It is all the rage among Nittany Lion fans and fanettes to decry the much-maligned John Donovan and fret over the Christian Hackenberg situation. PennLive.com/The Patriot-News obliged this turkey with a couple of straw-men I want to pass along to you in case you haven’t seen them. Let’s beat a couple of half-dead horses.
You can’t fire the players, so what’s left but to fire the coach?
The much-hated David Jones (my buddy) must be reading my crap. He channels The Nittany Turkey in his November 4 article about the Hackenberg situation and in the conversation he had with James Franklin about it. So, please overcome your partisan condescension and puerile derision and give it a read. I won’t think of you as a Buckeye homey if you do; agree or disagree, it won’t hurt you. The comment thread following the article is full of opinions — just what you like.
Meanwhile, Greg Pickel gets himself in quite a pickle by opining that Penn State doesn’t have a John Donovan problem in his article published this morning. He thinks Donovan or anyone else couldn’t do any better with the personnel he has. As you can imagine, the opinionated responses are replete with the cloying form of Internet vitriol we all know, love, and employ from time to time.
On a note somewhat related to Pickel’s bloviation, Bill Belton‘s running style is completely worthless in an offense replete with a five-cone offensive line. He evokes memories of Austin Scott, who famously liked to dance before hitting the hole. Defensive coordinators have shut him down knowing that he will wait for holes his blockers can’t create, a simple thing to do given the matador blocking.
I observed the NFL version of this in the Steelers-Ravens game. Moo U.’s own LeVeon Bell has been a huge offensive weapon for the Steelers this year, even though he does the dance behind the offensive line when he runs. Broadcasters have described him as “patiently waiting for his blocking to create holes.” The Ravens wouldn’t give him that much time; “patience” in that situation means blocks breaking down and tackles for losses. Bell wound up with a net 20 yards on 10 carries against the Ravens, whereas against Indianapolis the previous week, he had 24 for 92 yards. His season average is 4.7 yards.
All season thus far I’ve been watching Bell excel with the Steelers while wondering how he can look like Austin Scott or Bill Belton behind the line and yet be a successful running back. I guess I boiled it down to the offensive line having either a good or bad day (duh!). Some schmuck in one of the comment threads I mentioned above brought up the Steelers’ relative success this year versus last year, proclaiming the obvious difference to be the miraculously wonderful and most excellent coaching of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak (PSU ’82 and member of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame). My ass! More PSU homey wishful thinking! The obvious difference to me has been a healthy pair of Gators, C Maurkice Pouncey (UF ’10) and OT Marcus Gilbert (UF ’11), but I digress. Indeed, the Steelers’ offensive line has not been great this year, and it sure as hell wasn’t great against the Ravens, as was evident with three straight sacks of Big Ben in the first period. When the line breaks down, the highly talented Roethlisberger can improvise, adapt, and overcome, whereas Bell’s running production is depressed. Fortunately for the Steelers, offensive coordinator Todd Haley has an answer there, too, finding a way to make lemonade from lemons. Bell is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and those quick routes can offset some of the battles lost in the pits. The ability to adapt is what makes the difference.
There is an analog here, and you all know what it is, albeit an exaggerated one. Bill Belton is no LeVeon Bell and Christian Hackenberg is no Ben Roethlisberger. Not yet, anyway. The Steelers’ offensive line is not bad, while Penn State’s is truly awful. Even Mike Munchak couldn’t have fixed it with this ragtag collection of youngsters. But by the same token, John Donovan is far from being a Todd Haley. He has not made lemonade, unless you consider what he streams into the urinal at halftime. He does indeed have some significant talent on this team, but he’s failed to adapt well to the mediocre stasis of the team as a whole by exploiting that talent while developing the deficient players and moving the whole thing forward. I guess that’s an oversimplification of the crux of the Donovan situation in this turkey’s mind.
Surely, there is blame to be spread around and excuses to be made. However, who is teaching Hack how to be a Roethlisberger? He needs to develop a couple of abilities in view of the present situation and furthermore, to make him viable in the NFL: sack evasion and getting rid of the ball. We know he can throw the ball a mile and sometimes throw accurately, although this year’s case of the yips has seemingly compromised the latter and his receivers’ inability to achieve separation plus the crappily deficient O-line have nullified the former. Back to the stupid comparison, how many times have you seen Big Ben emerge from an impossibly collapsed pocket and make a desperation throw that connects for big yardage or a first down?
Maybe I’m placing some unreal expectations on Hack by comparing him to an established All-Pro quarterback behind a semi-competent NFL offensive line, but I do think he’s being cheated by some crappy coaching that places too much of a burden on him at this early stage in his development. My thoughts in that connection include the notion that he should have been allowed to grow up before he was named captain. And this knock on coaching applies to both the current and immediate past regime. Both burdened the Hackster’s young shoulders with a rather untenable leadership role.
He is clearly frustrated with the situation, and his immature pouting has resulted in a diminution of team morale. Petulance and griping are not leadership qualities. He’ll grow out of this, to be sure, but he needs to be properly coached while that maturity is developing. I would love to see last year’s Happy Hack again. But times change and people change. BoB is gone. Hack has to make his peace with the present coaching staff or leave the program. In the words of the great mythical USMC platoon leader Gunny Highway, improvise, adapt, overcome.
You can’t fire the players, so what’s left but to fire the coach? That’s what the Fire John Donovan furor is all about. Fans have all the answer. Is this one realistic? Methinks not — it’s just an elevated form of grousing.
So, what’s happening, dudes?