While no one will admit it, Penn State coaches and players are relieved to have finally broken the Michigan jinx, thrashing the Wolverines 46-17 at friendly Beaver Stadium before a stadium record crowd of 110,017. This Turkey was the 110,017th of them—I was disappointed that no one came to visit me in section SGC. After all, I had taken a shower before I walked to Big Beave.
I know you will be chuckling this morning when you read headlines such as “A Tale of Two Halves” leading you into descriptions of the game. Some of them (by bloggers who flunked sixth grade and have no spell checkers) will probably call it “A Tail of To Halfs”, but I digress. I’d like to say that PSU played cat and mouse with Michigan for the first half and then pounced upon their toyed with prey in the second half, but I’d be lying to you. The Wolverines ran at will on the inept Nittany Lion defense in the first half, while the inept Nittany Lion offense screwed up repeatedly, keeping a slow and tired defense on the field. Some of the holes Brandon Minor ran through could have accommodated the Blue Band bus. Josh Hull was notably absent. On one play, Minor dragged both Bowman and Scirrotto with him for 10 yards. On every play, the defense looked confused and unready at the snap. What a mess! Consistent with the defensive morass, on offense the first snap sailed right over Daryll Clark’s head. A few plays later, he fumbled the ball away. Absolutely disgusting! Time of possession advantage in the first quarter was quite obviously in Michigan’s favor, at 12 minutes to 3 minutes for the hapless Nittany Lions. The first quarter closed with the Wolverines ahead 10-7, with Penn State looking like nothing at all like a team that was #3 in the nation.
Tom Bradley was doing his “head coach by default” routine, pacing up and down the sideline and jawboning officials. Dat was because of de fault dat Paterno was coaching from da press box again due to a sore leg, although Joe had come out for pre-game warm-ups and to meet the much maligned freshman Michigan head coach, Rich Rodriguez, at mid-field. Bradley should have been jawboning his defense, instead. Is he incapable of reacting quickly to incompetence by his defense while he is playing de facto head coach? They seemed to be playing a lot of nickel defenses in the first quarter, which allowed Minor the luxury of running at will. Eventually, Bradley yanked marginal linebackers Tyrell Sales and Josh Hull for the speedier tandem of Michael Mauti and Bani Gbadyu. The move seemed to work, as the PSU defense improved measurably after the first damnable quarter. Drew Astorino got more than his usual playing time due to Anthony Scirrotto’s slight concussion. Astorino is coming of age as a force on defense.
The offensive star of the game was Evan Royster, with a career day of 174 yards on 18 carries. Royster provided Penn State’s first score of the game on a 44-yard touchdown run at a time when it was sorely needed with PSU being down 10-0 in the first quarter. He had to believe that he was surrounded by incompetence.
Prior to that score, the whited-out student section was growing increasingly quiet, with groans and a few boos occasionally emanating from that corner. Even Block S, done up for this game in Penn State’s original colors, pink and black, seemed to sag a bit. The first half was a dose of Thorazine after the Benzedrine lead-up to this game.
However, Penn State’s final drive of the first half portended good things to come. A well executed two minute drill brought the Lions back to within three, posting a score of 17-14 as the half came to a close with a knee by the Michigan offense with seconds left.
With so many cell phones operating at halftime, the circuits were overloaded and it was damn hard to get a text message through. However, I did manage to get one out to Artificially Sweetened, telling her that Joe Paterno would have to give the whole team “the dickens” in the locker room to get their asses in gear. Apparently she was able to call him to let him know, because whatever he said to them worked.
The second half was all Penn State, as the line score so graphically shows. After a Kevin Kelly field goal, the good fortune continued with a defensive score on a safety that wound up being a nine-point play, as the Nittany Lions came back to score a touchdown on the après-safety free kick. In all, from that touchdown at the end of the first half, the Lions rolled up 39 unanswered points, 32 of them in the second half.
In all, Penn State rolled up 482 yards to Michigan’s 291 (most of which were gained in the first half). Time of possession wound up even, but we already mentioned the disparity in the first half. Their 202 rushing yards against what had been a highly regarded run defense tells the tale of that first half before Penn State’s defensive adjustments took effect. A tale of two halves. Snort!
What do we get from this game, aside from a heartburn first half and tube-fed Maalox for the second? Well, for one thing, it shows that the boys can turn a game around, coping with what Paterno characterizes as adversity. OK, Joe, like I don’t mind adversity when it isn’t created by our own guys. Anyhow, it takes character to surmount a deficit no matter how it comes about, and this team was able to do that and then some. However, although the Wolverines came to play, this is a team that the previous week had lost to 1-4 Toledo of the MAC conference. They’re not very good this year. Whether this group of Nittany Lions can overcome similar adversity against Ohio State, who just whipped Michigan State 45-7, remains to be seen. It would be appropriate to have that damn halftime chat with the troops before the damn game starts when the Lions travel to Columbus this week to meet the Buckeyes. Penn State cannot afford to squander a half or even a quarter against quality opposition.
Speaking of Ohio State, we’ll be back later in the week (probably around Thursday, due to mid-week travel), with our comments and predictions for the big brawl in Columbus.