Purdue handed us one. Two mediocre, middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams played a mediocre game for the rights to go to a mediocre post-season bowl game. While some individual performances were noteworthy, the flaws in both these teams were exposed in this game, which, by the way, ended in the win column for Penn State 26-19. The Boilermakers and the Nittany Lions now have identically mediocre 7-3 records. They’re twins, performance partners, pretenders, playing in the shadow of Michigan and Ohio State, which neither team can beat. I’ll get to my rant about our mediocrity later on, but first, the game.
Saturday’s game highlighted the red-zone ineptitude that has long plagued Penn State, while Purdue’s penchant for incurring unnecessary penalties made one wonder if they really wanted to win this thing. Before the game would end, however, Penn State would eclipse Purdue’s penalty yards. Did anyone want to win this game?
Purdue got off to a great start, though, drawing on yet another of Penn State’s weaknesses. On the first play of the game, Dorien Bryant took a Kevin Kelly kickoff at the 2 yard-line and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown. The Nittany Lions have been pure crap on kickoff coverage all year, so this was a fitting tribute to their ineptitude. The early seven points by Purdue injected anesthesia into the already comfortably numb 12:00 starting crowd. Penn State tried to reply. Aided by a 15-yard, completely unnecessary personal foul penalty for a late hit out-of-bounds on Anthony Morelli, the Lions drove down to the Purdue 10 and then did their imitation of Dumb and Dumber. Through transparent play-calling and one stupid procedure penalty, Penn State did all it could to avoid the end zone, salvaging three points on a Kelly 26-yard field goal.
The penalty was on Quarless, and it would not be the first of the day for young Andrew. His line play is still shaky. Yeah, he’s a good receiver, but until they move him to wide receiver, he’s got to play tight end, too. That involves line play. Hear me, Quarless? Three out of four McCabe sisters might have done a better job than you, had they not been immersed in watching Navy beat their beloved Fighting Irish (1-8) at the time.
Back to the game, one got the feeling that Senior Day would be a long day while watching Bryant return the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the Purdue 43. While the drive from there failed, the initial field position was good enough to allow the Boilermakers to pull off a 45-yard field goal, re-establishing their touchdown lead.
After a three-and-out and a subpar, 38-yard punt by the hapless Lions, Purdue drove down to the Penn State one yard-line, where, in a key momentum switching instant, Jaycen Taylor tried to do that dumb thing where they hold the ball out over the goal line while getting the snot knocked out of him. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Score denied. Penn State ball.
Driving out of enemy territory as the clock wound down on the quarter, Purdue’s Justin Scott incurred yet another 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit out-of-bounds on Morelli. Joe Tiller must think he’s Steve Austin or something. However, this drive wound up going nowhere, ending in a punt. Purdue’s drive, marred by a couple of false start penalties and a sack by Phillip Taylor, went nowhere as well.
On the next series, however, the Lions would hit paydirt. A 33-yard run by Evan Royster gave them a springboard from which to strike, and Morelli nicely finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Williams, who was on his way to having a great day. This tied the score at 10-10 as the clock wound down toward halftime.
After a three-and-out by Purdue, Penn State drove the ball quickly down the field to the Purdue 13 and with :08 on the clock, attempted a field goal. The kick sailed wide. Purdue to the rescue! A roughing the kicker penalty gave the Nittany Lions another chance, which Kelly nailed. The half ended with the score Penn State 13, Purdue 10.
The third quarter started in mediocre fashion as Penn State could not get the ball out of its own end and punted the ball away. Purdue then drove 74 yards and kicked a 28-yard field goal. Score tied. The next exchange was similar to this one. Three-and-out by Penn State, a punt, and Purdue drove down the field and stalled, kicking a 50-yard field goal to take the lead, 16-13.
The Nittany Lions responded with a 9-play, 69 yard drive, capped by a 12-yard touchdown scamper by Derrick Williams. The try failed due to a bad snap, leaving the margin at a field goal. PSU 19, Purdue 13.
After a Purdue three-and-out, Penn State once again had an opportunity to score. Unfortunately, red-zoneitis reared its ugly head. Rodney Kinlaw was running all over the Purdue defense with gains of 25, 4, and 19 yards, but it was on the last of those runs that Kinlaw fumbled the ball away on the Purdue six yard-line.
After a few inept series, Penn State added its final score of the day, capping a 65-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown run by Evan Royster. Purdue was only able to kick a meaningless field goal after that. They tried a lot of “stuff” late in the game, including an onside kick and a desperation Hail Mary pass at the closing gun. All went for naught. Final Score, Penn State 26, Purdue 19. It was handed to us with penalties and a dumbass fumble at the one—we’ll take it.
As I mentioned above, Derrick Williams had the kind of day of which we have long been hoping that there would be many. Where has Williams been, other than playing crappily and taking dives? Well, he’s back, and this Turkey hopes that this is not just a temporary thing for the talented junior. He wound up with 10 receptions for 95 yards, along with 21 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Nice wake-up, Derrick!
Anthony Morelli had a decent day, too, going 22-35 for 210 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.
Running da ball, Royster and Kinlaw equaled Morelli’s production with 210 yards and a touchdown. Royster is emerging as a premier running back, while Kinlaw is moving backward. He fumbled twice unprettily, evoking memories of the deposed Austin Scott.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions appeared to regain their old spark. Dan Connor eclipsed Paul Posluszny’s tackle record (372). Sean Lee forced a key turnover at the one yard-line. And Maurice Evans was once again playing in Purdue’s backfield, forcing yet another fumble. Justin King was actually covering receivers tightly, for a change. That was great to see.
Warning: FLAME ON—
Our topsy-turvy sports fan psyche got an unfortunate boost from this game, but this is a program headed south—and I don’t mean to a bowl game. In the battle for mediocre macho posturing in a mediocre year for a mediocre league by two mediocre teams, Penn State proved the comparatively less mediocre of the two. While a loss surely would have ended our pipe dreams of New Years’ Day bowl games in far-off, subtropical states, we now still cling to desperate hopes of season redemption. With a 4-3 Big Ten record, we get to sit back and watch the big kids at Michigan and Ohio State slug it out on the big, grown-up stage for the real prize while we and the other pretenders play in the sandbox of not-quite-there-yet mediocrity, hoping not to screw up too badly so we can back into a higher-paying bowl game to make us feel better about our failed seasons. Fan conditioning has a lot to do with how well we feel about that. For Purdue fans, their expectations probably weren’t as high for their season as were ours. After all, we were really good for a long while as recently as 13 years or so ago, and those memories tend to induce delusions that our team is close to being what it once was. It ain’t and it ain’t likely to be in the foreseeable future.
We are no longer talking about BCS bowls—praise the Lord. Either we stopped chewing on the locoweed or we suddenly realized that we’re as mediocre as our 7-3 record. Alas, now we have to settle for aspirations of the top of the range of the non-BCS bowls. We even need help to get there. Illinois is the only team with two Big Ten losses at the moment, but they have to play Ohio State next week. Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State all have three losses, but we beat those two, giving us some tie-breakers to hang our hopes on. In order to keep our hopes for salvation alive, we damn well have to beat Moo U. in Lansing Stadium in two weeks. That is incontrovertibly essential.
But what are we really hoping for? Are we wanting to cut off our nose to spite our face? Think we could handle a good SEC team? (Don’t give me that crap about beating Tennessee in the Outback Bowl last year—they weren’t particularly good and you know it.) This year’s Penn State team has the feel of an average Alamo Bowl or a good Champ’s Sports Bowl team. If we get anything better, we’ll just be jumping headlong into the fire. I am bemused by some of the homeboy logic I read about how good Penn State is or has been during the past decade. Sure, we’ve had winning records in a number of years and we had some superior results in 2002 and 2005. But pass the peyote you people are chewing on—I ain’t buying your logic. Are you saying that our major accomplishments have been that game against a bad Tennessee team in the Outback Bowl last year and winning that crappy Orange Bowl in which we out-slopped a five-loss Florida State team, another program on the decline that backed into the ACC championship, in 87 overtimes? A win is a win? It is what it is? Come on, folks. Stop deluding yourselves. We’re a mediocre, middle-of-the-pack team in a mediocre conference. We’ve had some excellent performances by individuals such as Larry Johnson, Michael Robinson, and Paul Posluszny, but we’re far from being a cohesive team. Our coaching is hopelessly conservative and behind the times. Our team is presently leaderless. Chances are, we couldn’t carry a good SEC team’s jock straps. So, don’t go hoping for a Capital One Bowl so we can get our asses kicked up and down the field as we did with Ohio State. We can’t even handle Boeckman, let alone a quarterback like Tim Tebow.
FLAME OFF — I feel better now
I’ll be back on Wednesday with some snotty comments about the all-unimportant intrastate road clash in Philly with the mighty [awful] 3-6 Temple Owls.