We tried. I don’t think there was a single sports writer or bloggist on the Penn State beat who didn’t at one time or another exhort Paterno to shitcan the expected game plan and do what Appalachian State and Oregon did offensively in their winning efforts over Michigan. Alas, Joe did not listen. From the opening series of this losing performance, it was clear that it would be the same old, conservative game plan.
In case you had your head in the sand today, the final score was 14-9, as #10 Penn State was unable to put the ball in the end zone. Michigan had one legitimate touchdown and one handed to them by Morelli, when he failed to protect the ball in the pocket deep in his own territory. Furthermore, after playing the typically lugubrious offensive game we have come to expect in the first halves of this year’s games thus far, Penn State’s offense woke up and impressively conducted a third quarter march down the field—which also ended in a lost fumble, this time courtesy of our mediocre starting running back, Austin Scott. Those two mistakes, along with Morelli’s generally inaccurate throwing, lost the game for the Nittany Lions.
We wanted to know how we stacked up against quality opposition, inasmuch as the first three games, all won by Penn State, were against the sob sisters of the Division Formerly Known as I-A. We found out. We suck against quality opposition.
This time, we cannot blame biased officiating. From this Turkey’s perspective, the calls were fair and the officials did a good job overall. There were close ones, but as many favored us as favored the Wolverines. (I’m sure some writers will bitch about something, like whether Hart was really in the end zone or not on Michigan’s fourth quarter touchdown or whether the pass interference call in the end zone was improper, but this Turkey doesn’t play that loser’s game. So grow up and realize that it’s not the officiating that is beating Penn State—we can do a good job of screwing up a game all by ourselves!)
We also knew in advance exactly what Michigan’s game plan would be, yet we couldn’t stop Mike Hart from gaining 153 yards. Our vaunted rushing defense was predictably burned. The secondary was not spared, as freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett went 16-29 for 170 yards. Michigan dominated time of possession and had 25 first downs to Penn State’s 14.
So, Michigan is back, our defense isn’t as great as we keep crowing, and we can’t get off the conservative game plan. I guess there’s no hope for that, as long as Paterno is around. However, this is the fourth game of the season and Morelli and Scott are seniors. Why the hell are they out there making rookie mistakes?
Our offense basically sucks. We have an immobile quarterback whose head is not in the game, who can’t hit receivers, and who shoots himself in the foot by not taking care of the ball. We have a primary running back who fumbles the ball in key situations. Hey, Austin Scott—stop feeling sorry for your ass and look across the field! There’s a guy there wearing #20 who hasn’t fumbled in over 900 carries. What the hell is your excuse?
So, yeah, how many of you out there were praying for the defense to score some points because the offense couldn’t? Come on. Admit it, damn it! Man, do I ever hate it when it has to come to that!
I think that the Nittany Lions could have won this game if they had taken care of the ball. That’s a simple thing to ask. It’s drummed into their heads at every practice. And in the case of the two fumbles lost in this game, they weren’t exactly forced out. These were strictly the result of careless ball handling, sloppy play, and having head up the ass instead of in the game.
And Quarless, being a sophomore, is somewhat forgivable for not making the play in the fourth quarter that would have kept a promising drive alive, but just barely. As ABC/ESPN’s intrepid Paul McGuire said, Quarless has to make that play, not just stand there waiting for the ball to hit him in the belly.
So it came down to who had the fire, who wanted it more, and who took care of the basics. That was clearly the Wolverines on all counts.
The Nittany Lions are a middle of the pack Big Ten team with a decent defense and some reasonably good special teams play. There is spotty talent on offense, which is offset by conservative coaching and unforced errors. In particular, a talented receiving corps lies fallow because Morelli, who seemed so promising when he was recruited, still throws anywhere but on-target. And, at the risk of being accused of beating on Austin Scott, need I say anything more about him? The offensive line sucks; without it, there is no consistency in the offensive effort. So, no, sorry. This is not an elite team by any stretch of the imagination. With all due respect to those who proclaimed it invincible after the first three games, your heads weren’t screwed on right. It was a quick and undeserved trip to the top 10; it will be a long time before this team sees anything close to #10 again this season.
Let my PSU negativism not detract from the performance by the Victors. They were nearly perfect, and their freshman quarterback, Ryan Mallett, not only played coolly and effectively in a big game but also seemed to be having great fun out there. His play made me jealous. Michigan has two talented quarterbacks, and we’re stuck with Morelli. Well, we’re stuck with Joe playing Morelli. We actually do have two other promising quarterbacks. But past behavior strongly suggests that Paterno will not sit Morelli for anything short of an injury. He’s a senior and it is his turn. Nevertheless, his bad play made Mallett look like Tom Brady, and I’m sick and tired of this crap, but I digress. Mike Hart had a perfect game, too, wearing down a pretty good defense. Austin Scott should learn from his example. Perhaps it will do him well in the insurance business or whatever his non-football career will be when he leaves Happy Valley.
Next week, we’ll have our hands full with Juice Williams and an up-and-coming Illinois team (formerly and possibly still known as the Fighting Illini) that desperately wants to kick the Lions’ ass on their home turf. If Penn State keeps playing like we saw them play today, if our guys come out with no fire or desire, if they can’t generate any offense in the first half, and if they can’t hang onto the ball, they’ll likely lose this one. I’ll be back later in the week with some irreverent comments about the game and our chances in it.
Your take here is pretty good, but I think you’re a little hard on the offensive players. Not that they don’t deserve any blame, but when you look at the 8-year pattern of completely inept players, (I’m excepting the one-man-show offenses of 02 and 05) you’ve got to shift the blame to the offensive coaching staff.
Who is responsible for teaching how to protect the ball, the most basic skill on offense? Who is responsible for calling run up middle, run up middle, short/incomplete pass, punt? Who is responsible for calling low percentage pass plays on 3rd and 1? Who is responsible for teaching the QB how to see the whole field and find the open man? Who is responsible for designing patterns to get guys open against a terrible secondary? It breaks my heart to see these kids with great potential come in and have any chance at an NFL career ruined by this staff ala Mills, Scott, Morelli, D-Will. Bell, Devlin, and Royster are next in line in that pattern of crap. Bottom line is it doesn’t matter which players we put out there as long as this inept staff is responsible for coaching them up.
The Nittany Turkey says
Good points regarding coaching, Corey. There certainly is enough coaching ineptitude on display weekly. I do not dispute that.
However, in yesterday’s game our senior leaders, Morelli and Scott, played like Pop Warner kids. Some of this relates to coaching, yes, but I am not buying the notion that our coaching is so bad that it is in itself responsible for players carrying the ball carelessly in crucial situations. This particular skill should have been learned in high school. While one can always argue that everything relates to coaching, mental errors are at least partially the players’ responsibility.
By no means do I exonerate the coaches. They’re certainly culpable. Our game plan was predictable, and it sucked. How many Big Ten road games have we won in the past five years? How many times have we employed this same, conservative game plan?
The Nittany Turkey says
(Oh, and I’ll agree with you about coaching to this extent, too: that after his two lost fumbles last week, Austin Scott should not have started this week, and should have been #3 on the depth chart behind Royster.)
I think we basically agree and there is certainly enough blame to go around. In a similar vein to you last comment I’ll say this: If Morelli just doesn’t have enough between the ears to make accurate reads and throws and provide leadership then its time to get the next guy in there. As your original post mentions that just isn’t the Paterno way.
Its hard to take because I think JoePa is the greatest coach in college football history and should be allowed to leave on his own terms. But not if that means stubbornly refusing to adapt to the point where the program ends up in a worse state than it was when he took over. Not that we’re close to that yet but if we get another five years of offense like this, who knows?
The Nittany Turkey says
The one good signal that I picked up from last Tuesday’s press conference was that Joe doesn’t intend to be coaching 10 years from now. Of course, he’s given false indications of his eventual intent to retire in the past.
I agree that we have something very unique and to be treasured in Paterno, but the absence of a cohesive offense—one that is not carried on the shoulders of LJ or M-Rob—is directly attributable to his stubbornness.
Nevertheless, this whole issue is moot. I’m firmly convinced that Joe will retire on his own terms or die in his boots, as I believe it should be. The administration made a single feeble attempt to force the issue, and won’t soon be making that mistake again.
You are right on a/b the play calling. Very weak.
This team is very average offensively. This is an O line issue. Michigan was in Morrelli’s face most of the day. There is not much he could do dealing with a maize and blue malotchy crunch every other down. Corey makes a good point thougn a/b the mental ablilty of our QB. I know he can make all the throws, but I am not sure he gets it yet. As a senior, that is pretty Lame!
A. Scott. 1.He is painfully slow to hit the hole, (assuming there is one). 2. The fumble thing is brutal. I never screamed ” HOLD ON TO THAT FUCKING BALL” as often as I did in this last contest. He almost fumbled 2 other times. He is lucky that he did’nt put it on the grass more.
And I think that PI call was bullshit. Is it just me or did Seargent look like he was playing the ball?
In any event, we know now that our team is a notch above pedestrian.
The Nittany Turkey says
One notch above pedestrian = Outback Bowl