You all saw it, no doubt. The Nittany Lions eventually prevailed on a Citrus Bowl field replete with hundreds of giant, muddy divots. The final score was 19-17.
The problematical turf will be replaced with an artificial surface by the time next year’s bowl season rolls around, but that was then and this is now. The attempted re-sodding of the field after six high school championship games and again after the Champs Sports Bowl just flat out didn’t work. Couple that with the morning of rain on game day, and what you get is poor footing and muddy uniforms.
Penn State struck early, with an exonerating completion from Daryll Clark to Derrick Moye — after Moye had dropped two catchable passes, not due to weather conditions, but rather because he “heard footsteps.” So, then what? Well, immediately after going up 7-0, our coaching geniuses decided that they’d rein in the offense and play a little sphincterball.
Even when it was working for them, as it did for the first half, they reached the red zone and stalled. Thus, Collin Wagner became the pivotal entity, which is not a position one really wants to put one’s self in, particularly with a wet, sloppy, tractionless field. However, Wagner came through. Fortunately, all four field goals were well within his range.
Nevertheless, the Lions’ red zone difficulties must be noted. They were 7-19 in third down conversions. Pretty putrid.
But they controlled the ball for the first half, allowing only a second quarter field goal by LSU.
No doubt, Les Miles and company exhorted their team to change a few things at halftime. One thing was that the run was damn well not working, as he should have expected, given the efficacy of the Penn State front seven, so they would turn to the pass. That strategy worked and it caught the Lions in mid-anality. The Bengals scored two touchdowns in three minutes as the third quarter wound down and the fourth cranked up. That put PSU back on its heels with the score 17-16.
Fortunately, Daryll Clark had one good drive left in him to wind up his Penn State career. He drove the Nittany Lions from their own 31 down to the LSU 4 yard line, stalling in the red zone yet again. Collin Wagner’s 21-yarder was good with 1:01 remaining, and the Lions appeared to have dodged a bullet.
Not so fast! Remember that they had to kick off and special teams have been a sore spot all year. Once again this was true, as they kicked to the very dangerous Trindon Holliday who caught the ball at the 15 and slashed his way to the LSU 41 with 57 seconds remaining — plenty of time to get in field goal range and knock one through the uprights. The Turkey was tense. However, LSU had no time-outs, so they had to work the sidelines and stop the clock through spikes. A first-down run by quarterback Jordan Jefferson went out of bounds at the PSU 49, just past the first down marker. On the next play, Jefferson completed a four yard pass to Brandon LaFell, which led to a controversial penalty about which they’ll be whining in Baton Rouge for months to come.
With the clock ticking off precious moments for LSU, Navorro Bowman fell on LaFell (get it?) and attempted to wrest the ball away from him. Meanwhile, right guard Lyle Hitt, knowing that the Tigers had to quickly line up and spike the ball, attempted to pull Bowman off LaFell after the play was whistled dead, and was flagged for a personal foul, costing LSU dearly, moving them back to their own 40. The Tigers never made it into field goal range. Two plays later, the game was over.
This Turkey thought for sure that it was Bowman who was going to get the flag for delay of game. Of course, I breathed a sigh of relief when Hitt was flagged, but this fortuitous turn of events did not stop me from speculating about the legitimacy of that penalty call. What do you think?
Daryll Clark had a excellent swan song: 18-35 for 216 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions (albeit a couple of close calls). Andrew Quarless was his leading receiver with a career record eight catches for 88 yards.
Speaking of records, this sloppy snoozefest (until the final six minutes, anyway) set a record for the number of punts in a bowl game — 15. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Penn State did well, notching a win for the fans and its share of a $4,250,000 payout for the university.
Next season, the Turkey will be all up in arms about how Penn State’s rookie quarterback, Kevin Newsome, was given precious few game reps this season, but for now, I’ll ditch the complaining and congratulate the Nittany Lions on a better than expected season, at least from this Turkey’s perspective, and a mission accomplished in the Capital One Bowl. What’s in your wallet?
Happy New Year to the team and to all of you!