Remember the title of my pre-game post? To refresh your memory, it was Trap Games Are for Sissies. So, what happened on Saturday could have produced a really disgusting article from me here today, as the #12 Nittany Lions (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) did indeed look like sphincterized sissies for three quarters until they redeemed themselves in the fourth quarter, eventually licking unranked Northwestern (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) 34-13.
They came out with their heads somewhere else — entombed, perhaps, in a warm, dark, redolent intrapersonal space with a Vise Grip for a sphincter — as they allowed the Wildcats to dink their way down the field to a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. The touchdown scored by Northwestern represented only the second time a TD has been scored on Penn State in the first half this season — not coincidentally, the second in back-to-back road games in which the Lions suffered a slow start.
Then, something fortunate happened to the Nitty Kitties, albeit not of their own doing. NWU quarterback Mike Kafka, who with the help of his hurry-up, no huddle offense, was impressing this Turkey by hitting receivers in voids in the Nittany Lions’ vaunted BBDB soft pass defense, pulled up lame, grabbing his hamstring on one play and heading to the bench for the rest of the game after the succeeding play. Later, Wildcat sources confirmed that the injury was to Kafka’s lower leg, not the hamstring.
This game kicked off at 4:30, not noon, Eastern Time, so the guys didn’t even have the early kickoff excuse to fall back on as an explanation for their lameness in the first three quarters. I don’t want to take credit away from Kafka and head coach Pat Fitzgerald, though. I’m just sayin…
Who knows what would have happened had Kafka stayed in the game instead of being replaced by young sophomore Dan Persa at that point. Kafka had performed brilliantly, completing 14 of 18 passes for 128 yards, as his allegro molto rhythm had the PSU defense on its heels, attempting to extract their heads from the aforementioned warm place. Kafka also hurt Penn State with his legs, as he rushed 8 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. Persa was 14-23 for 115 yards for the rest of the game after relieving Kafka. He was also effective on the ground, gaining 42 yards on 14 carries with a long run of 25. He admitted that he was in over his head — it takes lots of real game experience to be able to think as quickly as Pat Fitzgerald’s bang-bang offense demands.
Penn State was able to add a touchdown on a 2-yard Daryll Clark scramble after Clark moved the ball down the field using mostly sideline routes to Derek Moye and Graham Zug. A pass interference call put the ball on the Northwestern 15, after which Clark hit freshman Curtis Drake, who was forced out of bounds on the 2, setting up DC’s score.
Northwestern closed out the half with a 45-yard Stefan Demos field goal, after an earlier, 37-yard effort had been blocked. The Wildcats took a three-point lead into the locker room.
One would hope that Paterno had some juicy motivational tidbits for the troops at halftime. Perhaps, also, Paterno’s lieutenants successfully lobbied for the sphincter to relax. Being behind on the road is no time to tighten up. However, the first half had its share of screw-ups, including a ridiculous dropped pass by Graham Zug, who heard the proverbial footsteps and looked away from the ball to see just which safety was about to drive him into the dirt. That typified the sissification of the first half. Something would sure as hell have to happen at halftime to fix this mess.
It did, just like you knew it would.
“Coach Paterno lit into us a little bit and let us know that we didn’t play our best half of football,” said defensive end Jerome Hayes. “But he told us it was still our game to win.”
“You’re gonna have days like that,” Paterno said after the game. “You have to be able to overcome them. They hung in there. They didn’t panic at halftime. I thought they did a good job. We played a little more aggressively in the second half. We got a little more pass rush.”
The second half began on a good note, with a 36-yard kickoff return by Chaz Powell, which gave the Lions great starting field position on the Penn State 41. Clark drove the team deep into Wildcat country, but the Nittany Lions stalled inside the NWU 10 yard-line after a 27-yard reception by freshman Justin Brown. A 23-yard chip shot by Collin Wagner knotted the score at 13.
The teams traded punts, and the fateful fourth quarter began — fateful for the Wildcats, anyway. Trick or treat! They got the trick, while the Lions got the treat on this Hallowe’en. Clark and Company gave the worn-down Northwestern defense with the decimated secondary more tricks than they could handle, putting three treats in their bag before the Wildcats could even say “Boo!” The latter two touchdowns showed just how tired and decimated the NWU defense was. Both were long plays from scrimmage: a 53-yard touchdown pass to Derek Moye and a draw play to Evan Royster that went 69 yards for a TD.
Oh, hey, three touchdowns in 3:40 on the game clock — that ain’t too shabby, is it?
The Wildcats had nothing to offer after that. The Penn State defense was playing more aggressively in the second half, and it showed.
Clark wound up the day #14 in passing efficiency in the NCAA FBS for the season to date. He was 22-31 for 274 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. On the ground, Royster had 15 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan Stadium was noticeably underpopulated for this game. I suppose there are a lot of better things to do in Evanston than watch the Wildcats be beaten. However, for three quarters and then some, the game was in doubt, and this Turkey thinks it would behoove the Northwestern fans to get some more of their asses into those seats.
Penn State actually beat the spread for a change. The line was around 17 points at game time. This Turkey, who feels that one will never go broke taking Penn State’s opponents and the spread when Penn State is favored, predicted a final score of 35-17. Hey, give the foul fowl a cigar. I just wish that they wouldn’t make it so damn dramatic. Their heads need to be in the game for all four quarters.
That will definitely need to be the case when the #15 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) come to a whited-out Beaver Stadium to square off with the #11 Nittany Lions (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) on Saturday, with lucrative bowl bids and Big Ten bragging rights on the line. I’ll be back later in the week with more on that game, and perhaps sooner with other drivel.