White Out, Stripe Out, Helmet Out, Bullshit Out…
Would Guido D’Elia approve? Probably. But come on, folks. Why all the bullshit? The White Out is special, and it should be reserved for big games, of which there are far fewer when the record suuuuuuuuuuucks. We’ll know we’ve reached rock bottom when the Rutgers game is a White Out, but alas, I digress. It’s like the PSU athletic marketing department is playing at being like great big adult hypesters — and failing miserably to avoid looking like a bunch of fourteen-year-olds (no offense to fourteen-year-olds, of course).
What is a Helmet Out and whose bright idea was it? I guess if the on-field action is so boring or deplorable that we need such distractions, we’re in deep shit. My cursory investigation suggests that it is largely a white-out, but with a “stripe” of blue at the 50-yard line, to resemble a Penn State helmet. Clever, eh? Oh yeah.
There. I got that out of my system, killjoy that I am.
So, this first inaugural ground-breaking earth-shattering Helmet Out game against Michigan is going to be barely noticeable because it is a noon kickoff on Saturday, when most of us are either raking leaves, returning shit at Home Depot, or washing the car. Most self-respecting students are nursing their hangover or cleaning up vomit spewed by the freshman girl they brought back to the dorm room last night. We distract ourselves with stupid patterns of colors in the stands so we don’t notice “that dullard look” on the team’s faces as they emerge from the tunnel, weary from having cleaned up after those freshman girls who couldn’t handle their vodka.
Don’t stop me, I’m on a roll!
Let’s Talk about the Game (Maybe)
Or stop me and tell me to talk about the game. Should I? Hell, I’m in the sports doldrums here because the Penguins look like shit this year, although injuries have claimed several talented players. The Steelers — well, the offensive line took several hits and Ben is getting old, but there was a bright spot in the Ravens’ loss to the Dolphins last night, so I’m thinking the Men of Still steel have a shot. (Clever thing I did there with Yinzer words, ain’t?). But butbut, you say, what about the Nittany Lions? Did you give up on them after the Iowa loss, or what?
Well, not quite. I gave up on them before the season started and didn’t believe the Sanguinarians’ dissonantly sung praise all along. How can they stay on the same field with a decent football team if they can’t run? How long have we been wishing that James Franklin would recruit some super stud offensive linemen? When you have media wonks like Bob Flounders and David Jones suddenly declaring that in today’s football milieu, you no longer must concern yourself with establishing the run, you know the compensatory bullshit has reached shoulder height and threatens to inundate the adenoids. Their solution: come out throwing and keep on throwing.
Three Things Can Happen
Legendary Texas football coach Darrell Royal once said that when you throw the ball, three things can happen and two of them ain’t good. That’s a one-third chance of success right off the bat, or right off the quarterback’s fingers, or whatever. Now, of course, my math is fucked up, because there isn’t exactly p=.333333 for each of those outcomes; other factors such as weather, windage, elevation, QB suckage, receiver butterfingers, and defensive aptitude at jumping routes enter the mix, creating an extraordinarily complex nonlinear programming problem that only Robert Thrush could solve. I’m dropping random names now. Anything but talking about losing to Michigan!
Well, all good things must end, and although I’m not through ranting — not by a longshot — I’ll demur demurely, cease and desist, stop the foolishness, and hop off this train for now. Let’s rock and roll.
Some have said it will come down to Michigan’s pass rush and how it is handled by the Penn State offensive line (or lack of same). I don’t know about that, but I’ll tell you one thing: Penn State cannot run the football. Thus, the only thing left to do is that thang that has three outcomes and two are bad. It’s their only shot against the Men in Maize and Blue with Wings on their Wolverine-themed helmet, as if they figured out that wolverines would be more vicious if they could fly, is to throw the ball. (Hey, can you imagine how a Helmet Out would look at Michigan Stadium?). The UM secondary is just a-ight. So, take a shot, already, Sean Clifford, weather permitting (and it might not)!
But the protection needs to be there, as Michigan does have a pair of super stud edge rushers. If this Penn State offensive line, which has been lauded for their pass blocking achievements as much as they have been vilified for their run blocking failures, is not up to par, Clifford will be eating dirt for much of the Helmeted-Out game and might well get hurt again. A bad sign is that he was sacked four times by lowly Maryland.
Besides, the only running game the Nittany Lions have been able to establish this year involved the Sean Clifford of old (who is no longer) doing a Lion’s share of the running, and he ain’t doin’ dat no mo’.
That’s all I know. If the Nittany Lions are lucky, they could win this. If pass protection breaks down, they’ll lose. Looking for that one, big EXPLOSIVE play against an upper-division Big Ten defense is like grasping at straws. This is not Villanova or Ball State. I still say they must master fundamentals and not just count on EXPLOSIVE plays. Michigan has more yards on the ground than by passing, so the defense will have to clamp down on the run. If Bloom-Off-The-Rose Jim Harbaugh takes a page out of the Bret Bielema book, look out.
Winning the Helmet Battle
Michigan brings an 8-1 record into Helmeted-Out St. Joe Memorial Field at Beaver Stadium. Their one loss was to Moo U., and it could have gone either way. Right now, that loss represents the difference between first and second place in the Big Ten East (and in the Big Ten overall). Moo U. subsequently lost to Purdue, so they sit there at 5-1, too. The Schmuckeyes remain atop the list at 6-0.
Toilet Bowl eligible Penn State, of course, is 6-3 overall, and with three conference losses, they don’t have a ghost of a chance at the Big Ten title. Winning this game could potentially mean the difference between highly desirable winter bowl destinations, such as New York, Nashville, and Lord help us, Detroit. But as I sit here with my head up my ass thinking, my thoughts go to Las Vegas as being the perfect venue for the garbage bowl of the year for Penn State. They’ve been gambling with those EXPLOSIVE plays all year. If our luck is running high, the Las Vegas Raiders could hire James Franklin to replace Jon Gruden while they’re out there.
We’re getting to that fun time of the year in the northern climes when there is the omnipresent danger of freezing one’s balls to the stadium seats. I remember such a time at the Pitt game in 1964, when they had to put me on a radiator when I got back to the dorm. The weatherman calls for a shitty day in State College with a high of 44, a 58% chance of ball-freezing rain, and sustained winds of 15 mph with wind gusts to 29 mph in afternoon showers. There’s even a 12% chance of thunderstorms. Does this help with EXPLOSIVE plays? Hell no. But PSU cannot run the football. The weather could make them suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck even worse.
Old PSU Buddy Toejamashasky sure picked a shitty day to attend this game. He’ll need a Helmeted-Out rain-repellent fur coat — perhaps skunk (or would that be a stripe-out?). Remember what Sir Charles Barkley said about animals: they’re good for only two things, wearing and eating (and if God hadn’t intended us to eat animals, then why did He make them out of meat?).
Da Bottom Line
So, here we are at that feature you have all been waiting for: the notoriously fallible Official Turkey Poop Prediction, that awful offal shot straight out of this foul old fowl’s copious cloaca. Our gambling buddies have barely moved the line from its opening Michigan – 2 to currently Michigan – 1½. The over/under is now 48½, suggesting a break-even final score of 25-23, in favor of Michigan. That sounds like a viable score for a PSU-Michigan game back when these things were competitive.
Thing is, given the weather and all, I don’t know whether PSU can put points on the board. The wind, cold, and rain not only don’t favor the pass, but also screw up field goals, which aren’t that good to begin with. If the PSU defense comes out flat, Michigan will achieve success in running the ball. And I’m thinking that is how it will play out. Michigan 27, Penn State 12. Take the under.
(I’ll be back with a recap, probably a bit anxious about the forthcoming major dust-up versus the Piscataway Pretenders).
K. John says
Go back two weeks and look at the Ohio State game if you want a preview on this one. Michigan is not going to throw the ball 34 times but they will likely be ahead by two scores throughout and the final score will be a lot closer than the game. I don’t honestly care what the Kool-Aid drinkers say, the outcome was not in doubt in the second half.
With that said, offensively, our biggest challenge is running the football. We couldn’t generate a consistent run game against a bad Maryland run defense in week nine. We couldn’t generate a consistent run game against Villanova in week four either. It isn’t happening against Michigan, Rutgers or Michigan State either. Our next biggest challenge is keeping Clifford’s jersey clean. We play the best player in the country in Aiden Hutchinson. Our next major challenge is getting receivers open against man coverage, and Michigan plays a lot of it. This includes Dotson who has reputation for folding when he faces physical corners. Is this the week Clifford is allowed to run on designed QB keepers? Is Franklin too scared to let him run? Is he secretly playing hurt and can’t run? We’ll see. This is the difference between being in it in the second half and not.
Michigan runs the football. Without their outside threat (Corum) to exploit our biggest defense weakness (linebackers playing defensive end with undisciplined play behind them), and the weather, Michigan will opt for the same kinds of safe inside runs Ohio State used on 31 of 34 running plays two weeks ago and runs the ball 60 times breaking free in the fourth quarter as the defense wears out while dominating the increasingly irrelevant time of possession battle. We get a few explosive plays early on but Michigan adjusts (long established trend) taking them away and the game becomes death by a thousand cuts unless we start to turn it over or consistently hand Michigan goof field position.
Penn State 13
The Nittany Turkey says
All eyes will be on Clifford to see how he deals with the pass rush and to see whether Franklin will let him run. Clifford is the kind of guy who wants to play, so it has been obvious to me that he’s being restrained with a limited playbook. However, he has provided the only semblance of a rushing game this season. The Kitties cannot win this one without that contribution.
If they play balls-to-the-wall, they can stay in this one, but anything short of that will let it get out of hand when the second half rolls around. It’s an unholy situation involving the risk of prolonging Clifford’s injury or worse. They’re between a rock and a hard place with no viable back-ups. But what the hell are they playing for other than pride and a trip to a shitty post-season venue? Don’t answer that — especially if Franklin’s value in filling a coaching merry-go-round slot is the response.
You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, and if you put a tuxedo on a pig, it remains a pig. James Franklin will do what is best for James Franklin.