UNIVERSITY PARK, PA, September 1—The opening week of college football is always full of surprises, but in this Turkey’s experience, which extends over fifty years, there never has been a shocker like the 34–32 victory of Appalachian State over the woeful, formerly #5 Wolverines at the Big House. To further compound the surprises, it rained so hard at The Swamp that the Western Kentucky vs. Florida game was called with 8:23 left on the clock and the #6 Gators leading 49–3. When’s the last time you saw that happen? Finally, Touchdown Jesus couldn’t save the favored Fighting Irish from going down in flames at the hands of the equally unranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 33–3. So, with all this going on, the #17 Nittany Lions quietly gave los pobrecitos of Florida International a lesson in football, trouncing them 59–0. It wasn’t that close.
Coaching on the sidelines for the first time since he broke his leg, Joe Paterno and his seasoned staff, with combined experience that requires carbon-14 dating for accurate assessment, completely embarrassed the young Florida International organization, led by head coach Mario Cristobal. The Golden Panthers were not able to get their offensive game established against the stifling Nittany Lion defense, led by Sean Lee. The defense forced five fumbles and held the Panthers to 114 total yards and 7 first downs. Meanwhile, the Penn State offense rang up 549 yards and 27 first downs against the completely outclassed FIU defense. But what is the point of scheduling a bottom feeder who had a 0-12 season record last year and whose statistics placed it at the very bottom of the Bowl Championship Division (formerly known as Division I-A)?
It makes no sense, although Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State provides some of you a viable counter-argument. Alas, Florida International is no Appalachian State. (I knew Appalachian State. Appalachian State was a friend of mine. And Senator, you’re no Appalachian State!) Other than having another game to extract ticket and TV revenue from the hapless fans, this kind of game is, in the opinion of this Turkey, completely worthless and never should have been scheduled. But sacre bleu! We still have to deal with two more collateral bottom-dwellers, Buffalo and Temple. Not just one chump but three!
While I write this the Nittany Lions are not resting and recuperating from their scrapes and bumps. No, this year they do not have that luxury. Instead, they are happily cleaning up Beaver Stadium, as per their tacit contract with their geriatric coach, who you might recall meted out the janitorial punishment following the April 1 Fracas at the Meridian II, in which the only team spirit displayed was of the non-constructive and immature variety. So, may your brooms sweep true, Nittany Lions, and may your trash bags be forever full. (Perhaps we can add a new stanza to our Alma Mater.)
OK, before I get back to the game with my observations, let me comment about the fledgling Big Ten Network. First, we had the pre-game show, The Big Ten Today. I think the BTN decided that they had to emulate ESPN’s College Gameday’s formula of an Italian ex-coach with a gigantic head flanked by a pretty-boy announcer and an ex-player. ESPN has Lee Corso; BTN has Jerry DiNardo. ESPN has Fowler and Herbstreit; BTN has whoever the hell (I tried to look it up but the BTN’s web site wasn’t very helpful). The show was low-key and lacked the ambience of the on-location College Gameday. As for the game coverage, it was OK, although we just watched the PSU-FIU picture; we piped the sounds of Steve Jones and Jack Ham from the PSU radio coverage via the Internet into my home theatre system and synchronized it with the picture with my Tivo. We also watched the end of the Michigan game. Shocker of a result notwithstanding, the new network’s coverage was adequate. Being run by Fox, I expected a little more glitz. I can’t comment on the hi-def production, because I viewed it in standard-def. I learned (too late) that I have to have DirecTV’s 5-LNB dish and new MPEG-4 receiver in order to see the BTN hi-def broadcasts. They’re on order, but I’ll have to endure the Buffalo game in standard-def, as DirecTV is a little backed up on dish upgrades at the moment. Fortunately, the Notre Dame game is on ESPN-HD, which I get. So much for BTN, and now back to the game
What can we, as fans and, of course, armchair coaches glean from a blowout like this stupid game? Well, for one thing, we can get drunk before the fourth quarter and not worry about missing anything important. Hell, if it wasn’t a noon start, we could have been drunk going in and not missed much. Anyhow, ludicrous nature of the competition notwithstanding, I’ll give you a few of my observations, for what they’re worth.
Sean Lee was a madman. We barely heard from Dan Connor, everybody’s pick for Stud of the Year, but Lee was all over the field. I’m not worried about most of the defense, although the greenness and lack of depth of the DL continues to worry me. They really didn’t get much of a test in this game. So that’s still up in the air
Morelli got plenty of protection, but against precisely what? Until I see the offensive line perform against a real opponent, I can’t draw any conclusions about their efficacy. They didn’t seem to effectively open lanes for Austin Scott, although Austin continues to be a major disappointment. He looks to me like he’s dogging his ass out there. In the case of one run, Jack Ham commented that Austin could have added another eight yards if he had put some more effort into it. Eleven runs for 46 yards against the drecky FIU defense does not portend well for the running game this year. I will say that I saw Scott make some pretty decent blocks out there but I’m not impressed with the running of the formerly overhyped Parkland star. Evan Royster, on the other hand, gave me some hope. If the offensive line improves and Royster’s carries increase, there might be salvation for the running game. If the running game remains weak, Big Ten defenses will not give us any slack.
I didn’t comment on Rodney Kinlaw, because what can I say? I didn’t see much.
On the other hand, Morelli looked comfortable passing the football to his fine array of world-class receivers. Of course, he had all day on several occasions to decide on his options. Yes, a couple of times he threw into multiple coverage, but he got away with it. And yes, he still seems to want to throw the ball behind receivers on occasion, but I think those kinks will be worked out before much of the season transpires. The big question mark is—you know what I’m going to say—whether the offensive line can provide the protection to give Morelli the time he needs. Nothing was proven in this game.
So, Morelli’s poise aside, we leave this game with the same unanswered questions as we had going in. I feel marginally better about Morelli, marginally worse about Austin Scott, and about the same toward the offensive line.
I’ll be back later in the week with some comments and prognostications for the Notre Dame game. We can be sure of one thing with regard to Notre Dame—this won’t be Charlie Weis’ national championship season. However, that doesn’t mean that the Irish are not a formidable opponent. Don’t let a 59–0 rout bend your mind—we don’t know how good or bad we are yet.