The Outback Bowl, pitting Florida against Penn State, should have been a much closer game instead of the way it turned out with the Gators winning going away. The final score was 37-24, in favor of Florida.
Two mediocre teams with identical records who seldom play each other being brought together on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Tampa, where the Florida fans outnumber the Penn State fans, portended great football viewing for aficionados of both teams. For Penn State fans it turned out to be a debacle in which the Gators were able to capitalize on scads of unforced errors by the Nittany Lions, giving their outgoing coach a final victory under the Florida sun.
After the game, the other side of the coaching story, Joseph “I ain’t going nowhere” Paterno, lavished praise upon praise on Urban Meyer, whom he calls “Son.” Did Meyer outcoach Paterno? No, as usual, Paterno outcoached himself. Meyer coached a fine game, as one would expect from a two-time national champ. However, in the end it would turn out that he had few decisions to make as Penn State kept handing him the ball in places from which even the McCabe sisters could have scored. So nice of JoePa to give Pope Urban such a wonderful going away gift! (It was Paterno, in describing his affection for Urban Meyer, who said, “He must be Catholic. He’s named after a Pope!”)
I’m blaming Joe because I cannot blame the whole team. However, I can mention some significant sources of suckage on the team.
The first is obvious. Matt McGloin set the individual record for most interceptions in a game by a Penn State quarterback with five picks. That number, though, doesn’t fully describe what anyone watching the game saw, as McGloin could have been intercepted two or three more times. Throw enough crappy passes and eventually you’ve got to be intercepted. It’s just a matter of time. Paterno is somewhat complicit here, too. The press box coaching brain trust (son JayPa and Galen Hall) wanted to bring in Rob Bolden after McGloin screwed up a few times, but stubborn ol’ Joe, who later said that McGloin played a good game although he wasn’t happy with the interceptions, nixed the substitution. It was obvious to fans who were watching on TV that Joe and McQueary were arguing about something leading up to Paterno putting on the stubborn face and walking away. We don’t know if Bolden would have done any better in there, but hell, a change was called for. In hockey, they realize that a goalie gets shell-shocked if the opposition scores a few quick goals on him, and they put in a new goalie. It doesn’t matter if the guy being replaced is all-time legend Martin Brodeur. He gets replaced. Same thing in baseball. Some days a pitcher has it and some days he doesn’t. On this day clearly there was something wrong with McGloin. He was not merely throwing poorly. His mind was messed up. His judgment was clouded. A couple of the interceptions were good defensive plays. The rest were throws McGloin seemed to be directing to the guys in white. Yes, it was that bad. Whenever McGloin did that naked bootleg right, I cringed. Paterno left him in there far too long, so he is culpable, too.
The second source of suckage was Justin Brown. Dropping three catchable passes during this game was just plain putrid. McGloin should have automatically checked down from Brown on plays where he was the primary receiver. Well, that’s an easy “shoulda” — McGloin had faith in his receivers to do their job and I really can’t fault him for expecting the kid to catch the ball. However, something was wrong there and it was up to McQueary and the Brain Trust to substitute for Brown, who obviously was not having his day.
Finally, it was obvious that the defense has improved little from September. They were missing tackles then and they’re still missing tackles now. Colisanti always seemed to be somewhere aside from where the play was going. When you give a reasonably good offensive team like Florida a short field to operate on, you better have a decent defense. This defense is indecent.
I should mention the punt block in the second quarter, too. Florida loaded up the line of scrimmage on that play, which should have caused a few people on the Penn State side to think that perhaps they were going for the block. Yet, when Solomon Patton came charging past the left end of the PSU line, Chaz Powell, who was lined up on that end took off downfield and didn’t even wave at Patton on his way by. Maybe a chip or some kind of engagement might have slowed him down just enough. Chaz didn’t play much in this game, and rumor has it that he is in Paterno’s doghouse for some reason or another yet to be determined. As it went, Lerentee McCray recovered the blocked punt and ran it 27 yards for a Gator touchdown.
What I wrote about the defense — that there has been little improvement since September — applies to most of the rest of the team except for, surprisingly, the offensive line, where we have seen considerable improvement. They did their job. McGloin had time to throw (whatever the hell he was throwing was not their fault) and Royster had the space he needed to run for 98 yards. It was important to establish the run in this game, and kudos to Royster and the O-line for making that happen, albeit sadly, in a losing effort.
The Gators played a good, but not great game, as they sat back and watched their opponents commit fatal error after fatal error. They had plenty of reserve in the tank, just in case they needed it in the closing moments, whereas Penn State’s defense looked gassed.
Back to the damn interceptions, which will stick with this Turkey for a long time, they were: returned 49 yards to the PSU 15; caught at the PSU 15 for no gain; returned 14 yards to the PSU 25; returned 80 yards for a touchdown; and caught and downed at the Florida 5. So, in the case of the first three picks our boy McGloin gave the Gators excellent field position, which resulted in two touchdowns and one ball fortunately fumbled back to PSU. Add in the pick-six and you have three touchdowns due to interceptions. The margin of victory was only 13 points. Including the punt block returned for a TD, Florida’s defense accounted directly and indirectly for 28 points. Give a great big assist to Matt McGloin. His name should appear on both sides of the box score.
McGloin wound up 17-41 for 211 yards, with one touchdown and five (gulp!) interceptions. He also had one rushing touchdown, on one of those right rollouts in which he thought better of throwing the ball away and tucked it in hell bent for the pylon. (Never mind that Kevin Haplea was standing there all alone in the back of the end zone — I guess Little Red didn’t want to chance an interception.) His leading receiver was Derek Moye, with 5 catches for 79 yards and a TD. Evan Royster, who had 149 all-purpose yards, added four catches for 51 yards.
Well, I guess there’s not much more to say about this game. With potential renewed interest in Tom Bradley by the powers that be in Pittsburgh, with a possible interview for him at UConn, and with Rob Bolden and Kevin Newsome looking to transfer out of the program, there’ll be enough good dirt to get our minds off this unfortunate defeat. A while back we had coaches seeking to leave the program like rats off a sinking ship. Now it’s players who are leaving. What gives? This will be an interesting off-season.
The Nittany Turkey wishes all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!