Happy Monday, to you, my small but select audience of Sanguinarians and Cynics. We come here not to praise Caesar but to bury him. That, of course, was a non-sequitur, which is this crazy-ass turkey’s occasional predilection, as it were. That, and pure bullshit, but I digress.
On a striped-out, soggy, prime-time Saturday at Beaver Stadium (to the extent that BTN can really produce enough of an audience to be considered prime anything), the mighty, resurgent Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) delivered a proverbial ass-kicking to the depleted, hapless, and coachless Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) to open the conference schedule as the lengthy home stand continued for the Lions. The final score in this “convincing” win by the Nits was 28-3.
Last week’s Buffalo story was titled “A Star is Born.” This week, that star, true freshman running back Saquon Barkley, shone even brighter, as the lad ran for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Akeel Lynch added a “mere” 120 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, while DeAndre Thompkins also ran one in for a score. On a rainy night, the running game worked, and the Five Traffic Cones were actually seen creating holes and holding blocks.
“I think Saquon Barkley has brought something to our offense. I think him and Akeel [Lynch] are a nice one-two punch right now,” head coach James Franklin was heard to say. Well, duh!
Barkley was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week for a second week in a row. His co-puppy is safety Jonathan Crawford of Indiana.
The performance by Penn State was uneven, to be sure, and much work remains to be done on the passing game. Neither team scored in the first quarter, which found me wishing I hadn’t told my hosts that we’d prefer to eat at halftime. A first quarter dinner would have caused me to miss nothing and we would have been able to turn on Ole Miss vs. Alabama at halftime instead of eating. But I digress. Penn State scored 21 points in the second quarter, which would have been enough to win seven times over. The second half was for the most part a sleeper, especially after dinner at halftime with one score each by the two combatants in the fourth quarter.
Weather aside, there was lots of sloppiness by both sides. Penn State was penalized eight times for 80 damn yards, while Rutgers was also penalized eight times for 29 yards. Rutgers had three turnovers to Penn State’s single interception.
Our boy Christian Hackenberg was 10-19 for a measly 141 yards with one ugly interception and no touchdowns. The ball that was intercepted was an ill-advised throw into double coverage and it floated like a wobbly, wavering, wacky, wounded duck. Of course, the ball was probably wet, which made the throw all the more ill-advised. Some of Hack’s throws at the feet of receivers and over their heads looked as ugly is it gets. Of course, again, we’ll hear that it was raining. Good thing! At least the running game was effective. And to the credit of the Traffic Cones, Hack’s jersey stayed clean, if not dry. The Cones haven’t yielded a sack in the past two games. However, through three cupcakes, Hack hasn’t yet had a 200-yard passing game.
Several special teams rays of hope emerged as Chris Gulla took over the punting duties and rendered a competent performance, punting five times for 205 yards, with a long of 52. Meanwhile, Joey “Big Toe” Julius continues to impress with his unorthodox body and style. From string-bean Sam “The Schnozz” Ficken to Julius’ 5-10, 258 lb corpulent corpus, Penn State has run the full gamut of kicker morphology in two seasons. Eight of Julius’ 14 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. Cap this off with the nullification of Rutgers’ dangerous return man Janarion Grant, and you have a squad that actually borders on being effective, for a change!
The defense did a competent job, holding Rutgers to 43 yards net rushing, which includes a -37 yard total for hapless Rutgers quarterback Chris “Fake ID” Laviano, who seemed to continue the fine work of Gary “Turn” Nova of last year, having been sacked five times, although his mere two interceptions could not hold a candle to Nova’s five. Laviano wound up 27-42 for 251 yards, no touchdowns, and the aforementioned two interceptions.
There was much pre-game concern about Rutgers’ all-around future NFL Hall of Famer Janarion Grant, who had just come off a 300+ yard individual performance against Washington State. The Penn State defense and special teams put the clamps on Grant, holding him to 29 all-purpose yards. Well done, Big D!
While PSU outgained Rutgers 471 to 294 total yards and won the turnover battle, other stats are not so favorable. You know where I’m going here, don’t you? Rutgers had 20 first downs to Penn State’s 17, and time of possession was in Rutgers’ favor by about five minutes, indicating Penn State big plays coupled with absence of sustained drives. The Lions were 4-12 in third down conversions and 0-2 in fourth down conversions. Penn State had three three-and-out plays and one four-and-out against the depleted Rutgers defense, all terminating with incomplete passes. Hack and his receivers still do not appear to be in sync.
We got to see PSU backup quarterback Trace McSorley hand the ball off a few times during garbage time, which is a good thing. A few reps are better than none at all.
In spite of a satisfying victory, I’ll repeat the need for work toward a more consistent passing game. It is too easy to sit back and rest on the laurels of a 28-3 victory assuming that all is well in the program. Even Sandy Barbour looks like a swimsuit model in the glow of a 28-3 victory. But hark to the words of the late, sainted Joseph V. Paterno, who said, “You’re never as good as you think you are when you win…” Only four more wins for Toilet Bowl eligibility, and two of them look pretty certain.
I’ll be back with a preview and prediction of our next cupcake, San Diego State. The Lions have opened as a 12-point favorite over the Aztecs.
Big Al says
Great summary. I have little to add, except that it would nice if the offense could play two decent halves. Except for 3 long Saquon Barkley runs, the offense did nothing in the 2nd half. I think they got just one first down in the first possessions of the 2nd half. That won’t cut it against the better B1G teams on the schedule. Or even Indiana and Maryland since both of them have decent offenses.
At least the offense looks pretty good. And the 3 and 9 record that appeared likely after the Temple clusterfuck is probably off the table. And speaking of Temple, did you notice that they had to return an extra point attempt for 2 points AND get a last second field goal to beat UMASS. Frohnapfel completed 29 of 53 passes for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns. Yet, somehow, Hack (11 of 25 for 103 yards and no touchdowns against Temple) is a 1st round draft choice.
The Nittany Turkey says
I think your “offense” in the first sentence of the second paragraph actually was meant to be “defense”. Freudian slip? Nahhhh, just a typo methinks, especially after your condemnation of the offense in the first paragraph. I’d edit it but then this comment wouldn’t make any sense.
The 3-9 might be off the table, but the only reasonably confidence inspiring games might well be the next two. If they don’t look good against SDSU and Army, they’re in for an uphill fight for the rest of the season to get to Toilet Bowl eligibility.
Thanks for the Temple game recap. I hadn’t paid any attention to it. I’ll put the QB performance into perspective by declaring that it was UMass and Temple, but the more I look at Hack making ill-advised throws into double and triple coverage and sailing balls over receivers’ heads or bouncing them at their feet, the more I’ve got to ponder your last sentence. We’ve given him lots of latitude since his great freshman year and we’re replete with forgiveness and excuses such as:
Hack is still seen pouting on the sidelines and venting frustration, even after he told himself at the beginning of the season that he has to suck it up as a leader to be an effective captain and role model. His little brother took up for his cause when he tweeted about how bad the coaching was at Penn State, an indicator that our boy had done some whining about it himself on the home front.
Well, Hack… times are tough. You better look good for the NFL this year or face another year of trying to prove yourself while your value declines. Then you can go sell insurance and blame the huge salary differential versus the NFL on all the bullets listed above. Or you can suck it up and take the bull by the horns. If the passing game was more effective — for whatever reason — the coaches might actually call more passing plays. They’re simple-minded enough to make that connection. You ain’t going to look too good throwing for under 200 yards every damn game, and after the next two they don’t get any easier. So, how about completing some passes. And another thing. Stop telegraphing where you’re going with the damn ball when you throw.
Better defenses won’t be giving up three or four big plays per game. We’ll need to see a balanced effort, and one that is consistent throughout each game. That’s something we haven’t seen for a while now. They kind of act like every game is one of those noon starts on the road. If Hack can find and hit receivers on third down, that will go a long way toward resolving PSU’s offensive problems.
Talk about frustration causing verbal diarrhea…
But I digress.
Big Al says
You’re right – I meant “defense” in the 1st sentence of the 2nd paragraph. Hopefully, that wasn’t an indication of Alzheimers.
It will be interesting to see what Hack does against SDS. His alleged competitor for “1st quarterback taken” in the next draft, Cal’s Jared Goff, completed 17 of 24 passes (70,8%) for 321 yards (13.4 yards per attempt) and 2 touchdowns with no interception. I have no idea how many passes Hack will get to throw, but I’d bet the house that he won’t complete 70% of them and his yards per attempt will be under double digits.
The Nittany Turkey says
Hell, everybody’s Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin of TCU hasn’t completed 70% of his passes (he’s at 65.7% for this season), and Hack hasn’t ever averaged anything close to double-digit passes, even in his fabled freshman year when he had Allen “Gimme da Damn Ball” Robinson, so I think your house is safe.
WALT KUBANY says
When can we hear your skiny on San Diego State!
The Nittany Turkey says
You will have my Aztec brilliance later today.