What did you think of that game, eh? That first Penn State drive was a hopeful thing, give or take a time out or three. Lawdie, lawdie, Mike’s Garage was replete with unbridled optimism along with a modicum of bemusement over the clock management or lack of same. The much maligned Nittany Lions, from whom nothing much was expected in this matchup, were marching down the field against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense.
“Do you want to revise your forecast now?” asked Jackstand and zbeard, almost in unison. When I told them I was sticking to my guns, they both looked at me like I was crazy. Jackstand is too new a Nittany Lions fan to know how recent history paints an unkind picture of non-performance in big games. Meanwhile, zbeard is a crusty old fan like me, but with a vastly differing outlook at the start of each season. Zbeard is a perennial optimist who expects big things from the Nits until they prove they’re unworthy; on the other hand, I maintain an annual fecal impaction of the optic nerve — you don’t have to be Dr. Todd Sponsler, ophthalmic proprietor of The Lion’s Den, to deduce that the aforementioned condition translates to a shitty outlook — in that I want to see something from the team before declaring that they have even a chance at a distinguished winning record. (And if you’re a fan of the Nittany Lions as well as long sentences, you’re in the right place. After all, why use a sentence when a paragraph will do? But I digress.) So, no. I wouldn’t change my forecast, which you should know was Alabama 35, Penn State 10.
As I am always running late with my post-game recaps, by this time you are well aware that the #3 Crimson Tide (2-0) defeated the #23 Lions (1-1) 27-11. I should have given the Penn State defense more credit. They even looked competent at times out there. I obviously thought Alabama would put more points on the board, so with the over/under at 42, I told you to take the over. Mah bad! But if you took Alabama and gave 10 points, you would have nailed it.
The Penn State defense really did keep the meanies from giving us a good, old fashioned, behind the woodshed lickin’. I have to give some credit to the D-boys before I light into the offense and the coaches. Holding Alabama to under 30 points might sound like a consolation prize to be stuffed into a dusty closet, but it seems to me as if this defense might actually be competent.
‘Bama QB AJ McCarron probably won their version of the two-headed quarterback competition with a 19-31, 163 yard performance with one touchdown and no interceptions. Alabama head football coach Nick Saban had the sense to play just McCarron in this game, which turned out to be a wise move, unlike whatever the hell is happening at Penn State with the offensive brain trust. Phillip Sims appears to be the odd man out in this quarterback battle, and pretty clearly so.
For some ungodly reason, PSU head coach Joe Paterno has stubbornly clung to his stance that the quarterback competition (aka controversy) is not over at Penn State despite this Turkey’s exhortations to shit or get off the pot. Oh yeah, a few others besides me have been on his case about picking a quarterback and moving forward. In spite of all the flack he has been getting (or maybe to show that he’s still the same stubborn old Joe), he split the quarterbacking chores for the Alabama game — to the detriment of the offense — and maintained afterward that the competition between quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin is not over. Good old stubborn Joe.
As it turns out, Bolden has won the competition in everyone’s mind but Joe’s. We fans know best, as you well know. But look at the stats for Saturday: Bolden, 11-29 for 144 yards with no touchdowns and one interception; McGloin, 1-10 for no net yards and nothing else. McGloin never got into a rhythm, while Bolden had his rhythm interrupted like a Catholic couple trying to get pregnant. The gods were not kind to Bolden, either, as at least four catchable balls were dropped by Penn State receivers. Furthermore, each time the brain trust made a quarterback change, the linemen had to get used to new snap vocals, the receivers had to get used to different ball feel and timing, and running backs have to be aware of the myriad little differences brought by a change in quarterbacks. A different personality changes the atmosphere in the huddle, too. With one quarterback for the game, Alabama was out on a smooth cruise down a wide boulevard, whereas Penn State’s quarterback switching shenanigans put it in stop-and-go traffic on a choked freeway.
Penn State averaged 3.6 yards rushing for a game total of 107 yards — not what we expect of a Penn State offense. I did tell you that Silas Redd was not going to have anything like the productive game he played against Indiana State and — Duh! — I was right. Although he looked great on that first drive, he wound up with only 65 yards on 22 carries, for a measly 3.0 yard average, with a long run of only eight yards. He did score a touchdown, though, but that occurred with 1:53 left in the game and meant only some infinitesimally reduced embarrassment for the Nittany Lions.
Showing his versatility, Bolden capped off that Redd touchdown with a two-point conversion he ran in himself.
The only other Penn State score of the game was an Evan Lewis 43 yard field goal with 7:26 left in the first quarter, after the Nittany Lions stalled at the 26 yard-line during that masterful opening drive to which I heretofore alluded. What happened there? Why did they start looking so good and then broke down in the almost red zone yet, which is a famous Nittany trick? Well, as usual, the play calling became very conservative. Very conservative. Foolishly so. They had squandered three time outs due to poor communications during the drive. (More on that bullshit later.) Perhaps they thought that calling anything more complex than a fullback dive would result in a delay of game penalty as players scratched their heads while Bolden reviewed their responsibilities in the huddle. Who knows? After a brilliant fourth down conversion to the Alabama 29, Brandon Beachum ran for two yards and Silas Redd for one yard to bring up third and seven at the Alabama 26. Bolden tried to convert on third down but Justin Brown dropped the ball, another thing that has plagued the Lions at this early juncture. In any case — heaven be praised — the field goal was good from 43.
Back to the time out situation. How will Joe defend using up all three first half time outs in a span of just over four minutes during Penn State’s opening drive. Was there anyone wearing blue and white (mostly white) who was not pissed off at that? Was this a Pop Warner game, or what? For years and years and years, zbeard has been harping on the Lions’ play callers to get the damn plays in timely. It never gets fixed. I suppose it has worsened since the senior Paterno has joined his assistants in the booth so he could rest his butt on a chair to heal his injuries. Galen Hall and Jay Paterno used to decide on a play and call it in to Mike McQueary on the sideline, who would send it in to the huddle. Once in a while, or more often than not, Joe would chime in with his idea on the subject. There might be a protest, which stubborn Joe would quell with a word or two about who knew what who was doing and that goes for your cat, too. All of that takes time off the play clock. On many occasions during the past decade, we’ve observed the time running out, requiring a time out to be burned. But never, never has it been as bad as this! Perhaps with Joe upstairs, he’s getting involved in the play calling arguments and screwing things up. Whatever the hell it is, it’s got to stop! It’s embarrassing.
The stupidity cost Penn State the ability to challenge a play that everyone who watched on TV had to be wondering why it was not challenged. Simple, no time outs left. Alabama had a fourth and one at their own 40, and faked the punt. The direct snap went to Brad Smelley, who ran into the Penn State defense and appeared to be stopped short. Video replay revealed the generosity of the spot, which had given Alabama the first down. With out a time out to give up if the challenge failed, the brain trust of Penn State was powerless to do anything about it. The Crimson Tide continued the drive, at the end of which AJ McCarron threw a five yard pass to Michael Williams for a touchdown. Embarrassing and costly mistake!
So, back at Mike’s Garage, there ensued a non-sequitur discussion that I shall include here, gratuitously. I made the comment that Notre Dame vs. Michigan got the prime time slot on ABC, posing the question as to why a matchup involving essentially unranked teams gets the nod for prime time instead of Alabama vs. Penn State. Zbeard piped up in an authoritarian tone.
“Because we’re playing at 3:30,” he stated.
“Yeah, I know. But I meant why did they choose the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game for prime time?” I asked again.
“Because we’re playing at 3:30!”
I gave up. The rest of them were imbibing ethanol under various guises whilst I sat there teetotaling. I could not cut through the fog of inebriation. However, I was content in the knowledge that Artificially Sweetened had made some artificially sweetened Jell-O with some artificially sweetened whipped cream, which I could consume in a post game guiltless and guileless pity party.
The Crimson Tide just about doubled up the Lions in rushing yards, 196 to 107. They were well coached, playing mistake free ball. Meanwhile, their great defense forced three Penn State turnovers, two of which eventually led to ‘Bama touchdowns. But it was still worse than it looks in the stats — Alabama could have easily had four or five interceptions in the third quarter alone that they batted around and let hit the ground. Sloppy, costly, and embarrassing! Let me not detract from the great game Alabama played. Sure, Penn State looked lousy, but a great team like Alabama makes other teams look bad.
After the anomalous (as it turned out) opening drive, Alabama dominated the game, with a time of possession edge of 34:05 to 25:55.
“We certainly deserved a whooping today,” Paterno said. “I think we’ve just got a lot of work ahead of us.”
Ya think, Joe?
My personal Turkeytake on the situation is that it probably is a demoralizing blow to those folks, players included, who believe that the whole season is shot now. However, I don’t share that opinion. As Joe says, they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, and that includes him. To wit, at least fix the following:
- End the quarterback competition/controversy. No one who hasn’t had a guy named Tebow has done better than achieve mediocre results from a two-headed quarterback arrangement.
- Revamp the play calling. I don’t care if Joe is going to call all the plays himself , just get the damn plays into the huddle with enough time for the players to get set in position. Hell, we’d be better off with the quarterback calling his own plays. Even if they weren’t as effective as the rule by committee offensive brain trust’s group decision, the timing would be better for the players and they wouldn’t be calling all those damn time outs or getting penalized for delay of game, ferchrissakes.
- Teach receivers how to catch the damn ball or make them defensive backs. After all, that’s the definition of a defensive back: if they could catch, they’d be receivers. Maybe they need new gloves or stickum or something!
- Teach all skill position players how to protect the damn ball. Clearly, they lack sufficient skill in this area to compete against a defense at Alabama’s level.
- Get out of sphincter mode. When you drive the ball inside the opponent’s thirty yard-line in spite of your own stupidity, have the balls to call a couple of risky plays instead of a couple of fullback dives and a third-and-long incompletion. It is so old that it is predictable. Settling for a field goal is bad business.
- Learn how to defend the crossing pattern. How many years have I been harping on this. The Sandusky Zone leaves a lot of room in the middle of the field, and if the Turkey can see it with his old eyes, then certainly opposing coaches who analyze films can and do see how easy it is to exploit. Obviously, they do, because they have been beating PSU with it for time immemorial. Time to show some other defensive looks. People have been onto this defense since 1990.
I expect all of these to have been implemented by the time the Temple game rolls around next Saturday. Why? Because I damn well demand it!
In the meanwhile, this week’s press conference will be interesting. Joe will be asked about all the areas that broke down against Alabama and he’ll respond by telling them that he doesn’t have time for that, he’s got Temple to prepare for, and Temple is a goodfootballteam. We’ve heard it all before but we’re gluttons for punishment, as each week we actually think he’ll finally answer a question.
Anyhow, this Turkey will be back later with comments about the press conference (if anything of import actually happens) and with a preview of this Saturday’s non-conference opponent, the mighty Temple Owls.