The Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) were roundly defeated by the much maligned Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 1-0) by the score of 29-6. It wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicates. Northwestern established themselves early, quickly jumping to a 14-0 lead before the Nittany Lions put on their jock straps and scored their first points.
This is the first time since that wonderful 6-4 classic versus Iowa in 2004, also a homecoming game, that Penn State did not score a single touchdown in a game at home in Beaver Stadium. Ten years, man! We’re harkening back to the sucky sounds of [cue foreboding cello in minor key] The Dark Years. This suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks!
Big thanks go to Big Al, who not only forecast the Nittany Lions’ flatness, sort of, but also never swung to the Sanguinarian side when Penn State looked good against the bottom of the barrel of the FBS. He’s consistently called a spade a spade all along.
Thanks also to Joe, who provided the headline for this article with his post-game comment.
Toejam, who watched the game via BTN2GO on his smartphone declared, “It’s been a f*cking waste of bandwidth!” Good thing it didn’t cause him to exceed his limit.
If you were among the Sanguinarians, this turkey included, who had a warm fuzzy feeling about this team after the UMass cupcake crusher, think again, buster! The 2014 Nittany Lions are not yet ready for prime time, and one has to wonder what lies ahead for them.
Big Al had predicted that they would come out flat for 2-1/2 quarters and have to come from behind to win. Specifically, he said, “I’m expecting 2-1/2 quarters of last week’s 1st quarter.” However, he still had PSU winning 19-13. He added the comment, “A slightly better game than the 14-7 loss during the dark years. That game might have been the low point of [St.] Joe’s career.”
On the basis of his apt and prescient pessimism, I’m declaring Big Al this weeks Ace Predictor of the Week.
(Quit yer whining. Yeah, he predicted the wrong winner, but he had the right mindset.)
There were flaws in his prediction, to be sure. This 29-6 beat-down wasn’t slightly better than that 14-7 loss. It was a helluva lot worse. Penn State was never in the game, now were they? And they never did anything to act like they wanted it.
This is a team in disarray. When your star quarterback is not seeing open receivers and getting into sideline arguments with them, you know there’s trouble in Happy Valley.
Both lines sucked. It seemed as if Northwestern was able to move the ball at will against our vaunted defense, on which it appeared that Mike Hull was the only player flying to the ball at times. They had no fire. Northwestern was able to rush for 104 yards on 38 attempts.
On offense, the O-Line is a total mess, not providing blocking for the run and not providing protection for the passer. Christian Hackenberg was beaten up once again and was visibly limping by the third quarter (although I’m not completely certain that it was hurt pride more than a hurt body). He completed fewer than half his passes, with no touchdowns and one costly pick six interception, although the game was already lost at that point. His final QBR was 12.7. I’m faulting the O-Line for some of that, but Hackenberg’s timing and accuracy was off for most of the day. And so, I think, was his attitude.
He wasn’t seen rallying the troops, as a team captain should. I think that at some point James Franklin should have noticed that Hack — perhaps frustrated by his receivers being continually covered and not having enough time to find open ones — was in need of some motivational ass-kicking. Hack is a sophomore — yeah, he’s a kid — but he was chosen as a team captain and he damn well needs to act like one. No pouting is allowed.
So, what’s this I hear about a “sophomore slump”?
Am I being too hard on Hack? Perhaps, but I’m being hard on Franklin, too.
The word you’re going to hear and read for the next two weeks is “answers”. People are going to want a lot of them.
This Nittany Lions team is frankly not good enough to play in the top tier of the Big Ten. Yeah, I know. One bad beat-down and I’m whining about how bad they are. But five games into the season, we should be seeing an improvement in the offensive line and we’re not. They’re getting worse. Did you see them out there blocking each other? Did you see Mangiro getting pushed back every other play? These guys aren’t going to hold up through the Big Ten schedule.
Meanwhile, Northwestern found some particular softness in the middle of the PSU D-line. That was supposed to be the Lions’ great strength. Harrrrrumph!
Third down efficiency continues to suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Today it was 3-17.
Turnovers, too. Aside from Hack’s errant throw, he coughed up the ball after a hard sack. Adrian Amos had a lucky interception, and Penn State wound up driving its cumulative turnover margin southward by one. Boil out the five gift interceptions of Gary Nova and you’ve got a minus six, caused by the combination of a defense that can’t force turnovers and an offense that can’t protect the ball. Thanks to Mr. Nova, they’re not tied for 110th place along with Vanderbilt for that crappy distinction. (But Michigan is #125 with a -10 hahahahaha).
Northwestern’s defense looked pretty good, but the scary thing is that they were ranked 73rd in total defense coming into this game. Michigan is ranked #8. Ohio State and Michigan State are 13 and 14. Even Purdue is 61st.
Pat Fitzgerald gambled several times on offense. Why not? He had little to lose. His defense was in charge and it really looked like they could move the ball at will against Penn State. Sitting on a 14 point lead, why not go for the bundle? In the end, though, it was more Penn State’s crappy, desperate play that sealed the deal.
As the late Tampa Bay Bucs coach John McCay once responded to a question after a particularly putrid performance by the Bucs about whether he could find anything positive in the loss to Detroit:
“Yes. The parking lot will be a lot emptier next week against Green Bay and people will be able to get in and out easier.”
OK, so who can find anything positive to say? K. John?
Two weeks until the loss to Michigan and there are too many problems to correct to even make a good show of it.
I think this was my fault. Before the game, I created a specialty libation in order to salute our opponent. It is called the Purple Pussycat Passion, and it is made from Tito’s vodka, Triple Sec, Welch’s grape juice, cranberry juice, and Blue Curação, with a moonshine macerated maraschino cherry. It went over big with the assembled multitude in The Cave.
I’ll be back at some point with a preview of the Michigan game. So help me, I need some encouragement from you readers to redevelop a sense of optimism about the boys. At this point, all I can say is that most of us probably got caught up in post-cupcake euphoria, and we need to temper our expectations accordingly.
You need optimism. Try this.
As bad as State played in the first 3 quarters, they were still in the game until Hack’s pick six. They were one big play and a two point conversion from sending the game into overtime. The defense had a rocky start, but they would have held NW scoreless in the second half if Hack hadn’t started imitating Gary turNova.
State is team with no margin for error. They simply CANNOT turn the ball over and expect to win ANY game that’s left on the schedule. The OL sucks and Hack is inconsistent, but only the only remaining games that are totally out of reach are tOSU and Moo U.
Michigan is starting to look like a must win game. If State can’t somehow pull that game out (the over/under for that shitfest should be less than 30 points), we’re probably looking at a 5 game losing streak and 6 and 6 season, at best.
The Nittany Turkey says
You think they were still in it until Hack’s interception? Maybe if they were playing Rutgers or Akron they might have been, but not against the Fitz’s fired up defense. OK, yeah, the game was technically within reach, but when the offense is as crappy as this one and the entire team’s body language was suggesting that they had already put this one in the “L” column, the game was out of reach from the first quarter on. So much for hypotheticals.
I agree that turnovers and stupid penalties must cease, as this team is operating under enough of a handicap without them. The offensive line (truly offensive, as it were) will not be fixed this season. The defense is serviceable up front and if they don’t play with their thumbs up their asses for a quarter or so in each game, PSU will have a chance. I was counting on the defense to keep this game close, but when they spot the purple people two touchdowns, how the hell can anyone expect to win? This offense is not the 1994 team (even though some idiots put them in that category because of their supposed ability to come back and win games in the fourth quarter). So, I think that in addition to playing sound football, they need to be ready to play each minute of each game.
I also agree about Big Blue being a must-win. Minnesota proved that they can be beaten on their home turf and Brady Hoke once again proved that he is an asshole by playing that kid with concussion symptoms. (It isn’t even like they’re going anywhere this year. They don’t have to risk kids. But I digress.) If our guys go in there thinking they can mail it in, as they apparently thought with respect to Northwestern, they will have their clocks cleaned and handed to them.
Hackenberg won’t be able to survive much more of the pounding he’s going to get from this point on. The lack of an offensive line’ll killya.
K. John says
While watching the game, I never thought for a second they would lose until the pick six. Not once. The defense shut them down beginning with Northwestern’s fourth series and held them in check the remainder of the game until the INT. Almost half of Northwestern’s yardage occurred on their first three drives and final two after it was over.
K. John says
I think it is safe to say that John Donovan is the new John Butler. Between formation selection, personnel groupings and play calling, it doesn’t get much worse for the offense than that. Very disappointing. The JayPa/GHall coordinating combo was never as bad on its worst day than Donovan has been in his first two games as a Big Ten coordinator.
The Nittany Turkey says
Yeah, Donovan’s offensive schemes have been suspect from the start, but this is a new low — evoking comparisons to the 6-4 Iowa game from [cue foreboding cello riff] The Dark Years. How innovative can his offensive tactics be if his players can’t handle fundamentals? That’s on him, too.
You haven’t given me any cause for optimism, K. John. At least say that we were robbed by the officials or something. You merely reinforced my bad feelings about the PSU offensive offense.
I hope you didn’t take too big a bank account hit for the homecoming weekend trip. It sure as hell wasn’t worth much, unless you had a decent meal or two in SC.
K. John says
I only criticize the officiating when I think it is warranted. It was in the first game. It wasn’t against Rutgers and it certainly isn’t here. I would love to give credit to Northwestern but the only thing I can give them credit for it capitalizing on our mistakes like a bunch of vultures. I wouldn’t say they outplayed us in any way. We just couldn’t get out of our own way.
As for cost, it wasn’t pretty. It usually isn’t. I least I am not paying for season tickets anymore. I got rid of those when STEP went in to place. I ate may way through State College however.
The Corner Room–check
At least I had fun, other than three plus miserable hours in EDU. I will be back up for Maryland and Michigan State and will be in A squared for the night game.
The Nittany Turkey says
Toejam also gave up his season tickets after the STEP program was implemented (the hallmark of Tim Curley’s career). He decided that it was easier to go to selected games and procure the necessary tickets from the long established scalper headquartered at College and Allen. He doesn’t waste his money, either, on the crappy cupcake games, but he and wife sure do love to dine in SC! I take advantage of that proclivity when I attend games with them, which I haven’t done since they dumped their season tickets.
K. John says
That is my MO. I usually procure tickets from the tailgating group for face value even if I don’t think face value represents a good or even decent deal. Just out of courtesy. On the rare occasion I am in town for a cupcake, I generally wait until mid way through the first quarter and offer the nearest person selling $10 or less a piece knowing they are getting nothing if they don’t accept.
Sadly I didn’t make it to Zola’s or Zeno’s but time was short and it was homecoming so the streets were packed. Oh well, next visit will be Maryland.
So, with the exception of Big Al, we all got sucked in to the vortex of false euphoria. Yeah we were 4-0, close to being in the top 25, a first round draft pick at QB, a rushing game that finally appeared against UMass, and we were going to pick up guaranteed win #5 against Northwestern (according to all of the experts; us included) who had looked worse than Purdue until Saturday. There was talk of the Capitol One Bowl, challenging OSU and a nice big fat bye week coming up to prep us for Michigan. Sanctions? What sanctions? Depth issues? What depth issues?
Well, I’ve watched some PS stinkers, but this one had to be the biggest, smelliest, “rotten egg” of the bunch.
This team and the coaching staff were not ready for Northwestern on Saturday. Maybe CJF and his staff were relying on having played NW at their previous institution to come up with the game plan for Saturday. Maybe CJF and his staff really believed they now had a viable & productive running game after they put up 200+ against UMass. Perhaps the team convinced themselves that this would be an easy win and was halfway in to the bye week before reality smacked them in the teeth. Or maybe taking the names off the jersey’s confused the staff and team because they realized too late that they didn’t know the players by their numbers.
And what the hell was that about? Remove the last vestige of BoB, pressure from the alums, or a message that the sanctions were done and we didn’t need this Mickey Mouse shit anymore.
The reality is this is what the worst year of the sanctions was supposed to look like. 4-0 is nice, but as you all know,it probably should have been 2-2 before Saturday.
-I agree that Hack looked like he folded his tent sometime in the second half. Yeah he’s good, but he isn’t good enough to overcome shitty play calling, no OL, receivers that can’t get separation or run tight/correct routes and a medley of different RB’s parading in every series throughout the game. I’m sure people are tired of hearing he’s a 19 year old sophomore, but he is, and I’ve got to believe there’s a damn big difference being coached by Bill O’Brien verses Ricky Rahne. He says all the right things (almost like he’s been programmed), but I’ve got to believe he physically takes a beating. Even that hit on the sideline had to have him seeing stars. I don’t know of any QB (college or pro) that could have held on to the ball when he took that helmet to the chest from a LB who was running full speed (without even a chip block) from 10 yards out. I don’t know how anyone can even get off a pass when there is no pocket and you’re constantly worried about getting whacked. He’ll get there once they have the personnel around him and that may not be until ’15/’16. And if he keeps having days like Saturday, he will be around for all 4 years.
-They need to settle on a RB!!!!! Lynch had one carry. Belton is a side to side dancing bear and ZZTop needs to just put his head down and blast forward, but this three headed collaboration is just not productive, with or without an effective line. Belton & ZZTop are gone after this year-give the damn ball to Lynch!
-I don’t even know where to start with the OL. Hopefully Diefenbach can get back soon-it isn’t much, but even him at 3/4 speed is better than what we have. I don’t know how the blocking schemes are set up, but they just can’t grasp it. How many times did they miss assignments, didn’t pick up the blitz or in the case of Nelson and Gaia block each other (embarrassment aside, that was probably the most effective block either one had all day, but if they don’t know they’re not supposed to block the guy with the same jersey, how the hell are you going to teach them to make call outs based on the defense and the play call!) Two weeks isn’t going to fix this, the blocking assignments have to be simplified, but when this is what you’ve got . . . .
-Yeah, Hamilton and Lewis have made some spectacular catches, but have you noticed they are always made in a crowd? Simple THEY DON’T GET ANY SEPARATION!!!!! How many dropped balls have there been this year (I’m talking to you Kyle Carter)? How many routes have not been run correctly-there were a bunch on Saturday. Contrary to popular opinion, we haven’t replaced Robinson entirely and Brenneman being out doesn’t help. Fortunately this will get better with the talent there today and what’s coming in (SPEED), but the key to this is giving the QB time to go through his progressions and I’ve got to believe Hack’s lucky if he makes it through the first one or two before it’s time to throw.
-K.John hit it on the head; Donovan is our new Butler. I remember when the new staff came in, he was pretty much assessed as the weakest of the bunch. But it’s try a run, (fail or get penalized), launch a rocket downfield (comp/inc), try a short hitch or some fucked up wildcat call and punt. Oh and maybe go for it on 4th and 2 from your own 29!!! The offense has no rhythm, no identity! Yeah, there’s no running game, but if you don’t know what the hell to do, get help during the bye week!!!!!
-The defense has it’s own problems, but I’ve written too much already. I’ll only say if you’re going to blitz a short drop QB, you either better make sure you get him or cover the fuckin’ middle of the field.
So we really are what we thought we were at the beginning of the season. Yeah Big Al is right, with the exception of OSU and MSU, we could be in each one of the other remaining games (and I didn’t think we were really out of this until the pick six). Michigan may find their way before we play them and Indiana & Maryland won’t be easy, but we should be able to get to 6-6, go to the Turkey’s Toilet Bowl in Koehler Wisconsin, which I don’t believe that’s a domed stadium and K. John the prices should be cheaper there!!!!
As I’ve said before, it’s not the bowl game, it’s the fifteen extra practices you get-this team is going to need everyone of them to get ready for ’15.
The Nittany Turkey says
I appreciate all those insights. You recognized the error of your ways, as did this turkey, in letting emotions and proto-euphoria contravene sound analysis, and you quickly reeled yourself in after the “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” effort (or lack of same) on Saturday.
The offense is so tentative and almost timid that I cringe to watch it. It’s almost like the offensive brain trust — which sure as hell isn’t led by Ray Donovan* — too quickly folds its tent when a few things don’t succeed, reverting to some safe sideline passes for five yards a pop. I can understand some of that if receivers can’t get open downfield, if the offensive line can’t give the quarterback time to throw, and if running plays don’t work. On the other hand, instead of working on the fundamentals that the Lions lack, the coaches seem to be doing that KISS crap, conceding that their players can’t play and they’re too dumb to master a complex playbook, besides.
I don’t believe that’s true. I think coaching is a major issue here. Sure, player personnel is depleted and not top quality throughout, but coaches don’t have that excuse available to them.
Franklin’s admission that the team wasn’t ready for the Northwestern game was almost shocking to this turkey. Whose job is it to GET them ready? Who stood there on the sidelines during this game looking as if he was disengaged from the whole thing unfolding before him?
And yeah, I’ve noticed that Hackenberg’s completions downfield are always made in traffic. That certainly does tell the tale of receivers not being able to get open. Of course, I can’t see the whole field from my drunken armchair perspective (thanks, Purple Pussycat Passion), so I don’t know if Hack is not seeing open receivers. I’m inclined to believe you that our vaunted receivers don’t have the ability to run crisp routes and separate from the coverage. (Lack of separation speed was one of the knocks on Allen Robinson’s player card before the NFL draft, but he since seems to have been able to make himself open for Blake Bortles.)
Good point about the troika of running backs. That situation was inherited from O’Brien, but it’s Franklin’s (and Donovan’s) running game now, and all they’ve done with it is keep the same three-headed monster and limit its carries while trying some sandlot wildcat crap that hasn’t worked worth a shit. While it can be argued that not even the great Jim Brown could run behind this offensive line, they’ve got to figure out how to use the available personnel to create some semblance of a rushing attack or their offense will be impotent in the Big Ten and Hackenberg will be seeing stars all the time between now and the toilet bowl.
While Loo Memorial Stadium in Kohler, WI (where the Toilet Bowl is played) doesn’t have a dome, it does, in fact, have a lid. They keep it closed so that the dog doesn’t drink from it, but it still gets mighty cold in there.
As all of you know, the Toilet Bowl is this turkey’s euphemism for “some shitty bowl played well before New Year in an unlikely vacation spot”. The three candidates for potential Toilet Bowl status this year are the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl (in Detroit), and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl (in Yankee Stadium). I’m thinking that the Quick Lane would be the best for K. John. There are 31,000 empty houses in Detroit, so he could go there on the cheap and all he would have to do is bring enough armament to defend the squatting venue of his choice. (Of course, that could mean bringing an M-1 tank, given the crime rate in Detroit.) And he’d stay warm there, too, because Ford Field has a roof and when he’s outside the stadium he can feel the warmth from burning buildings.
*Catch the dramatic conclusion of the second season of Ray Donovan on SHOWTIME tonight!
The Nittany Turkey says
The Bucs could have won their division. Amazing!
The Steelers. Now that’s an animal of a different stripe.
If someone would have told me in early May that the Bucs would have been that close at the end I would have thought they were crazy. It also helps that the Brewers & Reds gagged after the All-Star break and the Cards just never seemed to get enough traction to pull away.
Ahh the Steelers!!!! I think it’s time to think about a replacement for Tomlin and perhaps Dick LeBeau needs to figure out what he’s going to do in retirement!
Finally, it should make us all feel a little better that Akron put it to the Pitt Panthers on Saturday 21-10.
K. John says
The only positive I can take from this game is that the defense never gave up despite the offensive ineptitude and played until the end and now the entire team has to stew for two weeks until they play in A squared against a Michigan team that is in shambles. I think Hoke has lost his team and we could stick the final nail in the coffin.
The Nittany Turkey says
While I’m glad that Charlie Weis got the axe at Kansas, I’m thinking that Hoke probably should have been the first to go this year. He’s not only losing the team and the fans but also doing dumbass desperation crap like playing a kid with concussion symptoms. The sooner they make a change at UM, the better.
Even before Saturday’s Minnesota debacle, Travis Haney assessed the situation at Big Blue
correctly, in my opinion.
One thing Haney asserts that I’ll refute is that Hoke’s denouement should wait for December.
Hoke should be dismissed immediately for his handling of Morris’ injury. Absolutely uncalled for at any level of sports. If Big Blue and their pizzaman AD had any balls, there would be a press conference already called for Monday morning. That was pure bullshit!
K. John says
Speaking as an Ann Arbor native and someone that has more than a casual interest in that program, there are not a lot of things in this world that surprise me but I would be shocked if they fired him mid-season, regardless of the situation. The only way I think he leaves is if he does it on his own.