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Last updated: February 19. 2013 7:54PM - 176 Views

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They all had their own reasons for leaving. Silas Redd called it a business decision. Anthony Fera cited his mother's serious illness.


Others – like Rob Bolden and Kevin Haplea – saw the writing on the wall before the sanctions came down and were already looking to transfer because of their roles under a new coaching staff.


In all, 16 scholarship players left Penn State in 2012 – and not all by their own volition.


The effects of that attrition were seen almost immediately during the season. The absences of Redd and Fera in particular played large roles in Penn State's 0-2 start to the season. Other effects may not be apparent until down the line.


But the Nittany Lions managed to plug the holes after the first month of the season to win eight of their last 10 games. Here's a look at how the new starters were able to fill in for the old.


TOP TAILBACK


Silas Redd at USC: 150 carries, 817 yards, 9 TDs; 6 catches, 99 yards



Zach Zwinak at Penn State: 203 carries, 1,000 yards, 6 TDs; 20 catches, 177 yards, 1 TD


There's little doubt that the Lions badly missed their leading rusher in September, especially after his initial replacement, Bill Belton, went down in the opener with a high ankle sprain.


Having Redd to rely on while the passing game was still working out the kinks very easily could have helped Penn State close out games against Ohio and Virginia in the second half, pushing Penn State to 10-2.


But by the middle of the season, the emergence of Zwinak proved to be just what the Lions needed. The Zwinak who finished the year with four straight games of at least 130 yards rushing could have filled that same role.


Even Zwinak, a former high-profile fullback recruit who exited spring ball as the fourth-string tailback – didn't see it coming.


No, no one would have ever thought that, Zwinak said. You never know what happens in football, everything changes day-to-day, week-to-week. I'm fortunate to be here and be able to do it.


Everything changed when I got my first start. I thought I could contribute in this game. They trusted me enough to start, so I wanted to do my best.


Belton and Michael Zordich combined for 564 yards while last year's second-leading rusher, Curtis Dukes, struggled to pick up the new offense after sitting out the spring.


Redd finished as USC's leading rusher, splitting time with senior Curtis McNeal. Nagging injuries cut into his playing time more than anything. He is expected to return for a senior season with the Trojans.


TOP RECEIVER


Justin Brown at Oklahoma: 62 catches, 795 yards, 4 TDs; 1 PR TD



Allen Robinson at Penn State: 77 catches, 1,013 yards, 11 TDs


Outside of the Lasch Building, there was plenty of hand-wringing as Penn State headed into the season without a single player who caught more than five passes in 2011.


Inside, coaches and players had already seen in the spring what Robinson was capable of.


The sophomore caught six balls in the first half of the opener alone, en route to a school-record 77. He led the Big Ten in all major stats and was named the league's top receiver earlier this week.


It's not a big surprise with the offense coach (Bill) O'Brien has us running, Robinson said of his big numbers. Once the season started, I was in position to make big plays. This was one of my goals, to be able to have as many catches as I do. So for me it's not too surprising.


I don't think it surprised the coaching staff. On offense, we throw the ball a lot and they push me to go out there and make plays.


Brown immediately became a dependable second receiver for Oklahoma, complementing star Kenny Stills. As it turns out, he might have had the same No. 2 role at Penn State because of Robinson's emergence.


Where the Lions truly missed Brown – the only member of the senior class to depart because of the sanctions – was on punt returns. Brown was an effective return man for the Sooners throughout the year, whereas Penn State started the year with a linebacker back on punts. Jesse Della Valle and Evan Lewis couldn't reproduce Brown's speed and athleticism.


Shawney Kersey left during the first month of the season but Brandon Moseby-Felder – behind Kersey because of lingering offseason injuries – became a productive starter opposite Robinson.


Devon Smith, who was dismissed amidst legal issues in the summer, would have been a top target out of the slot, but O'Brien's offense used two tight ends more frequently than three receivers.


KICKER


Anthony Fera at Texas: 2-4 FGs; 23-25 XPs



Sam Ficken at Penn State: 14-21 FGs; 39-41 XPs


The season started out very poorly for both players, with Fera suffering a groin injury in camp and missing time. For Ficken, a bad day turned truly miserable at Virginia, missing four of five field goals – including a potential game-winner on the final play – and having an extra point blocked in a one-point loss.


Things ultimately improved for Ficken, who finished the year with 10 straight makes, including an overtime winner against Wisconsin. His long for the year was just 38 yards, but as his confidence grew, so did the coaches' trust in him. The parade of fourth-down conversion attempts in the red zone gradually slowed as Ficken began connecting.


I feel really good to actually bounce back, Ficken said. I couldn't be happier with the way the season ended.


Fera wasn't able to get on the field for Texas until October. And when he had a particularly rough game against Iowa State, he ended up being replaced by Nick Jordan, who is expected to be the Longhorns' kicker in today's game against Kansas State.


OTHERS

Only one other Penn State transfer saw the field for another team this season. Tight end Kevin Haplea caught three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown for Florida State. His 1-yard score against South Florida helped break open a close game en route to a road win.


As it was at Penn State, his role for the Seminoles in today's ACC championship against Georgia Tech is primarily as a blocker.


Haplea had fallen behind Kyle Carter on the depth chart at F-tight end in the spring. In the end, the Lions still had four viable tight ends in Carter, Garry Gilliam, Jesse James and Matt Lehman.


Elsewhere on the roster, depth becomes a concern going forward for Penn State. With Bolden and Paul Jones both gone, the Lions currently have just one quarterback – Steven Bench – on the roster for spring ball, with the coaches hoping to add a junior college transfer in January to compete with Bench and, eventually, top recruit Christian Hackenberg.


Three other potential starters for 2013 in linebacker Khairi Fortt and corners Curtis Drake and Derrick Thomas – both of whom were off the roster before sanctions hit – must also be replaced.


It won't be easy going forward, O'Brien said. But I know this – we have a lot of good players on this football team.



PSU 2012 WRAP-UP

• Friday: The seniors


• Today: The successors


• Sunday: The future



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