How many of you thought that Penn State ever had a chance to win the Second Annual TicketCity Bowl? Reading the overnight reviews, one would think that someone had stuck a dagger through the writers’ hearts. Those same hearts should have realistically expected mediocrity or worse, because that is what we saw. Houston defeated Penn State 30-14 before a sparse crowd on a sunny, clear day in Dallas.
It was a game played by leaderless people who didn’t want to be there. I’m talking about people with a sense of entitlement. They were too good for the bowl, too good for their Conference USA opponent. Along the way, they had no one instilling in them a hunger for victory. They had no swagger, no joy. However, while some fans and sports writers gave Penn State a chance to win, the players knew better. Those who felt ambivalent were no doubt shaken when they found themselves not only playing before a non-sellout crowd, but also a particularly puny one at that, filling fewer than half of the seats at the cavernous Cotton Bowl, which can seat 92,000.
Las Vegas got it right, too. Penn State had been a one-touchdown underdog all week. The Nittany Lions’ lackluster, leaderless performance validated what I had felt to be the case in the week leading up to the game: the team is in disarray and they suck.
I refuse to go into great detail about how the game was lost, or how many yards our opponent gained. You’ve all seen recaps by now, anyway. If you haven’t, don’t bother, especially if you don’t have a bottle of Pepto-Bismol nearby.
I have nothing but praise, respect, and admiration for Houston’s brand new head coach Tony Levine, who convinced his own bunch of disappointed players that they had something to prove out there and plenty else to play for. They had to be particularly bummed after being defeated by Southern Miss in the C-USA championship, which knocked the hitherto undefeated Cougars out of the BCS picture. Unlike the passive Penn State sense of entitlement, these guys worked hard for their 2011 comeuppance, getting to within a millimeter of the brass ring on the season’s carousel. They found themselves knocked all the way back to a seemingly meaningless consolation game in which the commentary would be heavily tinged with Penn State’s issues. Levine did a helluva job of motivating his guys to excel.
In no uncertain terms, the Cougars did excel, and would have won even if the Nittany Lions had played a more spirited game.
This Turkey was, of course, correct in his prediction. To refresh your memory, I predicted a 37-20 final score and it wound up 30-14. So I nailed the victory margin within one point. WooHoo! I also said that it would have been thus regardless of who played quarterback, because the offense just plain sucks regardless of the personnel who are in there at any given time. I don’t want to hear about how bad Bolden was or how McGloin sucks because he got into that fight with Curtis Drake. It doesn’t matter who was quarterbacking the suckage. The offensive line was absent for most of the game against a defense that was not supposed to be able to stop Penn State’s vaunted running game.
No, there was complete suckage, a lousily constructed defensive game plan, special teams’ suckiness (except for one return, which was called back), and a general lackadaisical attitude. Anthony Fera, for example, once a contender for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards, shanked his way through nine punts.
By the time defensive adjustments were made, Houston would have scored all the points they needed to ultimately win the game, posting their 17 first quarter points before Penn State had time to tie their shoes. Eventually, one of PSU’s defensive geniuses must have determined that the soft zone with two deep safeties wasn’t getting the job done against an offense that could move the ball at will by playing with the cushions and running quick slants across the middle, underneath the safety blanket. Then, we saw some outside wide receivers being jammed at the line of scrimmage and some blitzes being run or faked to harrass Case Keenum. In the second half, PSU held Houston to two field goals, but the Penn State offense was able to put up only seven points on the scoreboard in that half.
Beating on a suddenly revived dead horse time. Aren’t you sick and tired of Penn State playing 1980s football in the 21st Century? Laying off fast receivers is suicide in the 2010s. Here we have a pass defense crafted by the much vilified Jerry Sandusky and maintained by Tom Bradley. Isn’t it time the Nittany Lions started jamming receivers and playing them tight? They don’t exactly have a Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed playing safety to clean up the mistakes of the corners. They’ve rarely recruited fast defensive backs, most of Penn State’s defensive backfield offerings being shunned by the NFL.
The new head coach, if one is ever chosen, must revamp the defense. That’s one good reason (among many) that Tom Bradley shouldn’t be the next head coach. Problem is, as I have stated on this blog previously, time is running out and we’ve had a veritable plethora of rumored “strong candidates”, but no selection yet. Take a gander at this Pete Thamel analysis in The New York Times if you want another opinion about where this search is going. I think I’m slowly coming to the realization that if the new guy is ever named, he’ll be a compromise, not a “name”.
And so, we’re in football withdrawal until the Blue-White game in April. With only 14 committed players thus far, we might not have enough for that intra-squad scrimmage. I certainly hope that both Pete Thamel and I are wrong about the coaching search, and that Penn State can turn this thing around quickly.