Waterloo, Iowa is a town with a population of about two-thirds of a full house at Beaver Stadium. It is subject to devastating floods when the Cedar River swells. I guess that’s why they call it Waterloo: water representing the floods and loo being British slang for toilet, which brings us to the Nittany Lions’ performance at their own Waterloo last Saturday night.
For those of you who attended public school and slept through it, Waterloo was the site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat. After the Grand Army got its butt kicked there by the British and the Prussians, Nappy abdicated his emperorship and retired. A couple of years later, he died.
But I digress.
The Nittany Lions came to their own Waterloo feeling pretty good about their chances. They were #4 and #5 in the big national polls. Just about everybody — including this Turkey — felt that they were ranked at least 10 positions too high. What had they accomplished this year, other than giving us doubts about whether the offensive line would ever be effective and reassuring us by beating three 30-point underdogs?
Yet, optimists that we are, we all picked Penn State to win. We were all in denial. (Hey, be careful! Dere’s crocodiles in de Nile.) Even Lee Corso on ESPN’S College Game Day put on the lion head, signifying his selection of the Nittany Lions. Some of you predicted that the Lions would win by three touchdowns. What the hell planet were you living on while the rest of us were observing the suckage of the first three games. Or did the Nits put you to sleep with their lullaby performances, anesthetizing you beyond reason?
Did they look good during those three powder-puff games? Hell, no! As Artificially Sweetened so aptly pointed out, “They never wanna play the second half.” Oh, there was Evan Royster’s 134-yard day against Temple, when the Owls thought better than to try to stuff the run and got burnt sticking to that defensive strategy. But that was Temple. Even so, we saw that Temple’s pass rush could discombobulate Daryll Clark. After that game, it was natural to feel a little better about finally finding a running game. However, the talent disparity between Temple and Iowa had to worry us just a little.
Have the special teams looked good at all doing anything besides punting this year? Hell, no. Moreover, even the punting game is now shot to hell after this Waterloo game. It is not Jeremy Boone’s fault — he is solid and I believe that he’ll be playing on Sundays once he plays out his college eligibility. No, the group of slackers who cover his punts and provide protection for him have not been impressive. Finally, in this important showdown, they received their ultimate denouement: a blocked punt for a touchdown. Nick Sukay whiffed on his block, and that’s all she wrote.
With injuries to Sean Lee and Nate Stupar, the linebacking corps was significantly depleted. Nevertheless, the defense did its job through most of three quarters. It wasn’t their fault that the offense was so incompetent that they were on the field too much in the third and fourth periods. Furthermore, the offense was unable to support the defense’s efforts by putting points on the board. They were too busy handing the ball back to the Hawkeyes. This Turkey stated in his pregame comments that 24 points would be enough to win this one. Had the Nittany Lions been able to score that many, they would have indeed won. As it ended up, they scored a measly 10.
It started out looking like the Lions would cruise to an easy victory in front of a partisan, whited-out crowd of over 109,000. After winning the toss and deferring, the defense held Iowa to a three-and-out, then — just like that! — Daryll Clark hit Chaz Powell with a 79-yard touchdown pass and Penn State was on the board. After that, Iowa was looking goofy, with Ricky Stanzi throwing balls that should have been caught but were consistently dropped. Must have been the rainy weather. In The Cave, we were settling back, thinking that Iowa couldn’t move the ball, while Penn State could obviously hit the big play at will. On the next series, Penn State moved the ball methodically and impressively on a 20-play, 10-minute drive. However, they stalled in the red zone — yet again — and had to settle for a field goal. After that, the offense just fizzled.
Well, worse than fizzled. It blew. On the next series, they were pinned by their own goal line and couldn’t move the ball. In fact, they were moving backward, which is not a good thing to do when you’re working from the four yard-line. Ultimately, Daryll Clark wound up being swarmed in the end zone and dropped the ball. Johnny Troutman had the presence of mind to fall on the ball for the safety, thus saving the touchdown. And that was it for the offense.
Am I being unkind? Hell, no. I’m being honest. Daryll Clark had the worst day of his career. After losing the game to Iowa last year with his interception, he vowed to do better this year. He did, if you consider three better than one. When he wasn’t throwing interceptions, he was rushed and throwing wild. Even when he wasn’t hurried, he was hearing footsteps. Iowa’s aggressive pass rush got into his mind. It’s no wonder that he fell apart. Last year, he had a competent offensive line to protect him. He probably never expected that it would be so bad. It must have seemed like he was playing for the Detroit Lions. He was facing the Prussian army on every down.
Nothing our coaching geniuses tried could surmount the presence of Iowa’s front seven in Clark’s backfield and in his mind. With an aggressive pass rushing defense, screens, draws, and rollouts tend to work. Why didn’t we see more? Obviously, I’m not a coach, so I have no business telling our offensive brain trust how to run their team, but why didn’t they call more blitz-beaters?
And what is this thing about not playing in the second half?
I’ve got to see a lot more heart and hustle from this team before I will give them a break. I need to see them play for 60 minutes. I need to understand why the coaches start out with an aggressive play to stretch the defense, and then give up on it. (I’ve seen that before — an early, deep, go for broke pass play, after which they get more conservative. Wonder if the opponents have noticed that tendency? Duh.) I have my doubts about whether we’ll see a decent performance by the offensive (and they truly are) line at all this year.
Look, it’s OK not to be #1 or #4 or top ten, but what is not OK is playing half-assed. If they leave it all on the field, I won’t fault them if they are not as talented as the opponents. However, I think we have some pretty good athletes who are slacking. We know that some of them are not interested in playing on special teams. Those guys need a good, swift kick in the ass.
So, the formerly #4 Nittany Lions (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) lost to unranked Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), 21-10. Crazily enough, the USA Today Coaches’ poll has ranked Penn State above Iowa. The AP poll gets it right.
A #15 ranking is much more comfortable than #4 or #5. Nobody is counting on you to win every week. Perhaps, with expectations lowered and the big secret that PSU is not all that good out on the table, the boys will be able to settle down and play some decent games. That’s got to start this weekend with Illinois.
Illinois will be a tough nut to crack. So what that they were buried by Ohio State 30-0. Don’t start licking your chops thinking the Illini (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) are yet another pussy on the schedule. They’re not, and besides, they’re playing at home. Right now, the Lions are favored by one skinny point. I hope it doesn’t go to their head.
I’ll be back later in the week with a closer look at Illinois, and with anything else that is on my mind.