In their final pre-season tune-up, the Nittany Lions (2–1) failed to prove that they are ready for Ohio State and the Big Ten season, as they played slop-ball once again, fortunately this time against an inferior opponent, the Division I-AA Youngstown State Penguins (2–1). The scoreboard is misleading, as are the stats. Yes, it was lopsided, but what this game demonstrated is that the Lions aren’t yet ready for prime time.
The running game finally got on track, racking up 389 yards on the ground, but the rush defense they faced was only slightly more effective than the McCabe sisters. It was the passing game that totally sucked this time around. Morelli looked like he was just stepping on the field for the first time, locking in on receivers and firing bullets in situations that called for touch passes. He still doesn’t seem to be able to see the entire field and make appropriate decisions. He scratches his ass and throws to the same guy he’s been staring down the whole time since taking the snap, zinging it in there at supersonic speeds. Now, this might work against Division I-AA defensive secondaries, but if he does this in the Ohio State game, he’ll be intercepted five times.
It was clear to anyone watching the game on ESPNU (that’s channel 3729-4 on your cable box, if your cable company hasn’t shut it down due to a dispute with ESPN) that Joseph Vincent Paterno had some strong words for Morelli at the end of the first half. I would have liked to have been a fly on the back of McQueary’s shirt listening to that conversation!
Earlier in the season, after the Akron game, I said that Morelli was sharp. In this game, he was anything but.
So, Morelli the field general was busted back to second lieutenant by the mighty Penguins. His stats: 11–27 for 154 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. The ‘Guins are partly responsible in that they occasionally put some pressure on Morelli, but our boy Morelli bears most of the burden for this failure on his shoulders. And Paterno almost separated Morelli’s well ventilated head from those shoulders toward the end of the first half. I really want to know what Joe said.
How many times can I say, “We suck!” during the course of a game? It certainly came out several times in the first half, as Penn State was shut out in the first quarter and blew more chances in the second. The Lions figured out new and exciting ways to screw up. Kind of like an old, corroded pipe—when they fixed one area, the pipe started leaking elsewhere. They finally put a band-aid on the long snapper/holder problem, but now Kevin Kelly has started missing field goals. Maybe he wasn’t used to Kevin Suhey’s holds or the snap timing had changed uncomfortably. Paterno said that Kelly was hooking them in practice, so maybe he overcompensated on the field. Whatever the problem was, he missed three makeable field goals. One of them didn’t get up high enough to have reached the cross-bar, even if it was on-line. So, we went from fumbling handleable snaps to missing makeable field goals. (Is handleable a word? Is makeable a word? I’ll have to ask Sue Paterno.)
Of course, the reason Kelly was called upon to kick six field goals was that the offense was grossly ineffectual in the red zone—against the Penguins. The Lions couldn’t steadily move the ball in the first half. No sustained drives. Against the Penguins, they had to rely on the big play.
I mo tell you something, so lissen up! This Turkey sees disaster looming in Columbus in one short week if these guys don’t shape up. You didn’t need to hear it from me, but I said it anyway. I got so frickin’ Pollyanna optimistic after the Akron game that I stuck my head up my ass, predicting a win over Notre Dame. Well, I’ve learned my lesson. This team has a long way to go before they’re competitive at the Ohio State and Michigan level. At their present level of play, I’d say that the Lions could only beat a couple of Big Ten teams, namely Illinois and Indiana, and the Hoosiers would probably give them all they could handle.
There were a couple of bright spots. Tony Hunt finally had a good game, running for 143 yards on 18 carries. Rodney Kinlaw also looked solid on both plays from scrimmage and kick returns. But I repeat—this was Youngstown State’s defensive front seven, not Ohio State’s. Hell, if Akron could shut down the rushing attack, Ohio State might just be able to put the clamps on it. Our offensive line continues to improve, but they’re not yet up to speed to handle Big Ten defenses. Hell, they can barely handle Zips and Penguins.
A. J. Wallace deserves mention here. The promising freshman played both offense and defense in this game, breaking a reverse play for 76 yards on offense and showing some good coverage as a cornerback.
That’s good, because our secondary definitely needs help. Youngstown State mounted a couple of impressive drives against our vaunted defense.
Daryll Clark, backup quarterback, looked good out there, arriving in the mid fourth quarter. He scampered into the end zone with less than two minutes on the clock. After the game, a reporter asked Paterno whether he thought he was watching Michael Robinson’s first step again. “Not quite yet,” replied Joe.
Not content to leave it at that, the reporter pressed, “But it could be?”
“Yeah, it could be,” said Paterno. “And I could be God.”
I guess I’ll say what we’re all beginning to realize. This team has a pile of deficiencies that even “God” cannot cure overnight. I just don’t see them being ready for Ohio State by Saturday. More on that game at mid-week.
All in all, I’m glad that Youngstown State had room in the bus for its mascots. Mr. and Mrs. Penguin were entertaining in their brief TV appearances—much more so than the game itself.
Meanwhile, #11 Michigan (3-0) put the big hurt on #2 Notre Dame (2-1), showing us just what a real team can do in South Bend against the overrated Irish. It turned out that Notre Dame had no real opposition in its two prior games. Obviously, the Irish defense isn’t as improved as we thought, and Brady Quinn is not the Saviour incarnate. The Wolverine defense made him look like a hen guarding the foxhouse. [Hey, it’s a Turkeyism. Go figure it out, because I sure as hell can’t! —TNT] We get to play Michigan on October 14, and folks, that one doesn’t look good.
We better shape up.