WEST LAFAYETTE, IN, October 28 — The Turkey’s attention span just wasn’t broad enough to stay involved in this boring game, but Ol’ Birdbrain forced himself to watch it so that he would have something to say here. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Huh? Oh, yeah. The Score! Penn State (6–3, 4–2 Big Ten) won it 12–0 over Purdue (5–4, 2–3 Big Ten). And the Turkey’s prediction was incorrect—way incorrect! The Turkey was setting his sights low, so he wouldn’t be disappointed.
(To refresh your memory, the prediction was Purdue 27, Penn State 17.)
My prognostication gave Purdue much too much credit for its offense, which prior to this game was #8 in the nation and #1 in the Big Ten. In reality, the Boilermakers haven’t played all that well against good defenses. Last week, squaring off with Wisconsin, they were able to score just three points. This week they got the big goose egg for the first time since 1996. It was also the first shutout pitched by the Nittany Lions since they beat Northwestern in 2002. Inexplicably, I also gave our offense too much credit, thinking that they could surely score 17 against Purdue’s porous defense. They wound up turning in their usual half-assed performance.
Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter threw his typical number of passes, which was unfortunate for him. It was a very windy day—a lousy day for long passing plays. Painter went 21–38 for 199 yards, and was intercepted once in each half, by Dan Connor and Anthony Scirrotto, respectively. His receivers didn’t do him any favors, dropping some of the few catchable balls that weren’t screwed up by the the wind. When they chose to use it, Purdue’s running game was not able to get going, even though they mixed in a few quarterback options, which this Turkey told them would confuddle the Nittany Lion defense. The Boilermakers ran for just 62 yards in this slopfest.
So, kudos to the Penn State defense, who looked solid all day. And kudos to the hawk, which blew havoc over the Purdue game plan.
The Nittany Lion offense continues to be a concern, to put it mildly. The offense once again exhibited the same distressing behavior as it has all season—stalling in the red zone, dropping passes, and throwing wildly. The one bright spot is that the offensive line didn’t play nearly as badly as they did in the Illinois game. (Now, we’re talking about degrees of “bad”—how’s that for mediocrity?) On most of Anthony Morelli’s passing plays, they gave him time to throw. They were just average in support of the run, although Tony Hunt made up that deficit with his individual effort.
Morelli was 14–31 for 182 yards. The wind, of course, made it a bad passing day, but at least three of the incompletions were due to receivers running routes incorrectly (lack of focus) or dropping balls they should have caught. I noticed that Morelli is starting to see the field better—at least he appears to be looking at the field—and he is not locking onto his eventual target until the last second. He is also making better decisions about getting rid of the ball, although he was sacked once from the blind side. That portends well for the future. Morelli had a lapse when conducting the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, trying to force the ball into tight coverage and nearly being intercepted in the process—not once, but twice. Surely, he badly wanted a touchdown, but his vertical options were covered. In situations like this, he needs to learn to take what the defense is willing to give, checking down to a safe option.
The game plan needed to be adjusted for the wind, so the coaching geniuses turned to the running game. Our offensive linemen were fair to middlin’ in support of the run, allowing Tony Hunt to get back on track with a 142 yard day, by far his best performance in the past three games. I thought we were supposed to be seeing some offensive line changes—at least according to Paterno’s comments after last week’s game—but I saw the same damn offensive linemen who started last week back in there this week. Methinks that our coaching geniuses have given up on improving the right side of the line. On the second play from scrimmage, Levi Brown pulled from his left tackle position to block on the right for Hunt’s run to the that side. Is this a case of offensive coaching improvising, adapting, and overcoming?
The game was replete with errors and penalties on both sides. It was not a very exciting game to watch, which seems to be the norm of late. How many times this season has our scoring consisted of one or two field goals in the first half? OK, I’ll tell you—the Nittany Lions have scored six points or fewer in the first half in five games this year. So much for putting away the opponents early. Bor-r-r-r-r-ring. More important than boring the fans, however, is the notion that an offense performing this inefficiently cannot hope to win games against quality opponents. Have we proven that empirically yet? Hell, the Nittany Lion offense does not even perform well against lousy defenses like Illinois and Purdue.
This Turkey could not work up any enthusiasm for writing a glowing synopsis after watching this lackluster game. Defense good. Offense bites. Eventual destination: middle of the Big Ten pack. Mediocrity Central. The Next Level? Waaaaaaaaaay the hell up there! Can’t get there from here—this year, anyhow.
The best thing I can say about the win is that it gets Penn State over the bowl eligibility threshold. The Lions could still play on New Year’s day if they win out. In the worst case, they will play in either the E. Coli Salad Bowl (Spinach Valley, CA) or the Kohler Toilet Bowl (Kohler, WI). However, a more reasonable expectation would be to play in the Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) or the Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando). Let’s see what happens with the final three games. As far as I am concerned, only the Temple game is assured. Wisconsin doesn’t look good, and you never know which Michigan State team will show up on any given Saturday. Thus, it is still too early for serious bowl speculation.
Well, another week, another baseball score. Next week will be an opportunity for the offense to show that it has some moxie against a quality Big Ten opponent, the #17 Wisconsin Badgers (8–1, 5–1 Big Ten). Will the Lion offense be able to act out of character and actually get a touchdown or two in the first half? I’ll be writing more about this match-up later in the week.