Starting out as a true freshman, Christian Hackenberg looks all of his 18 years sitting next to our self-styled NFL superstar, Allen “Gimme da Damn Ball” Robinson. Hacky someday will be able to say “I knew him when…”
This has nothing to do with Émile Zola’s rant about antisemitism or even athleticism. I just wanted to play on the CUSE angle, this being my post-game post in the wake of the Penn State vs. ‘Cuse game. SyraCUSE, that is. And if I can’t dazzle you with my brilliance, I’ll continue to baffle you with my bullshit, thankyouverymuch.
So, first things first. On a sunny day in Nyawk, the Nittany Lions outlasted the Orangemen from upstate 23-17. Well, it was really across da rivah in Joisey, but same t’ing. Fuggedaboudit! This was the secrecy shrouded debut of much heralded true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, whose enormous potential was immediately apparent.
In the first half, Hackenberg was missing his biggest weapon, wide receiver and part-time rail gun Allen Robinson, who was mysteriously Manzieled, creating the biggest side story of the day, one which will undoubtedly suffer from rampant speculation and rumors because head coach Bill O’Brien would only say, “That’s between Allen and me.” No doubt, the so-called experts will know exactly what happened and will tongue-in-cheek it to prove that they’re better than everybody else. But you know what? It’s between Robinson and O’Brien, and it’s nonna-you-biznis, capisce?
The first half was enough to make one believe that special teams are really necessary, winding up with a Penn State 6-3 lead. We knew that the game would open up in the second half after the two constipated teams went to their respective locker rooms for a little coaching Ex-Lax.
“At the end of the day, it’s just football.” —Christian Hackenberg
Those homeys who considered Syracuse a cupcake non-conference opponent might have been a little worried about looking like idiots at the water cooler* on Tuesday. It was clear that the Syracuse defensive game plan was to stuff the run and force the inexperienced quarterback of O’Brien’s choosing to pass, and thereby commit rookie mistakes. It worked pretty well, limiting the Nittany Lions to 57 yards on the ground. Both teams were sloppy with the ball, with three turnovers for the Orange and four for the Blue.
The meager PSU ground game saw workhorse Zach Zwinak carry 24 times for 61 yards and Bill Belton, 6 for 19. We did not see the chocolate speedster Akeel Lynch. This will have to be rectumfied no later than two weeks hence, or George O’Leary will put the big hurt on his former assistant.
Yeah, Hackenberg showed that he had rookie jitters, but lemme tell you, this 18 year-old has the composure of a 20 year-old senior citizen. Everyone was all ga-ga about his 54-yard touchdown pass to Geno Lewis with 11:39 left in the game for the score that would be the winning margin, but Hacky was dismissive, saying that his was the easy part, while the offensive line held the defense, Zach Zwinak picked up the blitz, and Lewis ran a great route. “All I did was deliver the ball. At the end of the day, it’s just football.”
He went on to say, “At the end of the day…” three times in a post-game presser that would have never happened under St. Joe, who did not allow freshies to talk to the media. O’Brien clearly feels that his men are not boys to be sheltered from the harsh realities of the meanies of the sports press. Hackenberg handled himself well, displaying an even temperament and the willingness to carry the team on the shoulders of his play while taking responsibility for his several mistakes and humbly crediting the more experienced guys on the team for his successes. This rosy-cheeked youngster could be the next Kerry Collins (although we hope he stays sober). He will have to develop a little swagger, but this clearly is not the time for it.
Hacky teamed up with the vaunted sheer athleticist Allen Robinson for the other major offensive excitement of the second half, a 51-yard touchdown pass. Robinson wound up with seven receptions for 133 yards in one, un-Manzieled half of play.
Of course, I mentioned rookie mistakes, so you have to take the bad with the good. Aside from the two touchdown passes the Hackster had a couple of nasty INTs. He seems to be the type of guy who learns from his mistakes and can put that crap behind him.
At the end of the day, Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 for 278 yards (which eclipsed Syracuse’s total output) two TDs and two INTs. He also had a 42 yard punt.
The other guy who competed for the starting job, juco transfer Tyler Ferguson, appeared for one series terminated by a fumble. Barring injuries to Hackenberg, this might be the last we see of Fergie until garbage time in the Brick Dick game.
The big surprise of the day was Sam “Schnozzola” Ficken, who kicked three field goals in three tries, including a career long of 46 yards. (Last year, he made none greater than 40 yards.) This turkey is happy for the much maligned, beleaguered, pinocchio-nosed kicker, who also demonstrated kickoff mastery, driving them deep enough that only two were returned.
Also worthy of note was a 31-yard punt return by Jesse Della Valle, which set up the Hackenberg to Lewis TD.
Of course, much of the rest of the special team effort continued to suuuuuuuuuck. Those two kickoffs that were returned went for 35 yards a pop and Alex Butterworth’s punting was mediocre, averaging 38.5 yards with none inside the 20.
The mighty Penn State defense did its job pretty damn well. Big star points go to Bronx native Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who came up with a key interception in the second half, while operating anonymously without the name tag on his back. He also had stripped a ball and recovered the fumble. Plus he had a sack. No one knows why he was nameless. Perhaps the sheer weight of all the letters in his hyphenated last name pulled the thing off his back. Or perhaps Mrs. Spider got a defective batch of hyphens. I dunno. All of this in front of 10 friends and family from the Nyawk area.
Obeng said, “It was real special.”
I have a special connection with Obeng. Last year he tweeted for suggestions on a new pair of sneakers. I told him to get Air LeBrons, because at $315, they had to be good. He responded that he’d look into that. So, he’s mah homey now.
Trevor Williams had another key interception to put the capstone on the game with only 1:53 left as the Orange were driving for a potential winning touchdown. Thus, the secondary did what this turkey asked it to do: intercept some damn passes! That was something that was lacking last year.
Overall, the defense was competent, stopping the Orangemen when they had to and allowing a stingy 260 total yards, just 71 of which were on the ground. That’s quite an accomplishment, given the running talents of the Cuse’s big guns The Prince (24 yards) and The Pauper (73 yards). Yeah, I know, that adds up to 97, but still. Sacks, y’know.
“Our defense bailed us out. They played a helluva game,” said O’Brien.
One serious defensive letdown was evident as Malcolm Willis let Jeremiah Kobena get behind him for a 55-yard touchdown pass from 12th-year senior Drew Allen. Whatchu talkin bout, Willis?
In Mike’s Garage, we feasted on a fine array of sandwich meats plus some special chili, courtesy of Artificially Sweetened and me. (She went family camping with another babe and their collective kids for the weekend, but she took half the chili with her). RD brought a few boxes of wine to complement the delectable comestibles. Mike also provided an apple pie and coffee after the game. We concluded by watching some nostalgic TV and then playing with guns.
Sadly, the “injury bug” struck hard during the game. Linebacker Mike Hull hung out on the sideline in street clothes for the second half, having injured his right knee. Tight end Matt Lehman was carted off with “a knee” also. And other tight end Kyle Carter suffered an arm injury. Fortunately, Penn State is deep in tight ends (shaddddup!); alas, that’s not the case at LB, where injuries will quickly take a toll on defensive efficacy. There is little depth at that non-skill position.
And so, at the end of the day, this turkey was positively surprised by Kickin’ Ficken and the defensive secondary. I also believe that the proverbial sky is the limit for Christian Hackenberg — aided by a veritable arsenal of offensive weaponry, which is no surprise. Alas, the aforementioned injuries are another non-surprise, an impediment that is sure to hamper the team as the schedule progresses.
(On that note, I just spilled my coffee all over myself and the desk. Remind me not to use this damn tall cup anymore when there’s the possibility that hyperreflexia caused by marveling at my writing will cause continued coffee calamities.)
So, how did the Turkey do with the poopy prediction? Not bad. I predicted a PSU 26-24 win, implying that you should take ‘Cuse plus 8.5 and go for the “under”. You would have won on both bets. I didn’t quite hit the exact score, but I had the right idea. You may feel free to contribute 10% of your winnings to the American Heart Association via the thermometer-looking link toward the top of this page.
I’ll be back later in the week to perfidiously preview and flawlessly forecast the Brick Dick game against the Eastern Michigan Eaglets, who beat Howard 34-24 on Saturday. This whole desk smells like coffee now, damnit!
*(Ancient history lesson: In offices, we used to have a device called a water cooler, where workers could dispense chilled water into little, biodegradable paper cones instead of carrying around plastic bottles that will provide archaeologists a million years hence with the evidence to conclude that we were a society of retrograde dumbasses, but I digress. The water cooler served as a social nexus in the workplace, a place where arguments about sports could take place while participants avoided work. I mention this superfluously, given that the average age of my readers is senior enough to have remembered what the hell water coolers actually are, as it were. Most younger readers eschew the Turkey, anyway, because they have too short attention spans — they like the “quick hitters” prevalent out there among the hacks, you know — plus they don’t like reading about old fart stuff, and they would become hopelessly lost if a paragraph consisted of more than two sentences or a word consisted of more than three syllables. Nevertheless, this footnote is for them—the vast, indistinguishable, unwashed, opinionated yet inarticulate masses, should they happen to stray from their safe trolling waters.)