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.