Some would say that it’s already a lost season—that not only were our three losses ugly, but also three or four of our wins were also ugly. After the Ohio State loss, the boo birds will once again start chirping their negative tune, repeating their time-honored mantra:
- Joe must go
- Jay must go
- Morelli must go
- The 1949 Brown playbook must go
- Et cetera, etc., etc. ad nauseam
Oh, yeah, I’m cheating. I’ve already peeked into quite a few blogs and message boards and, yes, they’re out there in great flocks.
At the beginning of this year’s campaign, this Turkey foresaw a 10-2 season, with losses being to Michigan and Wisconsin. Ohio State wasn’t supposed to have a worthy team, at least so I thought back then. Illinois, the upstarts, fell into the “better luck next year” category. But here we are at three losses with three remaining games. It would seem as if the Purdue and Michigan State games are now somewhat in doubt.
The alarming thing is that it is our defense that has let us down the most. The offense was the major concern at the outset, but in the past few weeks they have shown major improvement (except, perhaps, the quality of coaching). Now, the defense looks shabby. Sure, there have been injuries, so you can make a few excuses for the front four, but what about the secondary? Justin King’s decline is inexplicable. He just gets worse from week to week. At the other corner, Lydell Sargeant took over for Tony Davis, who moved to safety this year. Both King and Sargeant were torched big time in the OSU game. Davis didn’t play. He was a late scratch due to an appendectomy; Mark Rubin, a converted wide receiver, stepped in and did a fair job, for a replacement. Scirrotto is still there, but he is not the Big Ten interception leader, as he was last year.
I have long wondered why the Penn State pass defense is so loose. I call it the Sandusky soft zone, but whatever it is called, it gives receivers a very big cushion. Do the Nittany Lions play this way because they fear receivers getting free behind the secondary? If they play that game, they’ve got to pressure the quarterback so that he has to get the ball out there quickly. Otherwise, as we saw in the Ohio State game, the opponents can move down the field without much resistance. The Nittany Lion cornerbacks never jam receivers. Please tell me how this defensive philosophy of a soft zone and an ineffectual pass rush is supposed to win games.
So, the Joe-haters will be out in great numbers, calling for his head. This is natural. You can’t fire all the players, so fire the coach. I know, I know…the sphincter mode has to go. Someone wrote that if the defense cannot do its job, this offense sure as hell won’t be able to put enough points on the scoreboard to win games. You almost saw that happen in the Indiana game. We had so much egg on our collective fanatical faces after that game that some of us can’t walk into our neighorhood bar without being laughed at.
Tuesday’s press conference was predictable. Paterno spoke about how great Ohio State was and is, and he credited the Nittany Lions with a game effort. “We’re alright,” he said. “It’s a good team. Not a great team yet…” He dodged most of the questions, but he did address the Morelli issue unequivocally, stating that Clark wouldn’t be getting substantial playing time for the remainder of the season because it wouldn’t be fair to Morelli. He also addressed the defensive failure, but added that three starters didn’t play (Odrick, Hayes, and Davis).
Indeed, if your expectations are for a middle of the pack result every year, we’re OK. We can’t win the big games on the road; as well, the not-so-big games on the road, such as Illinois and Indiana, are dicey. In the past 10 years, we’ve taken the big slide from being a premier program to languishing as an also-ran. And I have to agree with Joe’s detractors that as long as Paterno hangs around the plebianism will continue and the downward spiral will become a self-perpetuating nightmare exacerbated by the inevitable recruiting woes the team’s perpetual non-performance will inspire.
I had to spew that. We were taken apart by Ohio State. This is a characterless, leaderless team. I expect heads to be hanging this week and I would not be surprised at all if the Nittany Lions were to lose at home to Purdue. There is no fire. If the OSU game couldn’t bring it out in them, nothing will. God, what a mess! I’m not one who believes that Penn State has to compete for the still somewhat mythical national title or even the conference championship each year. I just want a decent effort on the field by motivated players. I’m not seeing that consistently this year. They come out flat and lifeless.
So, what are the Nittany Lions playing for at this point? Pride? Do they have any? Three games to go, two being conference games, and those will determine whether the post-season appearance will be in Florida, Texas, or the mythical Toilet Bowl in Kohler Wisconsin on Christmas Day, which is fully the equivalent of a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. Here’s something that should not be news at this point: Purdue and Moo U. aren’t going to be easy wins.
Purdue (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) comes to face a mediocre Penn State (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) in Beaver Stadium Saturday at high noon. The Boilermakers’ high-powered offense will give our much maligned secondary (appropriately) some fits. The betting line on the game favors Penn State by 7 points. The over/under is 51.5. This suggests a Penn State victory by a score like 29-22. Do you think PSU can hold them to 22?
Purdue is a lot like our own team in that they haven’t won any big games. They lost to both Michigan on the road and Ohio State at home. In other words, they’re solid, middle of the packers, just like Penn State. Purdue’s offense is oriented toward the pass, and that will represent yet another test for the secondary. I hope they show up.
Furthermore, I hope the pass rush returns. Maurice Evans was just beginning to show promise when Ohio State effectively neutralize him. Curtis Painter, another of Joe Tiller’s fine quarterbacks in the tradition of Drew Brees and Kyle Orton, needs to feel the heat if Penn State is to have a chance to win here. Dorien Bryant, his favorite target, is tied for third place in all-time Big Ten receptions.
The foregoing minuscule analysis brings us to the low point of this column: The Nittany Turkey’s Official Turkey Poop Prediction. First, let me say that we’ll have a sleepy, hung over home crowd who will be in show-me mode at the outset. Second, it is entirely possible that the Lions will be defocused, looking ahead to the following week’s big intrastate showdown with the Temple Owls. Finally, I can’t pick against Penn State because I did that last week and look at what happened. I’ve been told that seasoned gamblers know they’ll never go broke going against Penn State and the spread, sad though that thought might be. (Poor performance against the spread suggests that there’s a lot of irrational exuberance on the Penn State side of the ledger.) So, all things considered, I am picking the Lions by the slimmest of margins. In a defenseless shootout, Penn State 31, Purdue 30.