UNIVERSITY PARK, September 10 — In a game about Chico Harlan of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, “Here begins another week, leading to another contest in which oddsmakers favor Penn State by about three touchdowns, another matchup about as intriguing as an auditing manual…” the Nittany Lions defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 42-24 before a home crowd of 98,727, once again not quite covering the spread. This is the first time that the Lions have won their first two games since the Larry Johnson year of 2002.
We saw a much better performance by the offensive line than in the previous week’s contest. Even though Cincinnati, with its load of freshmen, was not a major test, the personnel changes made after the disappointing performance in week one seem to have made a positive difference.
Nevertheless, the first half was a total bore. At the end of the half, with a 14-3 score, I had visions of last week floating through my head—another lackluster game that should have been a blowout. Michael Robinson had thrown an interception and the offense was sputtering. Recalling blue cat’s comment about last week’s column, “If we can’t beat a team full of freshmen in Cincinnati by 26, we’re in for a long season…” I disgustedly went to the kitchen to make a halftime meal for my guests.
The third quarter began with more of the same. Michael Robinson once again fumbled away the ball. More groaning from the Turkey’s family room viewing position.
However, then, everything changed. Paterno, the master of halftime adjustments, found some of his old spark. The game plan changed. Instead of the short, safe pass mixed with the running game, JoePa discovered his fleet, freshmen wide receivers, Derrick Williams, Justin King, and Deon Butler. The first evidence that the long ball would be used came at 9:58 of the third quarter, when Robinson threw a perfect rainbow to King, a 59-yard touchdown pass. On the next offensive series, Robinson hit Williams for a 42-yard completion. This Turkey was shocked! The long ball! Whoda thunk it? At 10:01 of the fourth, Long-Ball Mike struck again, this time with a 45-yard TD pass to Butler. Robinson wound up 11-17 for 220 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT—a solid performance, for a change.
This, I hope, gives us something to look forward to. I say “I hope,” because I have a sneaking suspicion that Paterno could get tight-assed when the Big Ten season rolls around. However, at least we have something to keep us interested in next week’s game. If we see more of this duriing the pre-Big Ten schedule, it might even sink in to old Joe that the long ball threat can spread out some Big Ten defenses.
Speaking of Big Ten defenses, it was unfortunate that Tom Bradley pulled our first string with about five minutes left in the game. After Cincinnati scored once on the scrubs and threatened to do so again after recovering an onside kick, Bradley sent the starters back in. However, they were disarrayed and they indeed allowed another touchdown. This broke their string of 12 straight games in which they allowed 21 or fewer points.
We finally got what we fans have been longing for at 7:25 of the final period, when Anthony Morelli replaced Robinson at quarterback. When Morelli handed off to Tony Hunt on first down, I thought that the game plan would be to stick to the ground. I wanted to see Morelli, and Joe was going to turn to his usual conservatism while sitting on a lead. Fortunately, I was wrong. Morelli threw several short passes in the ensuing drive and was able to cap it off by running it in for a TD. Joe’s post-game comments indicated that Morelli had earned himself more playing time. He finished 4-5 passing for 25 yards.
There needs to be improvement in several areas before the final tune-up against the Central Michigan Chippewas on Saturday. First and foremost, the turnovers must cease, particularly from Robinson. One interception and one fumble by the starting quarterback is completely unacceptable. If this continues, Morelli needs to get a lot more playing time. The third turnover, a fumble by Justin King, was not unexpected from a freshman. He’ll improve from week to week. Robinson, on the other hand, has had enough time to learn how to protect the ball.
The Chippewas (1-1) are coming off a spirited 38-37 victory over Miami of Ohio. Their opening loss to lowly Indiana portends well for the 2-0 Nittany Lions. The two teams face off at Beaver Stadium at 3:30 on Saturday, September 17.
In other Penn State news (or lack of same), what’s happening with Dan Connor? Mum’s the word out of the PSU Athletic Department about the length of his suspension, which is still described as “indefinite.” Does anybody have any more information?