At first blush, the scoreboard creates a rose colored image of total domination by Penn State (3-1) in its 34-6 victory over non-conference opponent Eastern Michigan University (2-2). Alas, two crucial injuries suffered during he game will significantly hamper the Lion’s defensive productivity from this time foreword.
OLB Michael Mauti,arguably the soul of the defense, will sit out the rest of the season with a torn ACL, which requires delicate surgery with a lengthy refractory period followed by intensive rehabilitation. Mauti is a guy whose passion was evident throughout the game, not just the first series.
D’Anton Lynn was carried off the field on a spinal stabilizer board, with the worst fear being a neck injury. He was examined and later released from Mt. Nittany Medical Center with what turned out to be a minor injury. However, he will miss at least one game.
Mauti’s loss is a serious blow to the defense. Nate Stupar will have big shoes to step into. The multiplicative intangibles inherent in Mauti’s approach to the game will be lost, which might prove to be even more serious than the loss of Mauti’s excellent position play.
Contrary to everyone’s expectations, the Eagles came out throwing. Having employed the pass a total of six times the previous week against Michigan, it was pretty obvious that this was a run oriented team. Accordingly, Penn State got fooled a bit, as they had undoubtedly prepared for a single dimensional offense. For the first series or so, the PSU defense looked like it had its collective head up its ass. Then, adjustments by Tom Bradley and the boys brought the game back under control so that the offense could play analball. It is a complement that the opposition, no matter how lame, saw the Nittany Lion run defense as so impermeable that they would have to rely on a weapon that has been largely ineffectual through the first few games of the season.
Eastern Michigan wound up 18-31 for 202 yards passing, but only 68 yards on 43 carries on the ground. For its attempt at a pseudo-balanced attack, EMU dominated time of possession by over nine minutes. That kept the PSU defense on the field a long time, and that’s when injuries happen.
Meanwhile, on the Lions’ offensive side, the quarterback battle of the day was won by Matt McGloin, who went 14-17 for 220 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions. Rob Bolden was not as effective, at 7-13 for 115 yards with a touchdown and an INT. Does this mean that the quarterback controversy/competition is over? Ask Joe Paterno. This Turkey has no doubt that this will be the second most asked about topic (after the Mauti injury) at today’s press conference. McGloin appears to be the clear leader at this point, and he appears to be more comfortable in the pocket, but who knows what goes through Joe’s head. He might have made an under the table promise to Bolden and his dad that Rob would play in every game this year, for all I know. Could this quarterbacking morass go on all season? Yes, but it isn’t going to be pretty, given that the Lions now enter the “meat” of the schedule after having consumed the cream puffs and having been Alabama’s bitch.
The Penn State running game was relatively quiet, amassing only 102 yards all day. Most of the run duties were split up among Silas Redd (48 yards), Curtis “I Outta Joe Doghouse” Dukes (29 yards), and Bellefonte’s own Derek Day (18 yards). EMU’s head coach Ron English, no stranger to Penn State, apparently had decided to make the the Nits pass, so they kicked his teams ass that way, instead of running it down his throat. (Lots of body metaphors here. I must think I’m a sports writer or something.) Of course, by giving the Eagles credit for shutting down the PSU running game, I have sidestepped the obvious issue of a defective offensive line, which sill plague the Lions for the rest of the season.
Another questionable area for the Nittany Lions that might have been solidified in this game is the much maligned (for good reason) kicking game. Anthony “I Sober Now” Fera seems to have become the first stringer for punts, kickoffs, and place kicks, after the failure of Evan Lewis and Sam Ficken to impress anybody. Fera was 1-1 place kicking, as was Ficken, who was called to action late in the game. Fera averaged 51.7 yards punting.
It was good to see head coach Joe Paterno on the sidelines again, albeit for just the first half. After that, he repaired back to the press booth, sitting with Galen, Jay, and Dick.
How did this here Turkey do with his prediction? Well, pretty pretty pretty damn good, if you ask me. In fact, had Ficken missed that field goal attempt, as I had anticipated, I would have been right on the money. Consider it a bonus that he did, because it didn’t affect the end result from a gambler’s perspective. Penn State still didn’t cover the spread, and the over/under was under by four. My score prediction was a little off (I said 30-6 as opposed to the final of 34-6), but I’m still impressed with myself. I’m not implying prescience, just a well greased ass to pull these things out of.
So, the first Lithophallus Bowl is in the books now, leading to speculation about what a trophy for a series of these would look like if the same committee that designed the Land Grant Trophy were to be involved. I could see it now: a big shelf for the brick dick and a Nittany Lion sculpture replica preparing to pounce on the phallic building to twist it off at its root and eat it like a hot doggie treat.
To be serious for a moment, there’s every reason to be concerned about the rest of the season. We enter the Big Ten season with a questionable offensive line, no idea who is leading the team on offense, and a banged up defense. The kicking/return game is still somewhat questionable. If this team is unlucky and unmotivated, it could lose five games from here to December. I wouldn’t worry about this Saturday’s game, though. The Hoosiers (1-3) are up to their usual suckage, having been beaten last weekend by North Texas 24-21. But I’ll leave the rest of that forecast for another post later in the week.