game: Wisconsin 45, Penn State 7. After scoring first on a long touchdown pass from Matt McGloin to Curtis Drake, the Nittany Lions watched the Badgers scored the final 45 points. Wisconsin outgained Penn State 450-233, held the ball for more than 38 minutes and forced four turnovers in a game that decided the Leaders Division berth in the Big Ten championship game. It was clear the Lions had nothing left in the tank three weeks after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke.

    Best play: With Penn State clinging to a 27-24 lead and Northwestern driving in the third quarter, linebacker Gerald Hodges intercepted Dan Persa’s pass and returned it 63 yards to the Wildcats’ 19, setting up Redd’s touchdown run on the next play. The Lions went on to win by that 34-24 score.

    Worst plays: Trailing Nebraska 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, Penn State faced third-and-1 at its 37. On successive plays, linebacker Lavonte David stopped Redd for no gain, halting the Lions’ last chance. Redd, who had injured his collarbone earlier in the game, was on the field only because Stephfon Green was winded on the sideline after carrying three straight times.

    Surprise and disappointment of the year: The child sex abuse case against Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator. Penn State president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and Paterno lost their jobs in the wake of the scandal and assistant coach Mike McQueary, a key prosecution witness, was placed on administrative leave. In addition, Schultz and Curley were charged with perjury and failure to report.

    Best moment (not related to scandal): Penn State rallied to beat Illinois 10-7 on Redd’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:08 to go. The Lions couldn’t claim the win until Derek Dimke’s 42-yard field goal try hit the right upright with no time left. The victory gave Paterno his 409th and final win, moving him past Eddie Robinson for the all-time Division I lead.

    Best moment (related to scandal): Players and coaches from Penn State and Nebraska joined hands and knelt in prayer for child sex abuse victims at midfield before their Nov. 12 game at Beaver Stadium.

    Worst moment (not related to scandal): McGloin and Drake scuffled inside the team locker room after a Dec. 17 practice. Teammates often tangle, but usually on the practice field. When McGloin banged his head on the floor and suffered a seizure, it became scary for those who witnessed it.

    Worst moment (related to scandal): Sandusky didn’t help his case during a creepy telephone interview with NBC’s Bob Costas 10 days after being charged with sexually abusing children.

    Accountability Award: Two days after his scuffle with Drake, McGloin was the first Penn State player to show up for bowl media day, walked to the middle of the field, answered questions for at least 20 minutes and accepted blame for tangling with Drake. It was refreshing to see someone taking accountability for a dumb mistake.

    Paul Posluszny Award (for academics): To the entire Penn State football team, which finished No. 1 in the fifth annual Academic Bowl Championship Series rankings. The Higher Ed Watch blog ranked the teams in the final BCS standings and determined Penn State has the No. 1 academic program followed by Boise State, TCU and Stanford. Penn State football players who enrolled from 2001-04 had an 87 percent graduation rate.

    Jerome Hayes Award (for tough luck): To Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his left knee in a Sept. 24 win over Eastern Michigan. Mauti missed the 2009 season when he tore his right ACL. He also missed two games and parts of two others last season with ankle and shoulder injuries.

    Missing in action: Quarterback Rob Bolden has gone from being a promising prospect as a freshman last year to a sophomore who often has looked lost this year.

    Comeback player of the year: Green, a senior running back who was twice suspended for off-the-field issues earlier in the year, missed the first six games before eventually becoming a factor. In back-to-back games against Nebraska and Ohio State, he rushed for 164 yards and four touchdowns.

    Runner-up quote of the year: “Right now, I’m not the football coach and that’s something I have to get used to. After 61 years, I’ve got to get used to it. Let me think it through.” – former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, outside his home shortly after he was fired Nov. 9.

    Quote of the year: “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” – Paterno, about the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

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