This 2014 Penn State football team will wind up winning more games than Penn State’s miserable 2004 team at the tail end of [cue dark cello] The Dark Years; however, prompted by a couple of comments I received after the Indiana fiasco, I began to think seriously about which offense was really worse. In this connection I dug up some moldy old recollections, peppered them with some stats I researched, and came up with I don’t know what. (Je ne sais quoi? That sounds too fruity.)
I originally wrote this post as a comment in response to another comment about my crappy Indiana game recap, but I decided it was worthy of full post status. “Who’s Worse, 2014 or 2004?”, in my opinion, is a legitimate and interesting topic for debate in a year where nothing much very interesting is going on with Penn State football. And so, game on!
I had written to Big Al:
I’ll stipulate to there being no salvation for an entire offense as crappy as Penn State’s. You’re right. I’ve been following Penn State for over 50 years, too, and have never had such a frustrating experience as I have had this year.
K. John responded:
I would disagree. The 03 and 04 offenses were worse than the current unit. Every defense they play is terrified of Hackenberg hence the blitz every down every game strategy they are employing despite the massive risks. No team would deliberately take a safety giving away good field position with Hack out there.
The above sparked the following response, which I’ve removed from the comments and elevated to a post.
I disagree with your disagreement. Some call me disagreeable to a fault. I say, “Whose fault, already?”
Maybe last year what you postulate about defenses being terrified would have been the case, when Christian Hackenberg was throwing well and was in his comfort zone. This year, the running game is soooo putrid, the five traffic cones are soooooo [insert appropriate pejorative here], the running backs soooooo waving the cape at blitzing defenders, Hack is soooooo suffering from something akin to PTSD, and the receivers soooooo can’t get separation from defenders, making man coverage and the blitz sooooooo viable, that it’s a veritable no-brainer for opposing DC’s to blitz on every down.
In 2004, the offense was so bad that we were actually crying for Anthony Morelli to replace Zack Mills, but on the other hand, PSU had an offensive line roster replete with several future NFL players as well as a future NFL fullback in Michael Robinson playing at flanker and quarterbacking a couple of games when Mills was hurt. Tony Hunt, another guy with a brief career in the NFL, was the feature back. I guess St. Joe with his anti-freshman bent screwed that team out of playing talented guys in a couple of areas that we bitched about continually, Mills couldn’t throw the ball very far (yet his completion percentage was better than Hack’s), and Hunt started in only seven games (yet he ran for 777 yards, while Bill Belton has 417 in nine games, and the combined total of BLZ in nine games is 814 — take away Belton’s 92 from Saturday, and Tony Hunt alone outrushed this year’s nine game total in only seven games). Austin Scott added 312 and Mike Robinson gained 172 on the ground. That’s 1261 yards. Do you see this 2014 clown outfit adding over 450 yards in the remaining three games? I sure as hell don’t, especially when you include Hack’s negative yardage due to sacks.
I see this year as pretty similar to 2004, albeit with different twists. Once PSU hit the in-conference portion of the schedule in 2004, it folded its tent, although it had already been whipped by BC. The defense was solid, with a whole bunch of future NFL linebackers and linemen: Poz, Hali, Shaw, Connor, Wake, and a couple of future NFL cornerbacks in Phillips and Zemaitis. (Neither lasted very long because PSU then ruined good cornerbacks by making them play the Sandusky/Bradley soft zone, which don’t get it in da pros). They were able to hold their opponents’ point levels down, but the offense couldn’t favor them with enough points to win games. These were the Penn State points scored in the Big Ten schedule: Wisconsin: 3 (L), Minnesota: 7 (L), Purdue: 13 (L), Iowa: 4 (L-OL), tOSU: 10 (L), NWU: 7 (L), Indiana: 22 (W – :)), and Moo U.: 37 (W-TF). I don’t expect that this year’s team will be putting 37 or even 22 on the board against any of the remaining opponents, and I doubt that they’ll close the season with an unlikely defeat of the Spartans, but who the hell knows? Surprises might be in store, but if they keep playing like they’re playing, this year’s fucking putrid offense is worse.
In 2004, PSU dispatched its non-conference “cupcakes”, as expected, but there were only two: Akron and UCF. (BC was ranked, so I don’t count them in with the cupcakes.) This year, we have four: UCF, Akron, UMass, and Temple.
Your boy Hack, of whom defenses are supposedly terrified, has thrown seven touchdowns versus twelve interceptions this year thus far. Mills threw nine touchdowns and was intercepted twelve times, but that was in twelve games. I would say defenses are licking their chops to get a shot at a Hack interception. How many more will we watch this year? Probably around six more. Yeah, it sucks that bad.
Hack sure as hell doesn’t have good instincts at this point. I blame that not on him but on his traumatization. He could have and should have run that one into the end zone on Saturday instead of throwing a hurried, ugly incompletion. Of course, we all know that hindsight is always 20-20, but look at the recording over and over and try to tell me he couldn’t have run that one in. He is awful at avoiding sacks, and I can’t blame that all on the offensively offensive offensive line. He’s regressing instead of progressing — as I said, probably mostly not his fault.
I could go on… Yeah, what the hell. I will. Special teams were crappy, but in punting, they weren’t bad in 2004. Jeremy Kapinos went on to punt in the pros. He averaged 41.8 in 2004. It was an off year for Robbie Gould, who missed six field goals and an extra point, but he, too, went on to have a storied career with da Bearss, where he still plays on Sundays.
While time might heal all wounds, I submit that it was not nearly as painful to watch those 2004 games as it is this year’s, I guess because we blocked out the suckage a decade ago by concentrating our vitriol on the quarterback controversy and “Joe Must Go”. The quarterback situation might be the crux of the present problems, albeit in a different sense. We’ve got a decent quarterback, but we’re destroying him for the future by not protecting him while playing him in a different system than he bought into. He’s sure as hell wayyyyyyy out of his proverbial comfort zone and he’s more frustrated than a legless Ethiopian watching a donut roll down a hill. There’s certainly no controversy about replacing him, though, as he’s one of the best players on the field — or was. This shit is undeniably getting into his head, which is horrible to watch, and I don’t think anyone besides K. John is completely ruling out the possibility that Hack will become completely fed up with all of this shit and transfer. No, defenses are no longer terrified of him. Instead, they’re taking full advantage of the offensive [in every sense of the word] situation that exists at Penn State.
It’s pretty sad that we’re arguing about which is the worst Penn State team in memory, but I’m saying that 2014 ranks right down there with the worst of the worst.
All viewpoints are welcome, agree or disagree.