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!
K. John says
View from the stands.
Having seen this game and the Northwestern game from the stands, John Donovan appears to be the biggest road block to success. He showed signs of getting it in the first half when he emoployed something resembling a max protection formation which proved to be at least somewhat effective at slowing the rush and Michigan brought an array of blitzes and stunts throughout the game which has been par for the course since to Rutgers game. When Michigan only brought four or five, the line held up reasonable well which of course has been par for the course this year though stunts still give them trouble which is a sign of inexperience.
Early on we saw a bunch of quick hitting routes but later they disappeared for reasons unknown despite a complete lack of adjustments by Michigan. Donovan got away from them for whatever reason and cost Penn State another winnable game against a significantly inferior opponent. Say what you want about Joe during his later years but they rarely lost against inferior teams and never more than one a year. We now have two this year. Had they stuck with the first quarter game plan and employed it against Northwestern, Penn State would be 6 and 0 and looking at a 9 and 3 year maybe 10 and 2 year because the defense, which is the best in the Big Ten and a compentent free safety away from being the best in the nation, Hackenberg and the Hamilton/James/Carter combination are good enough to get them there.
As for the locker room environment, I am starting to hear interesting things, and not a good sort of interesting. I am now thinking this is a lost season. Donovan is in over his head as the offensive coordinator and unless the light goes on like it did for Butler they are going to be in a fight each and every week with only Illinois being a sure win which is a shame because Penn State has better talent than every team on the schedule sans Michigan State and Ohio State.
As for the officiating, it was a typical Big Ten game in the Big House. Nothing more, nothing less. Penn State isn’t alone in this one, just ask Washington, Utah, Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, Syracuse etc. Many teams have had calls that directly influence the outcome of games but Penn State has nobody to blame but themselves. You know when you play in the Big House, the officials will have a say. You have to deal with it and you deal with it by not putting yourself into position to have them make a call that decides the game.
The Nittany Turkey says
When did the light ever go on for Butler?
K. John says
I thought it went on after Ohio State last year. Despite the injury situation (DaQuan Jones, Mike Hull, Nayeem Wartman, Ben Kline, Malcom Willis, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong) the play calling was much better. The injury situation got better the last few weeks culminating in the beat down at Wisconsin which wasn’t nearly as close as the score. It is a shoulda woulda coulda situation but they don’t lose UCF or Indiana regardless of injuries and Michigan would have been a complete and total blow out if he knew what he was doing. Bad coaching by Butler and injuries were the story of the year.
This year it is bad coaching by Donovan. While the line isn’t good and is not likely to be good there are a lot of things coaching wise that can be done that aren’t. They continue to use a three receiver set on most downs rather than the two tight end set logic dictates would be their best option. I have yet to see a true maximum protection formation to help out the line. They continue to rely on Bill Belton as the primary starter when better options are available. Belton shows no vision as a runner, he goes down on first contact far to often, breaks very few tackles and is completely ineffective as a blocker. He showed signs of getting it on Saturday. In the first half he called plays with a ton of short quick hitting routes, mostly to the tight ends, and then completely threw out that game plan. That is the biggest one that doesn’t show up on television.
Everyone that played/watches enough football knows that there are ways to neutralize a rush if your line can’t hold up and they are not doing it. They are still calling plays with two or three slow developing routes forcing Hackenberg to hold onto the ball way too long and opposing defenses are keying on it. The line has done a pretty decent job in the passing game when they have the opportunity to line up one on one. If Donovan knew what he was doing he would had hot routes to make them pay for the blitz. That probably won’t stop them from blitzing but it will reduce it just like it did early on against Michigan because every team they play is terrified of Hackenberg. A good line would help but with competent play calling they would be undefeated right now and looking at a probably 10 and 2 season.
The Nittany Turkey says
That was right around the time Vanderlinden got the ax.
I’m not certain what inference I schould actually draw, but I’ve been riding on the assumption that O’Brien saw the need for a defensive shake-up and had a Come to Jesus meeting. Butler agreed to knuckle under; Vanderlinden insisted on autonomy. One of ’em had to go and it wasn’t going to be O’Brien’s hand-picked coordinator. PSU Homeys tend to pooh-pooh that, backing themselves up with subjective fuzzy logic like, “Why would he choose an outsider like Butler over the best position coach in the world, Vanderlinden?” If I’m barking up the right tree, however, and if I were O’Brien, I would have gone with the guy who was on the same page with me, not the guy with his own agenda. There had to be some kind of confrontation there, but no one’s talking, presumably not even your inside sources or Mark Brennan’s.
I know, but I’m not talking.
Oh yes, I am.
K. John says
From what I have heard (insert grain of salt), Vanderlinden’s firing didn’t come from O’Brien and it played a big part (not the biggest because I know what that is) in pushing out the door.
The Nittany Turkey says
It would have certainly played a big part in pushing me out the door if I had been O’Brien. He was given the reins to the program and while he had a boss, that boss or that boss’ boss making changes to his personnel should have driven him out. Can’t have that. My posture would be, “If you want to run it, go ahead. Here’s the keys. I quit.” (Like Denis Leary in “Draft Day” when the owner (Kevin Costner) made a personnel move he didn’t like.)
You know what the biggest is? I have several conjectures. Some are backed-into justifications, and some are real. The water has always been muddy here in my mind, but the common wisdom suggests:
— Big Bucks
— NFL HC job (I didn’t put this first, as some do, because he could have bit in Cleveland or Philly the prior year)
— Annoyance with the chickenshit PSU administration and BoT
— Better supportive care for his kid
— Annoyance with the Paterno faction (controversial, I know, especially because it was postulated by David Jones)
Now, please give me your considerable wisdom regarding what the biggest is.
Sad, very sad. Look, we all (should?) have come to the realization that when the sanctions were imposed, 2014 would by all indications be the bottom of the pit. Yeah, we had some pretty high expectations for 2015 after the two BoB years and with some solid experience returning from last year, but I don’t care if you have a combination of Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Dan Marino (you can substitute other QB’s here if you wish) playing behind this OL, with these receivers and this offensive (literally) philosophy, they would have no more success than Hack is having, and that’s a shame.
I don’t blame this all on Hack. When he had a decent line last year and a decent coaching staff he did pretty well (see Michigan and Wisconsin). Yeah he makes some dopey throws, but how much of that is the receivers not running crisp routes, gaining separation or breaking off routes when there’s a blitz. How the hell can you stand in there and make reads when you’re constantly under pressure. The O-Lines I played on at Kingston HS would put this one to shame. There is no coherent offensive philosophy and they don’t know how to develop a plan to deal with what they have (including a pro-style, drop back, pocket passer).
Donovan is clueless! Notice he was not in the press box this week. According to Franklin he was on the sideline so he could better communicate with the players coming off the field! Really! Game management and sideline communication is atrocious especially for a staff that according to CJF has been together for so long, they know when each other needs to take a crap!
NT covered a lot of the other things I was going to talk about, so I’ll let it at that, but if we get as much improvement out of another bye week like we did out of the last one, I’m very afraid for that little game with the Buckeyes coming up in two weeks.
So we hopefully can get a win against Temple and maybe Illinois or Indiana (if they don’t get their starting QB back), so the Cheese Doodle bowl remains a possibility at 6-6. We most likely will get embarrassed against OSU, Moo-U and maybe Maryland, but we’ll get through this season and maybe things will start to improve next year when we get some much needed talent upgrades.
I’m also hoping that Hack doesn’t decide to say fuck it, transfer out and go play somewhere that has a decent QB coach for his two years of remaining eligibility plus redshirt year.
And regarding the onside kick offside penalty, the NCAA rules interpretation seems to indicate they that made the right call (with the exception of the kicker or holder (if required) the remaining members of the kickoff team must be entirely behind the ball when it is struck). James had part of his upper body over the 20 when the ball was kicked. Chicken shit? Probably, but it still wouldn’t have had a lick-spit difference in the outcome even if we had been given possession.
And yeah, we’ve been outplayed by inferior teams even when JP was the coach.
As Clint Hurdle is want to say after a tough loss, “All you can do is shower it off and get ready for the next one!”
The Nittany Turkey says
Thanks for bringing the kickoff offsides rules to our attention. I haven’t checked the rulebook myself, but the comment that no part of anyone’s body can be ahead of the ball on the kickoff resonates with me. Doesn’t matter much at this point, but it’s always good when I can enhance my understanding of the rules so I don’t go off half-cocked, as usual.
The worst part about this loss is that State has played their last incompetent offense for the year. The offenses we play the rest of the year – including Illinois and Temple – can easily score 20+ points against the “best defense in the B1G”. (I still don’t believe that’s true, but, even if it is, you’re not saying much.).
So, if State is going to win another game this year, the offense will have to score 3 touchdowns per game against a non MAC team. The odds of that happening are probably about the same as rolling a 7 in craps.
It’s starting to look like getting to the Kohler Toilet Bowl is pipe dream. I think the only “win” we’re going to have for the rest of this year is if Hack does NOT transfer or get seriously injured.
K. John says
Whether you believe they have the best D in the Big Ten is up to you but most people, including quite a few Michigan State alums I know think they are. If they had better free safety play they would be the best in the nation. Now, Michigan State can say something about that now that Taiwan Jone’s has picked up the nuances of playing in the middle as opposed to outside but time will tell.
As for the rest of the season, Donovan has shown he can do something to help the offense out, even if it is only for a half. If this latest loss against an inferior team finally does knock some sense into him I would expect a battle with Ohio State followed by four likely wins leading up to Michigan State and an 8 and 4 record. The two losses have far more to do with Penn State than their opponents because neither have the talent to beat Penn State on their best day without Penn State blowing it and neither do Maryland, Illinois, Indiana or Temple and that defense and Hackenberg are certainly capable of making the games against Michigan State and Ohio State a pickem if the offensive coaches actually do their job.
Regardless, after two inexcusable losses to inferior teams, the season is a wash. You can’t lose to the teams you should beat handily and to lose because the coaches can’t put the players into position to help the team is especially troublesome.
The Nittany Turkey says
I think they listened to you for so long that they began to believe that they’re actually good. It might come as a surprise to both you and them, but they’re not!
The Nittany Turkey says
Not to be picky, but seven has the highest probability of being rolled. Just sayin’ (before statman K. John does). There are 36 possible rolls. Sevens are rolled with 1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, and 6-1. That’s six out of 36 for a 16.67% chance.
So, change it to the probability of rolling box cars or snake eyes, which are both 1 in 36. Unless, of course, you really believe there’s a 16.67% chance.
Yes, I think there’s a 15% chance of the offense getting 3 touchdowns in ONE of the last SIX games. The Illinois and Indiana defenses are basically at a MAC level. The problem is that both of their offenses can score 4 touchdowns or more.
I’d put the odds of being bowl eligible about the same as making a hard 8 (which has the same odds as your snake eyes but with a better payoff – IIRC the only bet that pays off on snake eyes is Don’t Pass)
The Nittany Turkey says
I was thinking that you were alluding to odds akin to making a “hard 7”, which is obviously impossible. (For non-craps readers, a “hard” number consists of two dies of equal value, e.g., hard six is two threes, hard eight is two fours.)
I suppose snake eyes pays on the don’t pass but also on the field and on any craps. There is also a prop bet for snake eyes (hard two), which pays 30-1. Hard eight pays 10-1.
But I don’t gamble much anymore, especially on college football. I would have tapped out betting on PSU in the Northwestern game.
The Nittany Turkey says
I think I said everything I needed to say about the game and the season’s prospects, so I commented on trivial shit!!