The nominal kickoff time for the PSU vs. Michigan game at the Big House (which is what they used to call the state prison in those old gangster movies) has been set for 3:30 ET on October 24. The game will be an ABC regional telecast, with appropriate ESPN mirrorage in out-of-market areas. Go Lions!
While no one will admit it, Penn State coaches and players are relieved to have finally broken the Michigan jinx, thrashing the Wolverines 46-17 at friendly Beaver Stadium before a stadium record crowd of 110,017. This Turkey was the 110,017th of them—I was disappointed that no one came to visit me in section SGC. After all, I had taken a shower before I walked to Big Beave.
I know you will be chuckling this morning when you read headlines such as “A Tale of Two Halves” leading you into descriptions of the game. Some of them (by bloggers who flunked sixth grade and have no spell checkers) will probably call it “A Tail of To Halfs”, but I digress. I’d like to say that PSU played cat and mouse with Michigan for the first half and then pounced upon their toyed with prey in the second half, but I’d be lying to you. The Wolverines ran at will on the inept Nittany Lion defense in the first half, while the inept Nittany Lion offense screwed up repeatedly, keeping a slow and tired defense on the field. Some of the holes Brandon Minor ran through could have accommodated the Blue Band bus. Josh Hull was notably absent. On one play, Minor dragged both Bowman and Scirrotto with him for 10 yards. On every play, the defense looked confused and unready at the snap. What a mess! Consistent with the defensive morass, on offense the first snap sailed right over Daryll Clark’s head. A few plays later, he fumbled the ball away. Absolutely disgusting! Time of possession advantage in the first quarter was quite obviously in Michigan’s favor, at 12 minutes to 3 minutes for the hapless Nittany Lions. The first quarter closed with the Wolverines ahead 10-7, with Penn State looking like nothing at all like a team that was #3 in the nation.
Tom Bradley was doing his “head coach by default” routine, pacing up and down the sideline and jawboning officials. Dat was because of de fault dat Paterno was coaching from da press box again due to a sore leg, although Joe had come out for pre-game warm-ups and to meet the much maligned freshman Michigan head coach, Rich Rodriguez, at mid-field. Bradley should have been jawboning his defense, instead. Is he incapable of reacting quickly to incompetence by his defense while he is playing de facto head coach? They seemed to be playing a lot of nickel defenses in the first quarter, which allowed Minor the luxury of running at will. Eventually, Bradley yanked marginal linebackers Tyrell Sales and Josh Hull for the speedier tandem of Michael Mauti and Bani Gbadyu. The move seemed to work, as the PSU defense improved measurably after the first damnable quarter. Drew Astorino got more than his usual playing time due to Anthony Scirrotto’s slight concussion. Astorino is coming of age as a force on defense.
The offensive star of the game was Evan Royster, with a career day of 174 yards on 18 carries. Royster provided Penn State’s first score of the game on a 44-yard touchdown run at a time when it was sorely needed with PSU being down 10-0 in the first quarter. He had to believe that he was surrounded by incompetence.
Prior to that score, the whited-out student section was growing increasingly quiet, with groans and a few boos occasionally emanating from that corner. Even Block S, done up for this game in Penn State’s original colors, pink and black, seemed to sag a bit. The first half was a dose of Thorazine after the Benzedrine lead-up to this game.
However, Penn State’s final drive of the first half portended good things to come. A well executed two minute drill brought the Lions back to within three, posting a score of 17-14 as the half came to a close with a knee by the Michigan offense with seconds left.
With so many cell phones operating at halftime, the circuits were overloaded and it was damn hard to get a text message through. However, I did manage to get one out to Artificially Sweetened, telling her that Joe Paterno would have to give the whole team “the dickens” in the locker room to get their asses in gear. Apparently she was able to call him to let him know, because whatever he said to them worked.
The second half was all Penn State, as the line score so graphically shows. After a Kevin Kelly field goal, the good fortune continued with a defensive score on a safety that wound up being a nine-point play, as the Nittany Lions came back to score a touchdown on the après-safety free kick. In all, from that touchdown at the end of the first half, the Lions rolled up 39 unanswered points, 32 of them in the second half.
In all, Penn State rolled up 482 yards to Michigan’s 291 (most of which were gained in the first half). Time of possession wound up even, but we already mentioned the disparity in the first half. Their 202 rushing yards against what had been a highly regarded run defense tells the tale of that first half before Penn State’s defensive adjustments took effect. A tale of two halves. Snort!
What do we get from this game, aside from a heartburn first half and tube-fed Maalox for the second? Well, for one thing, it shows that the boys can turn a game around, coping with what Paterno characterizes as adversity. OK, Joe, like I don’t mind adversity when it isn’t created by our own guys. Anyhow, it takes character to surmount a deficit no matter how it comes about, and this team was able to do that and then some. However, although the Wolverines came to play, this is a team that the previous week had lost to 1-4 Toledo of the MAC conference. They’re not very good this year. Whether this group of Nittany Lions can overcome similar adversity against Ohio State, who just whipped Michigan State 45-7, remains to be seen. It would be appropriate to have that damn halftime chat with the troops before the damn game starts when the Lions travel to Columbus this week to meet the Buckeyes. Penn State cannot afford to squander a half or even a quarter against quality opposition.
Speaking of Ohio State, we’ll be back later in the week (probably around Thursday, due to mid-week travel), with our comments and predictions for the big brawl in Columbus.
We tried. I don’t think there was a single sports writer or bloggist on the Penn State beat who didn’t at one time or another exhort Paterno to shitcan the expected game plan and do what Appalachian State and Oregon did offensively in their winning efforts over Michigan. Alas, Joe did not listen. From the opening series of this losing performance, it was clear that it would be the same old, conservative game plan.
In case you had your head in the sand today, the final score was 14-9, as #10 Penn State was unable to put the ball in the end zone. Michigan had one legitimate touchdown and one handed to them by Morelli, when he failed to protect the ball in the pocket deep in his own territory. Furthermore, after playing the typically lugubrious offensive game we have come to expect in the first halves of this year’s games thus far, Penn State’s offense woke up and impressively conducted a third quarter march down the field—which also ended in a lost fumble, this time courtesy of our mediocre starting running back, Austin Scott. Those two mistakes, along with Morelli’s generally inaccurate throwing, lost the game for the Nittany Lions.
We wanted to know how we stacked up against quality opposition, inasmuch as the first three games, all won by Penn State, were against the sob sisters of the Division Formerly Known as I-A. We found out. We suck against quality opposition.
This time, we cannot blame biased officiating. From this Turkey’s perspective, the calls were fair and the officials did a good job overall. There were close ones, but as many favored us as favored the Wolverines. (I’m sure some writers will bitch about something, like whether Hart was really in the end zone or not on Michigan’s fourth quarter touchdown or whether the pass interference call in the end zone was improper, but this Turkey doesn’t play that loser’s game. So grow up and realize that it’s not the officiating that is beating Penn State—we can do a good job of screwing up a game all by ourselves!)
We also knew in advance exactly what Michigan’s game plan would be, yet we couldn’t stop Mike Hart from gaining 153 yards. Our vaunted rushing defense was predictably burned. The secondary was not spared, as freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett went 16-29 for 170 yards. Michigan dominated time of possession and had 25 first downs to Penn State’s 14.
So, Michigan is back, our defense isn’t as great as we keep crowing, and we can’t get off the conservative game plan. I guess there’s no hope for that, as long as Paterno is around. However, this is the fourth game of the season and Morelli and Scott are seniors. Why the hell are they out there making rookie mistakes?
Our offense basically sucks. We have an immobile quarterback whose head is not in the game, who can’t hit receivers, and who shoots himself in the foot by not taking care of the ball. We have a primary running back who fumbles the ball in key situations. Hey, Austin Scott—stop feeling sorry for your ass and look across the field! There’s a guy there wearing #20 who hasn’t fumbled in over 900 carries. What the hell is your excuse?
So, yeah, how many of you out there were praying for the defense to score some points because the offense couldn’t? Come on. Admit it, damn it! Man, do I ever hate it when it has to come to that!
I think that the Nittany Lions could have won this game if they had taken care of the ball. That’s a simple thing to ask. It’s drummed into their heads at every practice. And in the case of the two fumbles lost in this game, they weren’t exactly forced out. These were strictly the result of careless ball handling, sloppy play, and having head up the ass instead of in the game.
And Quarless, being a sophomore, is somewhat forgivable for not making the play in the fourth quarter that would have kept a promising drive alive, but just barely. As ABC/ESPN’s intrepid Paul McGuire said, Quarless has to make that play, not just stand there waiting for the ball to hit him in the belly.
So it came down to who had the fire, who wanted it more, and who took care of the basics. That was clearly the Wolverines on all counts.
The Nittany Lions are a middle of the pack Big Ten team with a decent defense and some reasonably good special teams play. There is spotty talent on offense, which is offset by conservative coaching and unforced errors. In particular, a talented receiving corps lies fallow because Morelli, who seemed so promising when he was recruited, still throws anywhere but on-target. And, at the risk of being accused of beating on Austin Scott, need I say anything more about him? The offensive line sucks; without it, there is no consistency in the offensive effort. So, no, sorry. This is not an elite team by any stretch of the imagination. With all due respect to those who proclaimed it invincible after the first three games, your heads weren’t screwed on right. It was a quick and undeserved trip to the top 10; it will be a long time before this team sees anything close to #10 again this season.
Let my PSU negativism not detract from the performance by the Victors. They were nearly perfect, and their freshman quarterback, Ryan Mallett, not only played coolly and effectively in a big game but also seemed to be having great fun out there. His play made me jealous. Michigan has two talented quarterbacks, and we’re stuck with Morelli. Well, we’re stuck with Joe playing Morelli. We actually do have two other promising quarterbacks. But past behavior strongly suggests that Paterno will not sit Morelli for anything short of an injury. He’s a senior and it is his turn. Nevertheless, his bad play made Mallett look like Tom Brady, and I’m sick and tired of this crap, but I digress. Mike Hart had a perfect game, too, wearing down a pretty good defense. Austin Scott should learn from his example. Perhaps it will do him well in the insurance business or whatever his non-football career will be when he leaves Happy Valley.
Next week, we’ll have our hands full with Juice Williams and an up-and-coming Illinois team (formerly and possibly still known as the Fighting Illini) that desperately wants to kick the Lions’ ass on their home turf. If Penn State keeps playing like we saw them play today, if our guys come out with no fire or desire, if they can’t generate any offense in the first half, and if they can’t hang onto the ball, they’ll likely lose this one. I’ll be back later in the week with some irreverent comments about the game and our chances in it.