UNIVERSITY PARK, PA, October 21 — It looked like a damn high school game in bustling Beaver Stadium, as a capacity Homecoming crowd watched its first team play like freshmen against a bunch of freshmen. The final score was Penn State 26, Illinois 12, but it was a lot closer than that. Read on for a synopsis of this rather unspectacular—and undeserving—win laced with vitriolic comments from your Thanksgiving bird.
I meant what I said about the undeserving win. The score is deceptive. We had no offense—period—and our vaunted defense had their thumbs up their asses for half of the game, repeatedly being burned by outside runs off the option. However, in the final analysis, defense and special teams were the redeemers of this thoroughly disgusting game. Looking at who scored the points, it went down this way: Special teams: 12, Defense: 8, and Offense: 6. And the offense’s six were set up by the defense giving them a short field. Sustained drives are just not in the playbook this year.
Oh, boy, was this Turkey wrong about how this game would play out. I guess I neglected to consider that the boys have no heart. As Paterno said to sideline reporter “Jimmy” after the game, responding to a stupid-ass question about a “hangover” after the Michigan loss, “If you get a hangover after taking a lickin’ from a good team, you’re not much of a football team.”
I had thought that Penn State would jump out to an early lead, kicking some serious ass and forcing Illinois to abandon the option in order to throw the ball downfield. So, what actually happened? Our first drive stalled (as usual) and we kicked a field goal. Thus, we drew first blood, because our special teams were actually somewhat functional today, allowing Kelly to kick the 49-yarder, his personal best. (True to form, he later missed a 44-yard try, wide left.)
It became a battle of field position for the balance of the first half, with our defense standing around watching true freshman “Juice” Williams run his youthful offense. Posluszny and Conner seemed to be a step slow and our secondary generally stinks defending the run. The one exception was a touchdown-saving tackle by Justin King as he chased down sophomore Rashard Mendenhall, who had broken through missed tackles by Connor and Scirrotto for a 79-yard run at the beginning of the second quarter. By that time, the Illini had already kicked one field goal, making the score 3–3. Our defense then woke up, doing a fine imitation of the old BBDB, holding Illinois to yet another field goal. A Morelli interception led to one final field goal in the first half, after which Illinois led 9–3.
If you are thinking that the boo birds should have come out by then, you’re right. They actually started making their dissonant commentary early in the first quarter, reaching a crescendo as the Nittany Pussies slinked into the locker room at halftime. Asked for a comment at that point, sourpuss Joe Paterno told the sideline commentator, “Jimmy”, “We’re playin’ lousy, that’s what!”
How sad is it that Penn State could only manage to score three points in 30 minutes of football against a team that had just lost to Ohio U the previous week and against which Penn State had scored 56 points on Illinois’ home turf in the first half last year? Pretty unthinkable. Have I convinced you yet that our offense sucks? You probably don’t need much convincing at this point in the season. We’ve sure as hell seen enough of these crappy first half performances.
How in the hell could I have predicted that the Nittany Lions would score 38 points in this game? Not only haven’t we scored that many points yet this season, but the closest we’ve gotten to it was 37 against Division I-AA Youngstown State. I had my head straight up my ass when I made that prediction!
Morelli still cannot see the field and he cannot make big plays. Perhaps he can be excused for some of that because he has an offensive line that he cannot trust to keep him protected. Especially after being knocked out of a game a week ago with a concussion, he’s got to feel a little queasy playing behind that bunch of buffoons, particularly those on the right side. I keep hearing from Morelli apologists who tell me that he needs more starts before he will become effective and he has huge upside potential. I’m a skeptic. A big arm needs a big brain to go with it.
The offensive line buffoons did as little for the running game as they did for the passing game. I’ll call out names: Robert Price, John Shaw, and Rich Ohrnberger. And A. Q. Shipley at center is not much help. Our tight ends don’t seem to want to block, either. In fact, it appeared to this Turkey as if LT Levi Brown was the only offensive lineman who could hold his blocks at all.
Tony Hunt couldn’t get going at all. Not only was the offensive line behaving truly offensively, but also our wide receivers are not very good at run blocking. McQueary must have forgotten to teach that particular class. And “Catching the Ball 101” must have been an eight o’clock.
On the other side of the ball, our defenders seemed to find it hard to get off of blocks and into the fray as they were beaten repeatedly by the option. However, they were able to redeem themselves by stiffening when they needed to. In the second half, they played well. Posluszny wound up with 13 tackles and a fumble-forcing strip that resulted in a touchdown; Connor tackled Juice Williams for a safety that sealed the deal for the Lions.
Back to the game that was almost as much of a miracle win as Moo U. pulled off against Northwestern, the lads screwed it up so badly that it required a come-from-behind effort in the second half. We’re fortunate that Illinois’ inexperienced freshman punter is not very good. The Nittany Lions were able to get the ball with decent field position and somehow managed to drive from the 35 down to the 3, where Morelli threw a soft touchdown pass to senior tight end Kevin Darling for the offense’s only score with 7:33 left in the period.
On the ensuing kickoff, Illinois was backed up to its own three yard-line because of a clipping penalty on what would have been a great, 29-yard return by Derrick McPhearson. Three plays later, Poz sacked the Juice, knocking the ball loose for Tony Davis, who ran it in. After the extra point, it was suddenly Penn State 17, Illinois 9.
After trading punts, Illinois started a drive, using the technique that is not supposed to work against the Penn State defense: running the ball. By the end of the third quarter, Mendenhall had run for 155 yards. Fortunately, once again, the PSU defense stiffened, holding Illinois to a field goal with 14:35 left in the final period. The Fighting Illini would not score again.
We then reverted to form, with a boring battle of field position taking us all the way down to about the three minute mark. Neither I nor the ESPN announcers (Pam Ward and Mike Gottfried, whom I’ve already said enough about elsewhere) could understand why our coaches called two pass plays for incompletions, stopping the clock, when they should have been trying to run the clock out. This created a very dangerous situation, as at that point, Illinois was within five points and a touchdown as the clock ran out would win the game for them. Fortunately, it was not to be. But one has to wonder why the ball didn’t stay on the ground and just who the hell’s bright idea it was to stop the clock.
The rest isn’t very exciting. Illinois managed to move themselves so far backward that Williams got sacked in the end zone for a safety. They tried an onside free kick, which was fielded on the fly by Anthony Scirotto, who ran it into the end zone for the final PSU score.
This embarrassed Turkey had predicted that Tony Hunt would run for 200 yards and Kinlaw would get another 70. How stupid could I be? Hunt wound up with 19 carries for 52 yards. Kinlaw had no carries. What’s worse, Morelli subtracted 19 yards from our rushing totals being sacked by the spunky Illinois defenders, who were given engraved invitations to invade the pocket by our underpowered offensive line. In a game where I thought for sure we would roll up 300 yards or more rushing, we wound up with 40. What’s worse, Illinois had 207 yards on the ground. Rashard Mendenhall, just a sophomore, burned us all day, rushing for 161 yards on 14 carries, an average of 11.5 yards per carry. What is wrong with our defense? Were they, too, mailing it in? It seemed so, at least in the first half. Fortunately, they recovered from their hangover when they needed to, keeping Illinois out of the end zone.
Scirrotto had two interceptions and that all-important onside kick recovery. He could have had a third interception if a bullet thrown by the Juiceroo hadn’t bounced off his chest. So, player of the game honors go to Anthony Scirrotto.
Illinois has a developing young team that came close to beating us. Fortunately, they made enough mistakes for us to win. I guess our guys thought it would be a walk in the park, so they didn’t bother showing up. But, hell, the offense hasn’t shown up all season.
A win is a win, or so they say. Paterno didn’t think so. His post-game comments were unflattering. â€œWe didnâ€™t win this game, Illinois lost it. The defense kept us in there until Illinois gave us a couple of easy ones,â€ grumbled Paterno. â€œWe were lousy. Can I get that across? L-o-u-s-y.â€
Yes, Joe. Lousy. We get the point. We saw the game, too.
Penn State (5–3, 3–2 Big Ten) still has a chance at a New Year’s Day bowl game if we win out. Alas, that doesn’t appear likely. How will we be able to score enough points to beat Purdue? Surely, Wisconsin is good enough to beat us soundly. Those next two games are on the road, and you know how our guys do on the road. The Minnesota game was a gift. Also, a victory against Michigan State is by no means assured—they scored the greatest comeback in NCAA Division I-A history today when they erased a 38–3 third quarter deficit to top Northwestern on their home turf, 41–38. Our guys are notable for not keeping their heads in the game for the duration, and a lapse against Moo U. could cost us that game. About the only sure thing we have at this point is Temple. I’m getting ahead of myself, but losing two out of the three remaining Big Ten games is not out of the question, which could land Penn State a berth at the Champ’s Sports Bowl here in my home town. I might even buy a ticket.
I’ll be back with a look ahead toward the Purdue game later in the week. In the meanwhile, savor today’s victory as best you can.