Many Penn State fans flap in the breeze along with the fortunes of their Nittany Lions. A win, especially early in the season, induces them to blow much positive wind, while a loss causes them to lament missed opportunities.
The intensity of these reactions is dependent upon the cumulative record for the season and the number of games remaining. After a win, the barroom hypotheses generally go something like this: “Well, if we run the table from here out…” Depending on the number of games remaining, they conclude optimistically with one of the following: “…we’ll have a great shot at playing for the SSMNC” (if there are as yet no losses), “…we’ll be playing on New Year’s Day,” or later in a mediocre season, “…we’ll wind up being bowl eligible.” Fresh off a loss, the same fans can be heard predicting global apocalypse, forecasting the death of the Penn State football program, speaking with absolute certainty of an impending duel between Prexy Spanier and Joe Paterno at High Noon on Curtin Road (so at least interested spectators can buy refreshments at The Creamery), or hallucinating about conversations with assistant coaches’ wives at a pre-game tailgate about discord and dissension among the coaches.
Two weeks ago, after an ugly homecoming loss to Illinois, the sky was falling. There was no tomorrow. Today, after an ugly win over Minnesota, lovely, pigtailed, blonde children are dancing on edelweiss covered hills, singing about female deer, and eating chocolate covered, cherry flavored knishes colored with red dye #40 to match the red painted lips of the lovely, perfect children. However, this Turkey (alas!) has not participated in that hallucination and sees no great cause for optimism (as usual).
This past Saturday, with perfect 11 am weather in Minneapolis, the Penn State Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) battled the Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-7, 0-4) for the Big Ten cellar and managed to pull off an ugly 33-21 win before a half-full (and I’m being generous) TCF Bank Stadium, and a modest TV audience on ESPNU. Many Pennsylvania fans were completely pissed off that they couldn’t find ESPNU anywhere on their cable systems, but that is the reality of sucking badly and playing against a team that sucks even worse. Don’t expect ABC prime time, folks. We’re lucky we’re getting ESPNU. At least we didn’t get Pam Ward on the announcing team.
How ugly was it? Very ugly. The Penn State defense, admittedly using injuries as an excuse, couldn’t stop anything, allowing only Minnesota’s occasional lapses to stop drives. The Gophers racked up 433 total yards, of which 299 were aerial. Adam Weber was 26-49 with three TDs and one INT. Minnesota’s offense managed to get 26 first downs to Penn State’s 17 and they dominated time of possession 33:40 to 26:20. They were 5-16 on third down conversions as opposed to Penn State’s 2-10.
Against Minnesota’s sieve of a defense, which I told the boys at Mike’s Garage even the three of us old fellas could run on with the McCabe Sisters blocking, the Nittany Lions were unable to muster a 100 yard game for any runner, winding up with 145 yards, mostly split between Silas Redd and Evan Royster. Royster has now passed Tony Hunt to become #2 on the list of all-time Penn State runners, and he’s 30 yards behind Curt Warner, who is presently atop the heap, the top step on the running backs’ stairs of fame at the Student Book Store.
Aerially speaking, PSU passed for 206 yards. Rob Bolden was looking good, having completed 11 of 13 for 130 yards and a touchdown, when he was removed from the game with “concussion-like symptoms.” Third-string replacement Matt McGloin was 6 of 13 for 76 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Both teams punted six times.
Bolden took himself out of the game in the second quarter, but Coach “Red” McQueary pushed him back onto the field, where Bolden dropped to his knees. The official word is that McQueary wanted Bolden to stay prostrate on the field to get an injury time-out. Who knows whether this is an accurate representation. I’ll have to go to a pre-game tailgate and talk to the coaches’ wives to get the true scoop. Anyway, Bolden was out for the rest of the game, mysteriously replaced by third-stringer Matt McGloin.
Why not Kevin Newsome? Perhaps the rumor that Newsome was hurting or sick and wouldn’t make the trip holds a clue. He actually did make the trip, but he didn’t appear to be too well on the plane (see my previous post). He was seen fumbling with a knee brace on the sideline. Newsome did, in fact, get a little playing time, which is damn important because if Bolden isn’t cleared to play this weekend against Michigan, we’ll be down to two quarterbacks.
It is hard to derive anything positive from this game, given that Minnesota is bad, really bad, and because they suck so badly, the athletic department took the unusual step of firing the head coach, Tim Brewster, in the middle of the season. In fact, they fired him the week before the Penn State game, which left them in further disarray.
At his post-game press conference, PSU head coach Joseph Vincent Paterno, looking every one of his 84 years, said that “we had our hands full; they’re a good football team” — big surprise. A few minutes earlier, when ESPNU’s sideline blonde (not a young, nubile one, but a well worn 50+ year-old former SI sports writer, suitable for ESPNU) asked about Newsome not getting much playing time, Paterno responded, “Who?” This Turkey, being an old codger himself, feels that Joe probably couldn’t hear the blonde all that well, being on the field with everyone rushing around after the game; however, it is likely to be reported by anti-Paterno viewers of the incident as a concrete sign of Paterno’s impending senility. But I digress.
No matter how much Old Joe pats them on the back, Minnesota is really bad, so what conclusions can we draw? Obviously, looking at the stats, Penn State is really bad, too!
I think we have to view Penn State’s remaining schedule realistically. The Nittany Lions are certainly a good bet to beat Indiana. Beyond the Hoosiers, it is hard to see another win. Thanks to Denard Robinson, Michigan is not the dishrag we thought it would be this year; with the Lions defense having been crippled by injuries and lack of talent while the offense struggles to score points, I see this one going to Michigan. I’ll be kind and say that the Northwestern game could go either way, although I’m pretty convinced that the Wildcats will prevail. Ohio State is one that everyone had conceded before this season even began—no hope there. Finally, whereas no one showed any respect for Sparty at the beginning of the season, the boys from Moo U. are off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 1966, back in the Bubba Smith days. (Yeah, you know him—he’s the big guy in the Police Academy movies). So what does that leave? At best, a 6-6 record and a trip to the mythical Toilet Bowl in Kohler, Wisconsin. Even more likely is a 5-7 season and no bowl.
Nevertheless, paradoxically after a win, many Nittany Lions fans are still crying in their beer about what might have happened if Nebraska had lost to Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl while urging Paterno and Spanier to polish their dueling pistols as they listen to the plaintive notes of “Do Not Forsake Me: The Ballad of High Noon.”
In his post-game press conference, Paterno said that he detected more enthusiasm from his players for this game than for earlier ones. I didn’t sense much, myself. The 2010 Nittany Lions are still leaderless and thus prone to meander. I don’t see that problem being rectumfied this season and I don’t see much else improving, either.
Except, perhaps, that if PSU does somehow manage to beat Michigan in a shoot out, this Turkey’s attitude will improve. “The hillllllls are aliiiiiiiiiive with the sound of muuuuuuuuuusic…”
We’ll be back later in the week for a more realistic look at the forthcoming Michigan game.