UNIVERSITY PARK, October 14 — The Nittany Turkey traveled to State College for the big game of the year, thanks to good friends Joe and Judy, who managed to score some extra club seats. It was a privilege to be a part of the second largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history—110,007 loud, crazy partisans (minus a smattering of maize and blue clad Michiganders). The student section was whited-out, and the usual front-row shirtless idiots, oblivious to the 35-degree weather (no doubt due to having ingested large quantities of anti-freeze) displayed their bare, painted chests to the TV cameras.
Earlier in the day, the Turkey had learned during a conversation with a reliable scalper that tickets were going for as much as $900. The raucous big game atmosphere was evident everywhere in town and on campus. This Turkey trotted up to Beaver Stadium around 11 AM (nine hours before kickoff) finding the parking lots already about one-fourth full, with tailgaters already setting up their spreads and tossing footballs. I walked over to the southeast corner of the stadium to observe Paternoville but by that time many of the tents had been broken down and the white-clad students were clustered by the student entrance. Walking back to College Avenue, Ol’ Turkey Ears detected the sound of a Dixieland band. Upon closer inspection, the Turkey noted that the band outside the Student Book Store had a guest star: President Graham Spanier.
A few hours prior to kickoff, Joe, Judy, and I fueled up for the game at Faccia Luna. I had the crab cake on a bed of penne pasta. Overall, the meal was very good, although the crab cake could have been spicier. That, however, is a matter of personal taste. Ordinarily, I would not digress from football to include a review of a pre-game dinner in my commentary, but I had to make some room for the obligatory cute waitress picture, without which no football weekend would be complete for this old, perverted Turkey. I didn’t get her name, so let’s just call her Minnie Mouse.
No matter what would happen on the field, I was already a winner.
You all know what happened on that field, so I won’t bore you with detailed statistics and sophomoric analyses. I will, however, offer a few comments about the 17–10 defeat.
First, let me say that our young guys did themselves proud by keeping this game within reach all the way to the final seconds. This was completely unexpected by this Turkey, who had predicted a 31–9 dismantling at the behest of the mighty Wolverines. Our offensive line was completely dominated, shutting down the running game and resulting in many sacks, knocking out our first- and second-string quarterbacks. Yet, with third-stringer Paul Cianciolo at the reins, the Nittany Lions scored their only touchdown. No matter what the final score and stats say, Penn State came to play.
I watched Kevin Kelly kicking in pre-game warmups, and saw him succeed repeatedly from a wide range of distances and angles. Why, then, did the sophomore miss a makeable 46-yarder as the Nittany Lions’ first drive of the game fizzled? It had the distance, but it was wide left. Our field goal unit has been awful this year, coming up empty in big game situations. What happened in last year’s Orange Bowl that got into Kelly’s head after a phenomenal freshman season?
Want to beat our defense? Throw slants to the tight end. Minnesota discovered this weakness and it was there once again in this game.
For the most part, our coaches seemed fearful of throwing the ball between the hash marks. However, when they finally called a play across the middle, it was a screen pass from Cianciolo to Tony Hunt in the fourth quarter that went 44 yards for the Penn State touchdown. They caught the Wolverine defense sleeping.
Anthony Scirrotto seems to lack the anticipation and the quick reactions necessary for a strong safety at this level. He waited until the last minute to react to Mike Hart’s touchdown run, although Hart was mainly running east-west probing for an opening. By the time Scirrotto saw where the play was going, he was chasing Hart from behind instead of being squared up in front of him. To be fair, while it was easy to see the play developing from my elevated viewpoint, it is possible that 6’0″ Scirrotto didn’t see 5’9″ Hart until it was too late. Whether Scirrotto can eventually develop is not my call. I’m just a birdbrain pecking at one of our weaknesses.
Michigan’s front seven threw around our inexperienced and outclassed offensive line like they were Pop Warner kids. (I’d insert the obligatory McCabe Sisters reference here, but I honestly think that said sisters could have done better.) This piss poor performance included second-team All-America Levi Brown. The Wolverines’ defense is nothing short of awe inspiring.
On the other hand, our defensive front seven were at the top of their game. We should be proud of their performance in this game against a big, experienced offensive line and a great runner. (Although I chuckle when I see it written elsewhere that they “held” Mike Hart to “only” 112 yards, overall they did a great job.)
Who knows what would have happened if that first drive had resulted in a touchdown? In a game like this squandered opportunities are particularly costly.
This Turkey doesn’t think that this loss means that the season is over and that we’re destined for a trip to a crappy bowl game. Bowl speculation is premature, but although we’re out of the BCS picture (which we had no business believing we were in this year!), we still have a chance at a decent bowl if we win out. Barring a post-Michigan letdown, the Lions should be able to handle Illinois this week, but then Purdue and Wisconsin come up on the road. If we should drop both of them, we’d finish no better than 7–5.
I’ll be back later in the week with a peek at the Fighting Illini.