In one of the worst offensive efforts I’ve seen from Penn State since [cue foreboding cello] The Dark Years, the Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) bowed to the previously hapless Michigannah Wolverines (3-4, 1-2), breaking a major slide for the ‘Rines in front of a packed Big House. Announced attendance was 113,085. This was the first Big Ten game played under the lights at recently renovated Michigan Stadium.
The Turkey is pissed off. I’ll rant some more later.
This week’s Predictor of the Week is Joe, who was closest to reality with his prediction of a 13-10 UM win. He mentioned a couple of potentially mitigating “ifs” that unfortunately didn’t come to pass:
… if CJF can get these guys to realize the game doesn’t start in the middle of the second quarter and we can get some semblance of line blocking and perhaps give the ball to Lynch, give Hack some time and burn the pages in the playbook that have our Wildcat formations, maybe, just maybe they can pull one out.
Big Al deserves an honorable mention. He also chose Michigan but he didn’t give the PSU defense enough credit or he gave the UM offense too much respect, one or the other, calling for a 24-12 beat down. He was certainly right about the continued red zone woes for PSU, but blew it with a prediction that Hack would wind up with over 300 yards.
This Penn State offense just seems to be getting worser and worser. Whatever James Franklin and staff worked on during the two-week interregnum (when football was not king, but I digress), didn’t work. Maybe he squirted too much water on Christian Hackenberg to further piss him off, or maybe he and John Donovan were looking for that damn elusive “same page”, but this is an offense in disarray and it seems as if nothing is going to work.
The second half was as bad as it gets. After limping to a 13-10 lead at halftime, the offense scored -2 points during the remainder of the game, while the defense struggled valiantly to keep them in it. Mistakes made by the coaching brain trust and the officiating crew made it even worse. The lack of synchronicity among coaches time-traveled us back to the ci-devant* era of Jay and Galen and Joe and McQueary, necessitating time-outs because they couldn’t get plays in. That kind of crap’ll killya.
And while I could bitch and moan, as some partisans will, about the officials calling a phantom offside on an onside kick seemingly successfully recovered by the otherwise shitty special team at the end of the game, I won’t. I agree that upon replay, it was a bad call. Worse, it was a bad call by a crew run by Dick Witvoet, a guy suspected to be a Michigan partisan by many anti-PSU conspiracy theorists. But let’s say the wackos are right and, knowing that penalty calls are not reviewable (except by the allegedly pro-Michigan conference office for the purpose of evaluating officials), Witvoet deliberately blew the call to give Michigan the win. It is arguable whether Penn State could have driven 70 yards against the Michigan defense the way they were playing. I firmly believe that with a single time-out left, they would have sputtered, squandered the clock, yelled at each other on the sideline, brought out the voodoo playbook, and made themselves look even worse. I’m glad I didn’t get to witness that one final stand of incompetence.
Michigan was inspired in front of their capacity crowd, and Devin Gardner’s heroics bespoke a team hungry for a win. Gardner, obviously limping in the fourth quarter, played in pain. That proud gladiator would not fall. When he came off the field hurt, the announcers thought Shane Morris, who had been cleared to play, would replace him, but Michigan Man Brady Hoke (MMBH) would not make that crucial decision. Instead, he put in third-stringer Russell Bellomy, who was ineffectual and almost threw the game away when he tried a swing pass to PSU linebacker Mike Hull, who had nothing but green in front of him. Unfortunately for PSU, Hull couldn’t reel it in. After two series, Bellomy’s incompetence led MMBH to put Gardner back into the game for the duration, limp and all. I’m sure MMBH will be hearing shit from media and fans today about allowing yet another injured player to take the field.
Great credit to the Penn State defense and particularly Hull, for keeping the game within reach at all times while holding Michigan to 256 total yards and effectively containing Gardner. The secondary made some mistakes, none more egregious than Ryan Keiser not going for the ball at the goal line on a long pass to Devin Funchess that put Michigan’s first score on the board. Otherwise, the defense cannot be faulted. Hull wound up with 10 tackles, and he was all over the field, including the aforementioned almost-pick-six.
If Michigan’s offense was anemic, Penn State’s was completely ensanguined and asphyxiated. With 214 total yards to show for themselves and 6-17 third down efficiency, they bit the big one. Christian Hackenberg had only 160 yards passing — and where was Geno Lewis, the heretofore go-to guy? Rumor has it that there’s discord there. He’s not injured. That deep threat was missing, not that Hack would have had enough time to get the ball downfield, or anything. The impotent PSU offense was mostly short, safe passes, as the running game once again sputtered, ringing up only 54 yards on 35 carries for an average of 1.5 yards per rush. Putrid! Anything the offensive line is called upon to do, it does badly.
The nadir of Hackenberg’s performance had to be the nasty and unnecessary interception with four minutes left in the third quarter. On third and four, Hack was hurried and was about to be sacked (again), so he lofted a desperation balloon in the general direction of a receiver. Predictably, the pass fell into enemy hands, leading to a field goal that tied the game at 13. Hack looked frustrated, bewildered, bemused, banged up, and chagrined. He suffered six sacks behind the most porous offensive line in the FBS and was hurried far too many other times.
To compound the offensive woes, does John Donovan know what the hell he’s doing? Once again bringing out the wildcat at a crucial time, fooling no one, that wasn’t the worst of it. How about a stupid fake punt on the Michigan 37 on fourth and 11 that didn’t make any sense unless it had succeeded, which was about a 1% chance. Didn’t fool no one, neither, and wound up being a two yard loss, giving Michigan yet another timely transfusion to combat their anemia. Fortunately, it was followed by a three and out by the Wolverines; unfortunately, that led to a punt that handed PSU the ball on its own six yard-line, backing them up to set up the next life-saving transfusion for Michigan, which was the aforementioned Hackerception.
And then, there were the time outs when no one on the sideline could agree on calls, even right at the end when they didn’t believe the players knew they had to take a safety to keep control of the ball for a few more desperate moments or let the clock run out. The Wolverines had managed to surmount anemia long enough to kick another field goal and were leading 16-13. Kicking from the back of the end zone, Chris Gulla, who had some laughable punts of 26 and 29 yards, would have given Michigan the ball around the 20 yard-line with 1:43 left on the clock. No, no, no! Mustn’t do! The kids, I can understand not thinking about that in the heat of combat, but the coaches? It’s all on the coaches to lift the fog of war and keep everyone calm and informed.
Don’t stop me, I’m on a roll! Here are some “quick hits” — random bile I want to spew before closing:
- The names were back on the Jerseys so we could see exactly who was fucking up out there. Wonder what was the purpose of removing them for the Northwestern game. Maybe there’s confusion in the equipment room, too, since Spider Caldwell retired to his happy home in Port Matilda.
- What was the deal with Geno Lewis? He didn’t play in the first series and had only three catches for a measly 17 yards. Franklin was closed-mouthed about any possible issues there. Whassup?
- Great credit to the defense once again, although the secondary still isn’t what I want it to be. The single interception in this game was made by a lineman, Anthony Zettel, and then there was Ryan Keiser’s aforementioned screw-up. Furthermore, gaping coverage holes were seen throughout the game, ripe for the picking by Devin Gardner, but fortunately for PSU, Michigan’s offensive sickle-cell anemia didn’t do much exploitin’. But I’ll stack the Lions’ front seven up against anyone. They’re who are keeping Penn State in games to the extent that they have been.
- I think Hack’s 300-yard days are behind us, now that he’s up against some legitimate defenses. He’s taking a beating back there, and getting tentative and frustrated behind that bunch of bums. Facing decent defense, he doesn’t have the luxury of taking his pick of open receivers, and he doesn’t have enough time to find the elusive free one before the pocket caves in on him. Furthermore, he doesn’t have the mobility to scramble when pressed and I hope he doesn’t try, because he’ll get no blocking from the idiots in front of him.
- Do you think I’m being too hard on the offensive line?
- No, I don’t.
- They suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!
- Quarterbacking anemia on both sides. QBRs: Gardner, 38.5; Hack 18.2. If you want to count Bellomy, he had a 0.7.
- Oh, yeah. Ohio State is next.
- Michigan’s defense might not be great, but they’re representative of at least a minimal level of competence PSU will encounter in Big Ten play. That doesn’t bode well for offensive leukemia.
- Is there any hope for another win this season? This offensive coma must end, one way or the other.
- Enough, already, with the medical metaphors, already. OK, one more. This offense is in critical condition.
I’ll be back with some dire and dreadful predictions about the Ohio State game. In the meanwhile, Happy Columbus Day, and I look forward to your take on this abortion of a game! Now I’m going to go watch the Steelers lose to the Browns, for the complete undoing of my sports weekend. Well, the Penguins provided a bright spot, anyway.
*ci-devant, adj.: former, erstwhile.
Hey, I saw it in Word of the Day, already!