UNIVERSITY PARK, October 29—Bumbling their way through a game that was widely regarded as a potential stumbling block on the way to a Big Ten championship, the #11 Nittany Lions of Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) managed to pull off a 33-15 win over the unranked Purdue Boilermakers (2-6, 0-5). This Turkey was not impressed by much he saw in this sloppy win. Perhaps the team needed a bit of a humbling prior to preparing for the big showdown with Wisconsin next week. Or perhaps they’re not as good as they think they are.
Bumbling, stumbling, humbling… While a win is a win, I wouldn’t be earning the big bucks that all you faithful readers aren’t paying to read my drivel if I didn’t comment on what needs a lot of improvement. But first, the high points.
The high points—well, the one high point—was the running game, starring Tony Hunt and Michael Robinson. I state this with some reservations because Purdue’s decimated defense has given them problems all year and it ranks close to the bottom of NCAA Division I-A. Nevertheless, Hunt’s 129 yards and Robinson’s 96 yards rushing are primarily responsible for winning the game for Penn State. Overall, the ground game netted 303 yards.
Looking at the stats, you would think that this was a dominating performance by Penn State, who more than doubled up Purdue on total yards and first downs. The truth is that Penn State just wasn’t very sharp—particularly in the first half—letting Purdue hang around within reach for much of the game.
Head coach Joe Paterno was as frustrated by this performance as certain notable Turkeys were. “We let them hang around and hang around and hang around,” Paterno said. “I thought we were going to blow this game and Hunt picked it up.”
Hunt’s running controlled the game in the crucial fourth period drives when Purdue was within striking distance.
One particular stat puts this Turkey on the brink of committing hara-kiri and winding up on somebody’s Thanksgiving table. Please, Mr. Bush, do not grant me a pardon on Thanksgiving Day, because I don’t think I can bear to see any more games in which Dear Old State goes 4-15 in third down conversions. One of the things that saved our asses was Purdue ineptness in the same stat category at 2-14.
Assign a lot the blame for the pitiful third down performance to Chevrolet Player of the Game Michael Robinson. The box score shows him at 13-29 for 213 yards. Well, let me just say that his passing game looked a helluva lot worse than those stats reveal, particularly in the first half, in which M-Rob was 8-19. A plethora of inaccurate passes, mostly sailing over receivers’ heads by five yards or more, denied Penn State the opportunity to put Purdue away early. At halftime, the score was 13-7 Penn State and it did not look good.
The piss poor passing performance cannot be wholly attributed to the Purdue defense. The opportunities were there but Michael Robinson was not sharp. ABC commentator (and former Purdue quarterback) Gary Danielson pointed out that when Robinson is hurried, he loses sight of the defense and gets confused. He went on to note that with respect to quarterbacking experience, “You’re not looking at a fifth-year senior quarterback; you’re looking at a sophomore quarterback.” Not much can be done about giving Robinson more years of experience. He is what he is. I just wish he could throw more accurately when he has open receivers.
Purdue’s defensive geniuses didn’t take long to figure out what was going on with the Penn State passing game. They started loading up on the line, bringing up the safeties and playing eight in the box to stuff the run. Fortunately, they tired in the fourth quarter and the Nittany Lions were able to muster just enough of a passing game to be able to spread the field and keep them honest.
The Lions’ red zone performance was another dismally low point. In the first half, three trips inside the Purdue 20 produced a single touchdown and two field goals. Instead of a two touchdown lead at halftime, they took less than a touchdown margin into the locker room.
And now, let me prepare my summary indictment for the PSU special teams on seven counts of ineptitude:
- On a first quarter Purdue punt, Calvin Lowry calls for a fair catch and lets the ball dribble down to the five yard-line.
- Following Kelly’s first field goal, his kickoff is returned 18 yards to the 33 yard-line.
- On the next Penn State possession, which was a three-and-out, Jeremy Kapinos shanks a 19-yard punt out of bounds, landing Purdue at midfield.
- After the ensuing three-and-out by Purdue, Calvin Lowry fumbles the ball on the punt return, giving Purdue even better field position at the PSU 24, setting up a touchdown. Ironically, ABC’s Brent Musberger calls him “the sure-handed Calvin Lowry” a split second before he drops the ball.
- After Purdue’s first quarter touchdown, Justin King only gets enough blocking to return the ensuing kickoff to the 17 yard-line.
- In the second quarter, Calvin Lowry calls for a fair catch at the 7 yard-line and actually catches it, giving the Lions stinko field position.
- With 1:38 to go in the first half and Penn State trying to eat up some clock (but ineptly) on the PSU 13, Kapinos hits his best punt of the day, an 86-yard boomer that rolls dead at the Purdue 1. It is called back because the Lions take too much time. After marching off the penalty and re-kicking, Kapinos kicks an ordinary 42-yarder, which is returned to the Penn State 41. Penn State is once again called for taking too much time but Purdue wisely refuses the penalty.
Let me re-emphasize that the above seven special teams travesties happened in one half of football. Atrocious!
And would somebody please tell me just what the hell it is that Tim Shaw is doing before each punt bouncing around behind the line, talking in turn to each of the guards, and then dropping back to block. I’m assuming that he calls the punt team signals, but why the big production? It always seems to take too long.
If you guessed that I’m down on the special teams, congratulations on your powers of observation.
I won’t completely exonerate the Penn State defense’s performance, although it was much better than that of the special teams. After all, Purdue’s two touchdowns were well earned. The Nittany Lion defense appeared to be a bit out of sync for the whole game, but no more so than in Purdue’s 58-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Following the touchdown, Purdue lined up in the wishbone for the two point try, suggesting an option play. As the Penn State lead was then 23-13, a successful conversion would put Purdue into a one-possession situation to potentially tie the game. Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch ran the expected option to the left side. Dan Connor bit on it just as Kirsch tossed the ball to Dorien Bryant, who zoomed past Connor into the end zone for a successful conversion, cutting the lead to 23-15.
Fortunately, at that point Tony Hunt took over and the Nittany Lions chalked up 10 unanswered points during the remainder of the fourth quarter.
This lackluster Homecoming performance no doubt left many of the 109,467 in attendance (the third largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history) uneasy about the next two games. The Lions square off next weekend at Beaver Stadium for the big showdown with the Wisconsin Badgers, who with an identical record of 8-1, 5-1, share the Big Ten lead with Penn State. Following that game is a bye week, after which the Nittany Lions will finish off the season against the powerful offense of Michigan State at East Lansing.
Big Ten Picture Still Muddled
With apologies for employing this most hackneyed of all sports writing cliches, Penn State controls its own destiny. If the destiny controllers win their next two games, the Big Ten championship and a BCS bowl berth are theirs. If they should happen to stumble, the Big Ten is up for grabs. A half-game behind Penn State and Wisconsin atop the conference, Ohio State has only one conference loss. If the Buckeyes win out, they could walk away with the championship if Penn State beats Wisconsin but then stumbles against the Spartans. The other combinatorial possibilities are too numerous. As the Turkey has stated before, the Big Ten race could potentially remain undecided until rivalry weekend.
Bring on Wisconsin
Who’s got the best scoring offense in the Big Ten? The Wisconsin Badgers, who are scoring over 39 points per game. One big reason for this is the all-around play of Brian Calhoun, who averages 135 yards rushing, 49 yards receiving, and two touchdowns. In their last outing against the Bye-Week Boys in Champaign, which the Badgers easily won 41-24, Calhoun rushed for 197 yards and scored five touchdowns. The Nittany Lions defense will have its hands full when the #15 Badgers come to town.
The Badger defense appears to be vulnerable to the running game, so I say crank it up. They rank among the bottom 10 in total defense, giving up well over 400 yards a game. On the other hand, their turnover ratio, second best in the Big Ten, keeps them in games. The Lions must take due care in protecting the ball in what promises to be a smash-mouth clash of Big Ten titans.
The Wisconsin team seems to be overachieving this year, perhaps in tribute to the impending departure of its venerable coach, Barry Alvarez, who has had Penn State’s number since we entered the Big Ten. Barry is giving up sideline duties for a desk—he’ll remain athletic director at Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions must win this game to keep alive their dreams of a Big Ten championship and a BCS bowl.