This post is indeed about the October 2 football game pitting Penn State against the University of Iowa. After re-reading it, I decided to clarify that early before I start on my characteristic tangential flights of fancy. Between the cryptic, statistically oriented headline and the aforementioned digressions, you might have thought that this was an article about how to successfully pick your nose or something. Don’t worry, though. We’ll get there eventually.
I’m not going to use that French d-phrase that means a feeling of having been somewhere before because it’s been popping up all over the blogosphere and the legitimate media. The advantage of being last man in is that I can avoid the hackneyed pitfalls of all the others who have been there before me. Of course, the disadvantage of being sloppy last is that by the time my game comments are published everybody is already sick and tired of reading about the mess of a game they watched the prior Saturday.
As procrastinatorial as I might tend to be, however, the veritable champion of delayed coverage is Phil Grosz, who publishes one of the more respected independent Nittany Lions sports publications, Blue White Illustrated (BWI). Phil’s spiel is delayed a week, so while some parts of the current BWI address the Iowa game, his feature column still speaks of the Temple game. Almost makes a guy not want to read about it, but I find humor in the situation and in knowing that Phil will inevitably find comparisons to the 1982 team, which he has been doing for time immemorial. Here’s a guy whose career is built on his intimate knowledge of the 1982 team. Just kidding. But I don’t think an old guy with white hair should be sporting a Beatle haircut, either, unless he’s Moe of the Three Stooges. Alas, I digress.
Do you see where procrastination leads? Can you tell that I’m blocking? Oy vey, am I ever blocking. I really don’t want to write about that crappy game on Saturday. But duty calls and I will heed. Here goes.
As expected, the Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night before a sellout crowd and a national TV audience on ESPN. The score was 24-3, but it wasn’t that close. For their non performance this week, the Lions were dropped from the polls’ Top 25, while the Hawkeyes moved up to #15 in both polls. Penn State did not cover the spread, but I should have told you to take the “under”. The over/under was 40. My prediction of 27-13 in Iowa’s favor sadly gave too much credit to the Nittany Lions for a nonexistent red zone offense.
It was homecoming weekend in Iowa City. The good alumni of the University of Iowa got one helluva homecoming show at the behest of our hapless Nittany Lions.
Iowa went into the game with the #1 defense in the FBS division and it showed. My pre-game comments suggested that both teams would have to earn their points through the air, as both rushing defenses were tough. One proved to be a pretender, and you know which one that was. Iowa rushed for a respectable 122 yards, while Penn State sputtered to a lowly 54 yards on 23 attempts for an average of 2.3 measly yards per carry. The first quarter, in which the Lions had a net one yard rushing, was absolutely a parody of a running game, with all due credit to Iowa’s front seven. Yes, readers, Iowa is the legitimate defense and Penn State is the pretender. The only reason that Iowa sank to #2 in total defense after this past weekend is that the Crimson Tide slid past them. Still a pretty respectable place to be. They moved up from #3 rushing defense to #2. Against that tough defense, Evan Royster had 56 yards; the rest of the backfield netted out to -2 yards. I think you can say that the offensive line was beaten up pretty well.
Penn State actually gained more passing yards than Iowa (247 to 227) on 22 completions of 42 throws. However, despite one 49-yard play to Brett Brackett, the average per pass worked out to only 5.9 yards. Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi proved to be the more accurate passer and his receivers the more sure-handed, as he completed 16 out of 22. Both quarterbacks had one interception and Stanzi had one touchdown pass, which was a ridiculous completion to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos standing all alone in the end zone. Any thoughts that the Penn State secondary had potential for greatness should have been quashed right then and there.
Penn State had 15 first downs to Iowa’s 17. As close as the stats look, one is tempted to ask: What’s da problem? We know that Penn State was actually able to move the ball in a sustained fashion in the second half, when they trailed 17-3. Of course, at that point, Iowa was into “sitting on a lead” mode and this Turkey got the feeling that if they needed to crank it up, they could do so at will. I believe the accepted hackneyed sportswriter cliché is that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz “took his foot off the gas” in the second half. Knowing exactly what Paterno and Company would do certainly helped keep the game in perspective; Penn State gets conservative in the red zone, so give up yards between the 20s and hit like a ton of bricks inside the 20. Sure enough, the Lions’ red zone woes were in full evidence, as was the Hawkeyes’ considered response. Bend but don’t break didn’t break, and it was assisted by the Paterno conservatism we all know and expect as long as the old man is around.
Reader jd posted the following comment to my preview post (I’m glad he didn’t wait for this one). I think this sums up how we all feel:
In the third quarter when PSU was on that awesome drive, and we were at 3rd and 1 on the goal line, my fiancée turned to me and said, “They aren’t running a FB dive, are they?”
And that’s when I knew we had lost.
This isn’t what I consider Monday Morning quarterbacking in its strictest sense. Having been Penn State fans for lots of years, I know, jd knows, and jd’s fiancée knows exactly how tight Paterno’s anal sphincter can get in a big game on the road inside the 20. That’s three of us, and Kirk Ferentz makes four. The rest don’t count. In fact, only Paterno and Ferentz count. In the war of coaching wits, Ferentz proved his mettle throughout the past decade, as his record with Penn State is 8-1. It was quite likely that he told his defense what the play would be before Galen Hall got the play in to Bolden on the field. It is frustrating being a Penn State fan when Super Sphincter is a-squeezin’.
“After that drive I thought we changed the game plan up,” said Devon Smith. “We got downfield with it. I thought we were going to keep that going the rest of the game. But then we went back to the basic stuff.”
And on the fourth down play after Zordich got stuffed (predictably) by Iowa’s stiffened middle, the brain trust called a time out and went to work on calling the absolutely perfect play for fourth and goal from the one—a quarterback keeper from the shotgun. Didn’t anyone tell these guys up there that we hadn’t been able to run on the Hawkeyes all night? How about a pass? What’s wrong with that? Give ’em the old HD spreadaroo and get someone free in the end zone. Once again, Ferentz knew he wouldn’t have to defend the pass. Result: Bolden is caught on the half yard line and the ball is turned over on downs.
“You have to run the ball when you get in the red zone.” —Jay Paterno
Well, good old David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot News thought that the call was correct. You never know what to expect from ol’ Jonesy. I guess his proctoscope sometimes gets cloudy. But if a sportswriter prounounces that it’s the correct call, wouldn’t that mean that it’s the obvious call? And isn’t Kirk Ferentz a better coach than David Jones? So, wouldn’t Ferentz know that the so-called correct call was called? The “correct call” is one that confuses the defense. This one didn’t.
Haven’t we seen this all before? There was that ridiculous Michigan game at Beaver stadium in which Paterno ran the same damn play four times from the one and couldn’t get in. And let us not forget the ’79 Sugar Bowl, when Joe lost a national championship by stubbornly sending Mike Guman up the middle in the same situation. Goal line stands are memorable. So is Joe’s big game play calling.
Why the hell does Joe want the guys to drive down inside the ten before they start to think about scoring? Why does it have to be first and goal before they see possible paydirt. Joe wastes quite a few downs trying to dink the ball along the sidelines or run up the middle for three yards and a cloud of dust when he could be taking an occasional shot at the end zone.
Because jd isn’t blogging anymore, I’ll let him have his say on the matter, from another of his comments:
Also, they ran the same play 3 downs earlier on the 11. It was second and 1. I understand getting a fresh set of downs, but why run the FB draw on second and 1 (and barely get it) to get a first and goal on the ten? Take a shot at the endzone, or get a play to get the ball on the 5 yard line.
Perhaps Joe was channeling the 1994 Florida Citrus Bowl when Ki-Jana Carter scored on a draw from the 11 against a startled Tennessee defense. But that was then and this is now. Royster isn’t Carter and he doesn’t have anyone like Hartings and Rivera clearing out a lane for him. Iowa’s D-line was manhandling our O-linemen throughout the first half.
The red zone performance is nothing short of pitiful. So is the clock management when push comes to shove. The communication between the booth and the field sucks, and so does the indecision that wastes all kinds of time, causing screw-ups at the line of scrimmage in critical situations. Delay of game penalties, wasted time-outs, and illegal procedure calls because of a nervous quarterback not having enough time to operate are the result. Is it any wonder that the Nittany Lions look like nincompoops inside the 20?
You remember back in 2001, there was sort of a national hysteria about people being sent anthrax in the mail. It was in the form of a white powder. Well, one of the Nittany Lions’ offensive players reported to the sidelines that he had found a mysterious white powder on the field that he had never seen before and thought someone should call the FBI. That wasn’t necessary. It turned out to be the goal line.
Oh, yeah—you want to talk conservative? Well, just what in the hell are coaches thinking when they call a punt on fourth down and six on the PSU 46 down 17-3 with less than five minutes left in the game? If you have a punter who has been known to shank quite a few, the decision is almost a no-brainer. Anthony Fera, a converted place kicker, punted nine times. He boomed one 74 yarder. That was lucky, because if you factor that out of his performance, his average was 32 yards, which is coincidentally equal to what he got on this ill-conceived punt.
And, geez, to add insult to injury, already having lost the starting tight end, Andrew Szczerba, we’re now down to number three on the depth chart, as Garry Gilliam tore an ACL. He’s gone for the season, leaving freshman Kevin Haplea and possibly Brett Bracket to play the position. Any hope for productivity at tight end has taken a serious hit less than halfway through the season.
I’m assuming that we’ll all be hearing a lot more about why Sean Stanley, Derrick Thomas, and Brandon Ware were sequestered in Paterno’s dog house back in State College and did not make the trip. Paterno’s response to a question about them? “Class work.” And why did Shawney Kersey play when he has skipped practice for a week and made noise about being transferred? What is going on with these guys? This Turkey is still perceiving an absence of leadership at this late juncture. Strong leaders fix a lot of problems before they even have to involve coaches.
Let’s get off the negative venting for a while, anyway. Can we find anything good about the team’s performance?
OK, that ends that.
Let’s enumerate the positives.
- Royster’s 54 yards enabled him to move up to #4 on the all-time PSU rushing Stairs of Fame.
- The mighty Penn State defense gave up only 114 yards after surrendering 235 in the first half. Of course, since Penn State couldn’t stop Iowa in the first half, they really didn’t have to press it in the second half, sitting on a sizable lead.
- Rob Bolden is going to be one helluva good quarterback once he gets a little more seasoning and an offensive line—if Penn State coaching doesn’t ruin his natural talent! It is sad that PSU has that reputation. I hope it proves incorrect in this case.
- Collin Wagner was a perfect 1-1, a 25 yarder at the end of the first half that gave the Nittany Lions their only points.
- The Lions were able to put together a 70-yard drive on 14 plays that sucked 7:49 off the clock against a world class defense. The Hawkeyes wear Steelers colored uniforms and they damn well play like they belong in them.
- For all of its run blocking ineptitude, the much maligned offensive line has allowed only three sacks all year. If this were the NFL, Bolden would buy each of them a Rolex. This is not the NFL, so he should buy them each an Escalade.
Hey, I just did a Phil Grosz thing with the numbered points. (But I didn’t mention the 1982 team.)
Now, we must look ahead and wonder what the rest of the Big Ten season holds in store for us beleaguered Nittany Lions fans. Everyone expects a loss at Ohio State, and this Turkey expects two additional losses. Can the PSU defense hold Michigan’s Denard Robinson? Nobody else has been able to do so. On the other hand, Michigan has no defense of its own. I expect a season end loss to Moo U., and a loss to either Michigan or Northwestern. However, if the Lions can’t take care of business with Illinois or Minnesota with a bye week in between, we’re in dire straits indeed.
I’m already viewing this as a “rebuilding year.” As such, I would like to see steady progress in all aspects of play between now and the end of the season. That would be enough to satisfy me as the hope for a prestigious post-season bowl invitation rapidly fades away.
We’ll be back later in the week with pre-game comments on the Illinois game, the crown jewel of Homecoming Weekend at Penn State.