PSU hosts Akron Zips in Season Opener
Welcome to the 2017 season, my five loyal readers!* It’s not quite Fall, but football is in the air, anyhow, and the Akron Zips are singing songs of the south from old Disney movies we’re not allowed to watch anymore.
(Don’t get me started on Uncle Remus and Bre’r Rabbit — given the revisionist sentiment of today, it is completely de rigueur to be banning old Disney movies. Song of the South is a classic that won’t brighten the lives of future generations. Continuing the tangentially appropriate digression to spin off on yet another tangent, Akron is the former home of John Brown, the famous abolitionist of pre-Civil War fame.)
((Of course, history tells us that Robert E. Lee commanded the U.S. Marine brigade that captured Brown’s men and eventually led to Brown being hanged as an inciter of a slave insurrection. Quite topical today, now that ESPN yanked their announcer of Asian heritage coincidentally named Robert Lee from his scheduled gig doing the game between William & Mary vs. Virginia (founded by famous slave owner Thomas Jefferson) at the dreaded Charlottesville. Lee will call the Youngstown State vs. Pittsburgh game in Chinese-friendly Pittsburgh.))
Get to the Football Game, Already, You Turkey!
(((Wait! Speaking of animals, how in the hell did a kangaroo become the mascot of a team that is based in what used to be the self-anointed Rubber Capital of the World? Did kangaroos once pillage the primordial forests of northeastern Ohio that eventually would be cleared to make way for production of rubber baby buggy bumpers? Those forest monsters must have forged an indelible imprint on the indigenous population of the time, especially the giant, 400-pound chipmunks. As their legatees, heirs, and assigns, we, along with the current citizenry of Akron including the violent street gangs, must heed the warnings from the distant past, echoed and amplified through countless generations: Fear the violent, ruthless, deadly Roo! (Or as Bob Lee might say, “You pray with kangaloo, you die, Yankee pig!”))))
((((In addition to being John Brown’s home town, NBA superstar LeBron James was born in da ghetto of North Akron, which I add for completeness.))))
But I Digress…
Shit, this is the first game preview/prediction of the year and I can’t fucking focus! My aging turkey brain wanders, man. I amuse myself with my myriad meanderings, though. It’s like a stylized form of talking to myself! Parentheticals to parentheticals… where the hell is it all going…???
A slew of crucial injuries caused the Zips to take a nosedive at the end of last season, losing five out of their last six games and crashing to a 5-7 record (3-5 MAC conference) a bitter disappointment after a 2015 season in which their rush defense ranked number two in the country and Akron’s hopes were high.
Meanwhile, the mighty #6 Penn State Nittany Lions must prove that they are worthy of such a lofty rank. Our emotional support for such optimism is obligatory, but the boys must prove their mettle on the proverbial field of combat. They have never lost to the Zips in five meetings in Happy Valley, and we don’t expect them to lose on Saturday. However, how they will look in winning will tell a tale. This turkey would prefer that they justify a #6 ranking by coming out of the gate strong, running a great race, and crossing the finish line going away. The first game is as important as any!
The Akron Zips go into this season with some big question marks. Their wide receiver corps is decimated due to graduation and NFL greed. While they have a solid, experienced offensive line, the Zips’ quarterback, oft-injured Tommy Woodson had shoulder surgery in the off-season, and he’s practicing sparingly. Reports out of Akron claim he is now healthy. The running game depends upon the health of the top three RBs, prime among whom is tOSU transfer Warren Ball, who was injured in the second game of the 2016 season against Wisconsin. He’s also supposed to be healthy.
This is a game that might provide some answers to questions none dare ask now (except me), but it will be hard to zip to any conclusions. One big damn omnipresent question in this turkey’s bird brain is whether the “second half team” Nittany Lions can shuck that image by closing this thing out in the first half. That will be hard, being a nooner, with time-honored implications for Penn State, although this is a home game in what will be a non-sellout St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver. Another question is whether the PSU defensive front seven will be up to stopping the run and rushing the passer — something about which lots of sources ass-ume a “no problem” stance. Not this pragmatic old fowl! On this crucial topic, I cannot keep my lip zipped!
A Tune-Up for the Zips?
The Akron Zips might view this as a tune-up game before their big home clash with the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions, and if that mindset is prevalent, Penn State could have an easy time of it. In the most recent meeting of these two schools, back in 2014, the Nittany Lions prevailed 21-3. It was a frustrating game for Christian Hackenberg, who pulled off three touchdown passes, but he also threw two bone-headed interceptions. (He did the same damn fool thing in this week’s pre-season game with the NY Jets, but I digress). PSU led 7-0 at the half, and it stayed close until Penn State pulled away with a late touchdown and a 67-yard drive by the Zips stalled at the PSU 13.
Yo, Who Be Dat Coach Dat Look Familiar, Already, Bro?
Terry Bowden (yeah, of that bloodline) is entering his sixth year of coaching at Akron, running a team that was 1-11 in the two years prior to his ascension and again 1-11 in his first year. Between then and now, his Zips have become a contender in the MAC, with their best effort during his tenure an 8-5 finish, including a trip to some obscure bowl in Idaho named after a tuber. According to Bowden, there remain some unanswered questions on the D-line and, of course, at wide receiver.
Alumni Spotlight: John W. Heisman
John W. Heisman (1869-1936) was not an academic alumnus of the University of Akron, nor did he ever play football for the Akron Zips. This was just one brief stop on a coaching tour that produced his famous, transformational mark on college football. Heisman actually attended and played lineman for Brown University, of Ivy League & St. Joe fame, and University of Pennsylvania, where he later graduated from law school in 1892. Nevertheless, I’ll spotlight him this week just for the hell of it.
Heisman grew up in an area of Pennsylvania we call “Thrush Country”, near Titusville. A drama student, he played varsity football for Titusville High School from 1884 to 1886 and was salutatorian of his graduating class. Heisman’s father refused to watch him play, calling football “bestial.”
After receiving his law degree, Heisman returned to his first love, football, accepting the coaching position at Oberlin in 1892. He was an unqualified success there, as voiced by the Oberlin Review: “Mr. Heisman has entirely remade our football. He has taught us scientific football.”
Coaching at Buchtel (not Bucknell, damnit!)
Heisman moved on to coach at Buchtel College, which we now know as the University of Akron. While he was there for only one season, he managed to add an innovation that would again redefine the game. He changed the centering technique, which previously had been for the center to roll the ball back to the quarterback. Due to the unusually tall quarterback of the time, Heisman required the center to toss the ball back to the QB, which was the initiation of what we call “the snap” today.
A Legendary Coaching Career
The heady coach moved on from Akron to coach again at Oberlin for a year, followed by Auburn for five years, Clemson for four, Georgia Tech for 16, and Penn for three. He then accepted a job at Washington & Jefferson (two famous slave owners) in 1923, and wound up his coaching career at Rice from 1924-1927, where he was also athletic director, as he was during his time at Georgia Tech.
Heisman’s head coaching record finished 186-70-18. Moreover, he was recognized as “the undisputed master of Southern football.” His salary offers certainly reflected that. Hell, at Georgia Tech, he made $2,250 per year and 30% of the home ticket sales! That was a $50 raise over his Clemson salary! Makes Franklin’s cushy new contract pale in comparison. Bet he wouldn’t mind having 30% of home ticket sales — and maybe another 10% of TV revenues, for which Heisman clearly didn’t have enough sense to negotiate (even though there was no TV in 1904-1919 — hey, I said he was an innovator!).
Innovations credited to Heisman were the shift, the sweep, and the quarterback starting the play by shouting “hike!”. He was a strong proponent of the legalization of the forward pass.
Heisman, a Shakespearean actor during off-seasons, would deliver the following line in stentorian tones to his team before each season:
“What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.”
Lest I get mired in this Heismanism digression, I’ll close by saying that Heisman died of pneumonia in 1936 while he was preparing to write a history of football. The football world suffered a great loss. On December 10, 1936, just two months after Heisman’s death on October 3, the Downtown Athletic Club trophy was renamed the Heisman Memorial Trophy, and is now given to the player voted as the season’s most outstanding collegiate football player.
Well, boys and girls, it is still summer, so what do the gods of summer have in store for us all for this pre-Labor Day lopsided (we hope) match up? The present forecast, subject to change without further comment from this turkey is for a cloudy day with a high of 76°F. Winds should not be horrible. Seems like it is shaping up to be a nice football opening day at St. Joe Memorial.
Official Pie-in-the-Sky Turkey Poop Prediction
For those of you who are new to The Nittany Turkey, the final section of each preview/prediction edition during the football season is a feature known as the Official Turkey Poop Prediction, which is as good as the virtual paper upon which it is written, and not worth the several electrons that will perish in the process of bringing it your way. In other words, it is complete bullshit, but it is my blog and I’ll do what I want. You can go other places and get sparkling technical analyses, which I don’t think are worth a shit, or you can come here to get unpretentious, unassuming, frequently incorrect bullshit. Consider it friendly entertainment, not quasi-informative, broomstick-up-the-ass reporting.
With that said, we have here a mismatch, already, a mish-mash, even. Opening line on this game is semi-ridiculous. PSU is favored by 39 with an over/under of 63.5. I can normally mentally calculate what the bookies’ balance indicates will be the final score, but these numbers are too damn big. Hold on a sec… OK, that’s about 52-12, Penn State.
Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty (I know what gritty is, but what the hell is nitty?)
I’m scratching my head at this point. I think the PSU offense has the experience and the talent to score 52 on Akron. But will they? Will they come out fully functional given the noon start? Will the defensive front seven be a viable unit? Lots of questions, some of which will be answered by the performance in this game. I don’t think Joe Morehouse is going to want to show us (and the Big Ten) much of his playbook in the non-conference opener, though. Why? Because I sure as hell wouldn’t. (I’m trying to visualize a final score as I’m writing this tripe.)
OK, here it is. Gonna kick off this season as pumped and optimistic as the rest of you! Penn State Nittany Lions 62, Akron Zips 9. Take the over.
I’ll be back after the game with a recap and an affirmation that things are as they are. It is what it is, you know what I mean?
*Sadly, we lost one of my six devoted readers, Walt Kubany, so we’re now down to five. Rest in peace, Walt.