Saturday night was a godsend to those of us who had already declared that the 2010 season had gone to hell in a hand basket. The Nittany Lions’ 41-31 win over perennial nemesis Michigan was a big feeling game with few significant implications to the casual observer, but we serious Penn State fans know that it provided substantive relief from the stigma of a lost season with a losing record while providing Evan Royster with the perfect vehicle for eclipsing Curt Warner’s all-time leading rushing record. Thus, high points abounded and there were virtually no negatives. It was a walk in the park, a night at the opera, a roll in the hay — all bound together in one neat little no-defense package.
Our original viewing venue was to have been The Cave, but since this Turkey had contracted a case of CroV (Cafeteria roenbergensis virus), Jackstand volunteered to perform hosting duties at Mike’s Garage. In one of two areas in which men use measurement devices to compare attributes with one another, Jackstand (aka Mike) has a 15 inch advantage over this Turkey. Show me a man who does not exhibit pride in his screen measurement and I’ll show you half a man. I still like my 50-incher, but I digress. Artificially Sweetened had carved a Pumpkin for the occasion and was looking forward to the game. So was I. After being cooped up sick for a few days, I needed to get out, too. Using visualization therapy involving mental vignettes of Penn State football coaching scenarios in important games, I strove for absolute sphincter reliability; adding a quick swig of Pepto-Bismol for good measure, AS and I climbed into the M3GEEZRmobile to descend upon Mike’s Garage.
The Penn State vs. Michigan game meant little to the Big Ten standings. Both teams are out of the championship picture. It meant nothing at all with respect to the SSMNC, as both teams now have three losses. It could have given Michigan a non-losing season guarantee and bowl eligibility, but it didn’t. Yea, verily, nothing much was on the line on Saturday night. Yet at University Park, it was given all the pomp and ceremony of “the” game.
Paternoville was erected on Monday of game week. Alas, this novelty must be getting a bit long in the tooth with the local purveyors of comestibles, inasmuch as by Friday the denizens were complaining of food shortages. A “Rally in the Valley” pep rally featuring members of the team and Joe Paterno was conducted on Friday night. Vendor and exhibit tents popped up along Curtin Road, where fans could enjoy face time and autographs from Penn State heroes of the past such as Jack Ham, Franco Harris, and Jordan Norwood. A student white-out was declared and many non-students seemed to have picked up on the white-out idea.
Given Michigan’s woes in the Rodriguez era, at season’s outset no one had envisioned that this contest would become the high point of the year. Most prognosticators automatically penciled in a “W”. However, as the 2010 campaign wore on, that “W” started looking shaky. With the embarrassment of a Homecoming loss to Illinois fresh in our minds and visions of Denard Robinson running 200+ yards invaded our partisan minds, many flip-flopped that no-brainer “W” into a pretty certain “L”. We PSU faithful began to look toward the Michigan encounter as the last remaining hope for the season. Aided and abetted by the 8 PM kickoff, the conditions were ripe for the carnival atmosphere surrounding Beaver Stadium. This was it. The big game. Do or die. The season was on the line.
It was a classic testosterone generator. By game time, Penn State was a 3.5 point underdog—in its own house. Not only did the gamblers favor Michigan but also normally friendly sports writers and bloggists including this Turkey were out there picking Michigan like a horde of journalistic rats abandoning Penn State’s sinking ship. Players and coaches were not deaf to these rumblings. Chests puffed out and pads were punched. Octogenarian head coach Joe Paterno’s voice hit notes an octave higher than usual. “Nobody beats us in our house!” A collection of fairly talented guys with no superstars and no semblance of leadership could finally band together in this common cause to escape the lethargy and ennui of a mediocre season. Here was a game worth playing. And so, they played.
“We’re doing a good job of making a lot of quarterbacks look pretty good.” —Rich Rodriguez
Everyone had expected a high scoring game, and they got what they wanted. Led by an unintended starter due to the concussion suffered by Rob Bolden in the Minnesota game, red-shirt sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin (17-28, 250, 1 TD) and the Nittany Lions came out ready for action, attacking Michigan’s deservedly much maligned defense from the first play of the game. McGloin’s passing was generally accurate and he spread the ball around, including even the fullback in the mix. Evan Royster was the cornerstone of the running game, with 150 yards on 29 carries. Royster finally broke out of his season slump and broke Curt Warner’s record at the same time. By the time the second half rolled around, Penn State had achieved a 28-10 advantage.
That meant it was time for the coaching Kegels to begin squeezing those butt cheeks. The Lions’ defense, a mediocre bunch, would be relied upon to keep the game out of reach while the offense would play low-risk ball. Michigan won the second half 21-13, but that was not good enough. As everyone figured, Denard Robinson was virtually unstoppable in the open field, rushing for 191 yards on 27 carries. Robinson also had a decent, though not spectacular, night passing (11-23, 190, 1 TD).
In my pre-game comments, I wrote that both defenses were sieves and the keys to the game for Penn State would be playing error free and controlling the football. I’ll be damned if that’s not what happened. The game had no turnovers on either side. Penn State incurred a single penalty, an unnecessary face mask on a touchdown play committed by defender Chaz Powell. Otherwise, there were few mistakes. Penn State controlled the ball for 37:29 minutes to Michigan’s 22:31. It would be hard not to win given those parameters.
Penn State wound up with 28 first downs to Michigan’s 19, they were 10-16 on third down conversions and 2-2 on fourth downs, and they had few troubles scoring once in the red zone. It seemed as if we were watching a “whole nuther team” than we’d been seeing this year to date. The “Joe Must Go” contingent even agreed that the coaching was excellent. We even got one of those déjà vu things going with one of those fourth down conversions in the fourth quarter, which provided the most raucous audience participation moment of the evening at Mike’s Garage.
The clock had wound down to 3:44, and with Penn State stalled at fourth and four on the Michigan 22, the Wolverines called a time out. There was still plenty of time for our foes to score twice to either tie or win the game. In this situation, the reward for risking a field goal still would have been a two score game, albeit two touchdowns, but the downside of missing the 39-yarder would have been huge. With four yards to go, lining up the offense to go for fourth down would similarly risk giving up the ball to the Wolverines with decent field position and lots of time.
I guess Artificially Sweetened (see picture) had determined that the game was well in hand. Or maybe not. Whatever was the case, she was curled up on the couch next to me encased in a blanket and snoring softly. She had been sleeping for most of the fourth quarter.
Penn State came out and lined up for the field goal. What happened next woke me up. I wasn’t sleeping, but I was lulled into semi-catatonia by Sphincter Mode football and just expected another boring place kick. Wait! Collin Wagner has the ball and is running like a coyote with a lit Roman candle up his ass. I guess it woke up our friend zbeard, too, for suddenly, as Wagner approached the first down marker, he bellowed in his Western Pennsylvania yinzer twang at 90 dBA,
“All right!! Wagner!!! WooHoo!”
AS woke up with a start and a pissed off look on her face. I tell you, if looks could kill, this one would have done it. It didn’t last long, so zbeard probably does not even know that his life was close to being snuffed out. After the commotion died down, AS managed to get back to sleep, the need for which eclipsed the need for status updates on the game. It would turn out that she had contracted a milder case of CroV from me and was mustering resources in her pre-virus shedding debilitation.
We watched the end of the game, followed by the end of the Oregon-USC game, after which zbeard decided it was time to leave and once again the commotion woke AS up. “Did we win?” she asked.
We won. It was a good win, a satisfying one. What did it mean? Here are a few thoughts:
- Joe Paterno got one game closer to the “magical” 400 win mark. He now stands at 399. While Paterno himself pooh-poohs the significance of 400 wins, many self-proclaimed experts think that this could be the year he retires if he gets to 400 and gets to play in a bowl game. He is too many wins away from John Gagliardi’s record of 476 to shoot for it, although he could still play another season and surpass Eddie Robinson’s 408, something I think he’s likely to try to do.
- With five wins, one more win, which is almost assured, will give the team its bowl eligibility, although whichever bowl it is won’t be any great shakes. Still, bowl eligibility is a viable goal that many thought would be unreachable after the Illinois debacle.
- Evan Royster has now cemented his position on the Stairs of Fame at the Student Bookstore.
- With McGloin’s workmanlike performance in the Minnesota and Michigan games in the books, a quarterback controversy could be in the works.
- Most significantly for the football purist, it meant that these guys could get together, could open it up in a big game to get on top early, and could play with enthusiasm. McGloin and Royster have a confidence builder as a cornerstone for the rest of the season, to the extent that it involves them
Let’s wake up from the euphoria for just a moment.
Even lowly Indiana has a better defense than Michigan’s. So, get those 1994 offensive juggernaut ideas out of your head, you who flip-flop and sway like a flag in the breeze. Let’s get realistic. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line looked great against Michigan. The running game worked. The passing game worked. Does that mean that all of our season’s woes have ended?
But at least now there’s some hope.
We’ll be back later in the week with a look ahead to the Northwestern game.