Kudos to Big Al, a repeat winner of the Nittany Turkey Predictor of the Week Award, from whose prose the headline of this article is lifted. Al, who vividly recalls the 1961 game, predicted the 2014 meeting: “…for the sake of nostalgia, my prediction is Maryland 21, Penn State 17. The offense plays its usual shitty 1st half and another 4th quarter comeback falls short…”
The fourth quarter comeback attempt did indeed fall short, not at the behest of the officials, as Al went on to suggest, but rather because of crappy play by the replacement center, Wendy Laurent, who had too much to think about on a 4th and short to remember that he had to put the ball squarely in Hack’s grip.
Of course, the coaching brain trust doesn’t get away without a negative mention from this turkey. The dysfunctional wildcat came out at a time when it could only get in the way of a drive in progress, taking what seemed like an eternity to line up and snap the ball, giving the defense plenty of time to be anything but fooled by the dickheaded play. As I can recall, only a single one of those misguided wildcat plays worked halfway decently during the entire season thus far. All the others, including two against Maryland, have been complete flops.
And so it came to pass that in this year’s revived rivalry, Maryland made its statement, winning 20-19. What lost it for Penn State was a crappy offensive line and crappy special teams play, neither any surprise, coupled with a net turnover margin of -2. That’s not much of a surprise, either. Past performance is the best predictor of future screwups. Al got it right.
Yea, verily, the two teams played pretty even-steven otherwise. Neither had a rushing game and neither had an outstanding passing game. They both wound up with around 200 yards in total offense. But Penn State continually lost the battle for field position, shooting themselves in the foot whenever they actually gained an advantage. This week’s punter, Dan Pasquariello, averaged 36.8 yards for eight punts, while Maryland’s Nathan Renfro took care of business, averaging 44.3 yards on eleven punts.
The Terps came out with a nasty attitude which seemed to drive them to overcome the adversity of a hostile, yet somehow somewhat apathetic Beaver Stadium. By game time, the gambling spread had dropped to three points, so the gamblers sensed the lack of energy in the house and, as it turned out, in the Nittany Lions themselves. Maryland players must have viewed the films of the 1986 Fiesta Bowl pre-game dinner, because they seemed to channel Michael Irvin and the Hurricanes when they refused to shake hands before the pre-kickoff coin toss. While their head coach, Randy Edsall, eventually apologized for the behavior, the spirit pervaded Terrapin play for the remainder of the game. They wanted this one. They wanted it more.
You could see it in Christian Hackenberg’s body language, which he took no great pains to shield from the all-seeing eye of the camera. He looked dejected, disgruntled, and discombobulated. He grows more so with every week. Once again, Hack was harassed by yet another mediocre defense running through a porous offensive line and over backs who seemed not to want to get in the way of blitzing defenders. Once again, he was banged up. I don’t blame him personally for being all of those D-words I mentioned — in fact, he should be suffering from full-scale PTSD at this point — but I continue to worry that he’s reaching the end of his rope with Penn State.
Hack came to PSU to play for Bill O’Brien, but now he doesn’t even have that. What he actually does have with respect to coaching seems more and more to be clueless as to how to use him and protect him effectively, given the talent that exists or lack of same. In my mind, the only thing keeping Hackenberg from transferring to another program in which he would be given a better chance to succeed is the requisite one-year sitting out period; I don’t think he wants to do a Pat Devlin by transferring out of FBS. He’s young and carrying a team on his shoulders. He’s nominally captain, but he hasn’t yet developed the kind of strong leadership abilities needed to lead a bunch of guys of varying ages and abilities through adversity. He’s expected to do the impossible week in and week out without adequate tools to accomplish the job.
A Ferrari with a flat tire won’t go very far. Even a crack mechanic cannot fix it without two mundane tools: a jack and a wrench. Hackenberg potentially has a Ferrari with a sleek body and a finely tuned engine. We know that he has talented receivers. We know the defense can hold opponents’ points down. We know that Hack is a gifted quarterback with a great arm. Nonetheless, the absence of a competent offensive line has robbed him of his potential greatness. He has a flat tire and he lacks a jack and a lug wrench. He comprehends that those implements won’t be available this year and that he’s going to have to limp along for the remainder of this year. He now looks sullen, which rubs off on those kids he is supposed to be leading, which is not good for the team. Moreover, there is little anyone can do at this juncture.
So, what do you see on the road ahead? Yeah, I know, it’s hard to reduce expectations. However, to be realistic I think we’re going to have to do so. It will be a struggle for PSU to win two more games and become bowl eligible to get those extra 15 practices that Joe keeps telling us are the reason we want them to become bowl eligible. It could be the ultimate let-down to have that big emotional boost at the beginning of the season celebrating bowl eligibility and then wind up not being bowl eligible, but I repeat what I’ve said before — there are no guaranteed wins for the Lions in the remaining schedule, especially if they can’t get their asses motivated to play or similarly, if they feel like playing only halves of games.
I’ll be back with a preview and prediction for the Indiana game, another wonderful noon start.