It couldn’t have been much better for the Nittany Lions as Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) summarily dispatched the hapless UMass Minutemen (0-4, 0-0 MAC) by the lopsided score of 48-7 before a crowd of supposedly 99,155 at Beaver Stadium.
This thoroughgoing domination was roundly anticipated by most of us, although most of us restrained our impulse to call for the blowout. Only one of our ace predictors anticipated that Penn State would score more than 40 points. RD‘s prediction was 41-10, and by virtue of it, he is this week’s Star Predictor of the Week.
We got to see lots of the proverbial clean jerseys in the second half, when James Franklin finally decided to unload the bench after the first offensive series had been played. Fourth-string quarterback D. J. Crook, interestingly a Massachusetts native, combined with junior Brent Wilkerson for the capstone touchdown with 17 seconds left in the third quarter, and sturdy albeit short sophomore running back Cole Chiapialle has 16 carries for 35 yards. Even the walk-on freshman Australian punter Daniel Pasquariello, got into the act, which was cool because his parents were present, visiting from Down Under. D-Pas punted twice for an average of 43.5 yards.
Of course, the spoiler happened against the clean shirted defense early in the fourth quarter, as UMass’ huge senior quarterback Blake Frohnapfel hit junior star receiver Tajae Sharpe for a 77-yard touchdown pass that took no prisoners and left no survivors. It was, without a doubt, the play of the game for the sadly outmatched Minutemen.
The vaunted Penn State defense for the most part lived up to its vauntedness. Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman had five tackles each, and UMass could only manage three rushing yards on 28 attempts. By my calculation, that amounts to slightly more than 0.1 yards per carry. Suffice to say that the overmatched Minute-man offensive line couldn’t do shit with the mighty PSU front seven.
As everyone expected, Penn State used this game to see if it could actually create some semblance of a rushing offense. The final numbers show balance, with 236 yards passing and 228 yards rushing. Whether this is sustainable in non-cupcake competition is certainly debatable.
Furthermore, whether Christian Hackenberg was dreaming of his purported lacrosse star girlfriend in the first quarter is an additional debatable conjecture. He looked flat and awful, giving me heartburn with his errant throws. This would break Hack’s string of 300-yard games with a vengeance. But it was good that the running game was there to save his ass for a change, and he was back on the mark in the second quarter, as the 28 points scored therein suggest, even though those were all rushing TDs. His favorite receivers looked good, Geno Lewis snagging five passes for 82 yards, and DaeSean Hamilton getting four for 65. Jesse James added two for 26 and was actually seen effectively blocking on one running play. Hackenberg wound up with 12-23 for 179 yards.
It is cool that five of six PSU touchdowns were scored on running plays. We haven’t seen that for a lonnnnnng time.
Lest I overlook the perfect performance of Kickin’ Sam Ficken, he was perfect with two field goals, the longer of which was 42 yards, and six extra points. The Big Ten Network showed a clip of how Franklin prepares Ficken to handle distractions by squirting water on him and yelling at him while he is kicking in practice. That was pretty hilarious. Kicken’ Ficken was also drilling his kickoffs deep, and there were a lot of them to drill, already.
This should be a confidence builder for the offensive line. Their innate ability and coachability will have to take it from here, but at least they know they can be and have been effective. We’ll have to wait for some real opposition to see if any lessons have been learned.
Two more cupcakes, Northwestern and Michigan dispatched, and Penn State will be eligible for a bowl game for the first time in three years. I know, I know. Michigan is generally not regarded as a pushover, particularly in the Big House, but Utah just beat them there 26-10. Not that I’m becoming a Sanguinarian or anything, but Michigan looks as bad as K. John has been telling us they are.
Northwestern, having lost some prime meat, isn’t even as good as the disparagers have been predicting. The bloom is off the rose for much loved Pat Fitzgerald, but unlike Brady Hoke, he’ll be around next year. Meanwhile, NWU always plays Penn State tough, and it would be a mistake to underestimate them after this wonderfully uplifting victory.
I can sense your restored and unbridled optimism, but—
Not so fast!
Isn’t it grand how our spirits can be buoyed after a meaningless win over a non-conference opponent? Suddenly, the world seems to be a brighter and more cheerful place, bluebirds sing a happy, Disneyesque tune, and we Sanguinarians and temporary Sanguinarians are predicting an undefeated season for the Nittany Lions and maybe, just maybe, the Rose Bowl. No wait, they’re better than that. Barry Alvarez will surely vote for Penn State to be in the final four. Yeah, right? I saw one comment to some article this morning asking “Are we ranked in the Top 25 yet?” Oy, vay.
They just beat Massachusetts, a team not even in the FBS three years ago.
Grab hold of yourselves! Wait! Not literally — you don’t want to spoil your euphoria with testicular pain. Remember the words of the sainted Joseph V. Paterno: “You’re never as good as you think you are when you win, and you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose.” Stay thirsty, my friends.
So, let’s temper our expectations back to the Toilet Bowl in Kohler, Wisconsin, and be pleasantly surprised when PSU is selected for the Outback Bowl or some such. To do very, very well is obviously still not ooutside the realm of possibility, but I’m not counting on anything better than 8-4 for this bunch this year. Count ’em up — that’s losses to Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, and Moo U. Even if they beat Michigan, they could wind up looseing [sic] to Maryland. The point is that even in the present state of the Big Ten, Penn State faces some rough competition on the horizon.
And putting the big hurt on up-and-coming UMass proves nothing.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten
Iowa (3-1) spoiled Pitt’s hope for an unbeaten season (LMAO!) by kicking the snot out of the Panthers on their home turf 24-20. Under the arm!
Indiana (2-1) surprised us, showing me (show me — get it?) that they could whip Missouri at home, 31-27.
Next week’s aforementioned opponent, NWU (1-2), laid the luckless Leathernecks of Western Illinois to rest 24-7, even though WIUoutgained them by almost 100 yards and had a six minute edge in time of possession. As it turned out, the Leathernecks coughed up the ball four times to NWU’s two, which made for the difference in score. (Gotta watch that, given PSU’s typically negative turnover ratio.)
#11 Moo U. (2-1) had no trouble dispatching the Brick Dick 73-14, even though the latter team had ex-PSU, ex-LSU quarterback Rob Bolden in there as the starter.
Purdue (2-2) beat the Salukis, 35-13, while #19 Wisconsin (2-1) demolished BGSU 68-17.
Underdog Maryland (3-1) easily handled the Orangemen of Syracuse 34-20.
Michigan (2-2), as previously mentioned, lost to Utah 26-10 in a game with a significant weather suspension.
Rutgers (3-1) beat Navy 31-24, a result that many of you expected to go the other way.
Minnesota (3-1) had no problems with the “other” Spartans, 24-7.
Beckman’s Bandits at Illinois (3-1) beat the Bobcats 42-35 (that’s Texas State, in case you didn’t know).
And finally, #24 Nebraska (4-0) capitalized on a 229-yard rushing performance by Ameer Abdullah to beat Miami 41-31.
So, everyone survived their cupcake schedule pretty well, except for those who didn’t have all cupcakes, like Michigan, Moo U., and Wisconsin. There are still some non-conference games remaining for some. This weekend Tulane goes to Rutgers for their fourth loss, USF will be annihilated by Wisconsin at Madison, as will Wyoming at Moo U. Cincinnati might be an interesting gambling play at the Horseshoe against #22 Ohio State, the latter listed as a 14-point favorite. In Big Ten matchups, we have:
At noon, NWU comes to the big Beave, while Iowa invades W. Lafayette to beat Purdue. At 1:30, Maryland and Indiana square off in Bloomington. At 3:30, Minnesota and Michigan play for that stupid brown earthenware jug in the Big House. This year, its eventual destination is far from assured. At 9 pm, the Illini should be preparing to get their asses kicked in Memorial Stadium at the behest of the Cornhuskers, who are favored by 18. Go Ameer!
Good luck to all the Big Ten teams in their forays this week!
I’ll be back during the week with a preview of next week’s game with the disappointing Northwestern Wildcats.