Thomas Jefferson founded the the University of Virginia in 1819 long before there was football. An elite academic institution, UVA is tied for second place among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. It is one of only two U.S. public universities that have been awarded Triple-A credit ratings — their bonds are as good as good. Many famous feet have trodden on the beautiful Charlottesville campus known by its denizens as “the Grounds,” including President Woodrow Wilson, softball newsie Katie Couric, Florida’s senior senator Bill “Space Cadet” Nelson, SNL alumna Tina Fey, the ballin’ Barber Twins (Tiki and Ronde), and last but not least, Edgar Allan Poe.
Oh, yeah, Poe actually went to school there, but he lasted only a year. His rich uncle got tired of sending him mo’ money to cover his drinking and gambling, so he drifted on, eventually joining the Army. You probably know the rest of his story, so I’ll STFU for now. Besides, you didn’t check in here to learn about 19th Century drunken poets, so I’ll just end your misery by dedicating the following Poe opus (a Poepus?) to our wonderful Penn State Board of Trustees.
In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed—
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.
Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?
That holy dream—that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.
What through that light, thro’ storm and night,
So trembled from afar—
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth’s day-star?
Works for me. Poe’s mah man!
Let us introduce our opponent. While the official nickname of the University of Virginia sports teams is The Cavaliers, they’re fondly known locally as The ‘Hoos. ‘Hoos is short for Wahoos, which is short for Wah-Hoo-Wah. Whatever that is was glorified in the song that functions as the Cavaliers’ touchdown song and also their Alma Mater, called “The Good Old Song of Wah-Hoo-Wah”, or “The Good Old Song”, for short. Its words are sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Here’s the first verse:
The good old song of Wah-Hoo-Wah,
We’ll sing it o’er and o’er;
It cheers our hearts and warms our blood
to hear them shout and roar.
We come from old Virginia
where all is bright and gay;
Let’s all join hands and give a yell
for dear old U.V.A.
Those of you who read my made-up story about how Ohio U’s Rufus got his name last week are probably waxing cynical as you read this. But I swear, this is true ‘Hoo legend. I looked it up!You can’t make shit like this up!
I’m thinking that maybe the Nittany Lions should adopt “In-a-gadda-da-vida” as their touchdown song and then they could be known colloquially as the Gads or something. Nahhh… never mind.
Hello, there, those of you who clicked on the “skip the crap” link. Sorry you don’t like history and poetry, but at the Nittany Turkey, we have a deeply ingrained academic culture that sometimes pushes football aside. We fear that if we step out of line, the NCAA will find a way to impose sanctions on Penn State. Hell, Erickson has already announced that he accepts whatever sanctions will be given to Penn State for UNC’s academic morass.
The Virginia ‘Hoos (1-0) host the beleaguered Penn State Nittany Lions (0-1), for the teams’ first meeting in ten years. The Cavaliers are coming off a 43-19 manhandling of the Richmond Spiders, while you know the sad story of the Nittany Lions’ last game, a 24-14 loss to Ohio.
It couldn’t have been a fun day for the Spiders, who wound up with just 28 yards rushing, although they were able to pass for a halfway respectable 238 yards. However, Virginia more than doubled Richmond’s output with 184 yards rushing and 361 yards passing, and they played error-free ball.
Bill O’Brien is quite familiar with Scott Stadium, a venerable venue with an expansion history similar to Beaver Stadium, which can produce enough fan noise to be disquieting to a visiting team. Having been an assistant coach in the ACC before hopping over to the NFL, O’Brien knows that his team will need to keep their cool.
“I’ll tell you, though, I’ve coached in games in Met Life Stadium in New York, I’ve coached in games in the Oakland Raiders’ stadium, so I’ve been in some hostile crowds. I think at the end of the day we’ve got to be able to deal with the crowd noise, because having gone to Charlottesville many times at Georgia Tech and Maryland and Duke, it’s a very loud home crowd, it’s a great home advantage for Virginia, and we’ve got to do a great job this week of practicing with the crowd noise because that’s the biggest thing, not what they’re yelling but how loud they are.”
Who is the ‘Hoo’s QB? Junior Michael Rocco, who should have been a Nittany Lion. After all, his daddy was a quarterback on the 1982 national champion team at Penn State as well as a Paterno assistant, and his grandparents still live in State College. But no, Michael had to be different, so he opted for the Cavaliers.
“My family wanted me to pick the right school for me and if that was Penn State they’d be happy, but if it was anywhere else they’d be happy,” Rocco said. “At the end of the day, we chose Virginia and I haven’t looked back since.”
Last year, Rocco completed 222 of 366 passes for 2671 yards—a completion percentage of 60.7—with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In last week’s game against Richmond, Rocco completed passes to 11 different receivers. Rocco is backed up by the talented Alabama transfer, Phillip Sims.
Running the ball, senior Perry Jones has help from sophomores Khalek Shepherd and Kevin Parks; being this deep can make for another long, hot day for the Penn State front seven. Fortunately, none of the three tops 200 lbs. Even the fullback, senior LoVante’ Battle, is only 5-10, 205.
Soooooo, this Turkey thinks that the depleted Penn State secondary will have a great deal of trouble handling Rocco’s passing game. Morris was day-to-day but is expected to play, but there is a real concern that the inexperienced personnel back there will cause the secondary to leak like a sieve. Meanwhile, Jones et al. can grind it out with the primary defense, keeping them honest and out of Rocco’s hair. Virginia is said to have one of the best, most experienced offensive lines in the ACC. If the Lions’ pass rush is unsuccessful, Penn State will drop another game. I believe that it is as simple as that.
If we look at Penn State’s offense, we get a little queasy. With Bill Belton resting his sprained ankle, Bill O’Brien announced that Derek Day will start at running back. That should be enough to make you queasy right there. I’m hoping that we’ll see some Curtis Dukes in there, and perhaps Akeel Lynch as well. As for passing, McGloin has to spread the ball around a bit better; concentrating on Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter is a gift to the ‘Hoo defense. Fortunately, the Wa’ secondary is in about the same sorry shape as Penn State’s. There’ll be chances, if McGloin has the time and can keep the ball on target. The Nittany Lions’ offensive line, however, is not yet ready for prime-time, which will complicate matters for McGloin. Even against Virginia’s fair-to-middlin’ defense, I’m not liking the offense’s ability to put numbers on the scoreboard.
On special teams, let us hope that the Gerald Hodges experiment has concluded with a big red “X” over Hodges’ name on the kick return crew’s depth chart. State still doesn’t have a solid return game. Virginia does—at least they did against the Spiders last week—so the coverage units better do their job or there’ll be a reckoning, I tell you! Shepherd had two kick returns for 90 yards, but his two punt returns averaged only 4.5 yards.
Coaching should be about even. Yeah, Bill O’Brien coached in the Super Bowl, but this is his first shot at being the head man. He’s learning fast about the buck stopping there. We still can expect to see some rookie mistakes out there on the field in play calling and in personnel selection. (Yeah, the Hodges thing still gets on my nerves.) On the other side of the field, Mike London served as head coach of the Richmond Spiders in 2008 and 2009, and then was hired by UVA after Al Groh got the axe in 2010. London led the Spiders to the FCS division championship both years that he coached there. After a 4-8 season in 2010, London guided the 2011 ‘Hoos to a 8-5 record and an appearance in the much maligned Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. London won the Male Coach of the Year award from the Black Coaches & Administrators Association n 2008, beating out Mike Tomlin, who won the Super Bowl with the Steelers that same year.
The ABC national broadcast features Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, and Jeannine Edwards. I was hoping for Todd Blackledge, who always makes it a bit of old home week when he does the broadcast from Beaver Stadium, but he’ll be working the Washington-LSU game. Cunningham played for the Huskies, so we should switch crews. You might remember Edwards from the infamous Ron Franklin Chick-fil-A Bowl incident. Franklin, then 69, joined the sportscasters’ hall of shame when he condescendingly called Edwards “sweet baby” during a pre-game meeting. Sexist! She objected, so Ron did what anyone would do in those circumstances. He called her an asshole. ESPN tried to yank him out of the booth for the Chick-fil-A Bowl for his offensive remarks to that chick, but they didn’t have time to get a replacement; however, they fired his ass, so that’s that.
The weather this week promises to be pretty steamy again: Mostly cloudy with a couple of showers and a thunderstorm in the afternoon, with a high of 84°F (29°C). Will the Nittany Lions’ defense be able to handle the heat?
So where are we and where is this Penn State team? This week will tell whether there is hope or this season is going slowly down the drain. The vaunted front seven had better perform this week — it’s all we have going for us, methinks. Forcing Rocco to pass would be self-defeating if he was any good. Fortunately, he’s not all that. I’d like to see a mistake-free game, if that’s not asking for too much. Otherwise, I still don’t have a good enough feel for the team to be making assertions about what they’ll do and who they’ll do it to. They played one good quarter last week. How many will they play this week?
And so, my fellow Americans, it is now time for that which you have been awaiting: The Official Turkey Poop Prediction for the Big Cats from Whodat vs. the ‘Hoos from Dat’s Who. The Turkey is 0-1 for his predictions this year, and 0-1 against the spread. The Cavaliers are favored by 10 points, with an over/under of 44½, which suggests a 28-17 win by Virginia. Let’s see, the dreaded intangibles are: noon start; road game; noisy, boisterous home crowd; plus the ghosts of Tom Jefferson and his slave mistress sitting with the ectoplasmic recreations of George Jefferson and Weezie in the stands. Those are a lot of daunting intangibles. In the purloined words of the late, lamented Joe Paterno, “Naaaaah, fer cryin out loud, they’re a good football team and if we don’t watch ahselves, weah gunna take a lickin’ out theah. We gotta lotta work to do to get ready for them!” Too much work, Joe. You’re gunna get a lickin’! In an not-too-surprising non-upset, Cavaliers 31, Penn State 17.
They’re still fun to watch, regardless. I’ll be back after the game with a recap on Sunday or Monday.