Along Sparty Lines

The Michigan-State Penn State contrived rivalry for one of the ugliest trophies (“The Land Grand Trophy”) in all of sports anywhere at any level is also one of the tightest rivalries in the Big Ten.

The current series, including this game, is 16-17-1 with Sparty holding a one game lead for now.

These games have typically been played at the end of the regular season, and frequently see high scoring affairs with multiple lead changes. The 2020 edition was no exception.

The final score of 39-24 on Senior Day saw the Lions open the scoring with a field goal. 3-0. Sparty answered back with a touchdown to make it 7-3. Then we scored. 10-7. The Spartans then tacked on two more scores in the first half to go to half time 21-10. Back and forth.

But the Lions adjusted at half-time, which has become a tradition of Franklin coached teams. It’s nice that we come out stronger in the second half in most games. It’s nice our coaches make adjustments. But why, oh why, M, C, A can’t we start a game better and adjust as we go?!?!? I know. I ask too much. And give so little in return.

The Lions outscored Michigan State 29-3 after the half to etch the final score into the broad side of that god-awful piece of furniture they call a trophy. It’s like the moss covered, three-handled, family credenza. With sports memorabilia glued or stapled to it. It actually makes losing this game not so bad. “Well, at least we don’t have to hoist or house that piece of junk for another year!”

In retrospect, it’s sad that in a season like this (where you apparently can play for a championship with only five games) that we couldn’t have made more of this opportunity. Losing to Indiana was devastating. We weren’t prepared. We allowed the game to come down to a poor call by the refs and they didn’t disappoint. Ohio State is what it is. The best team money can buy. We’ll get to see them lose to an SEC team in the playoffs, so at least we have that going for us.

Let’s just call this conference what it is: the BIG ONE!

I can make no excuses for Maryland or Iowa. Nebraska was a disaster beyond imagination.

Was it COVID-19? Consider this. Penn State’s win over MSU was the only home victory this year. The last time Penn State failed to win at least one home game? 1918. The Spanish Flu pandemic.

This team could easily have folded up tents and moved on. But they came back these past three games with some more solid (not perfect by any stretch of the imagination) football, despite issues of coaching and clock management that persist. We were the better team on paper–recruiting, experience, etc. And we played like it.

I’m not a big fan of the two quarterback system, but it seems to be working for them for the moment. Call me old fashioned, but when I see Levis take off up the middle, I miss the days of a strong fullback helping to open the running game. And, thankfully, the current coaches haven’t stumbled upon the ancient, dusty texts of Jay Paterno, and moved Clifford out to the wide out position while Levis takes the snap!

There is promise and hope.

On to Illinois. And potentially a Bowl Game. Not that they deserve or earned one, but just because they might be able to. Never pass up an opportunity if it comes knocking.

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AfteR Thoughts

A week or so late and more than a dollar short . . .

Penn State defeated the Rutgers Knights–good knight Irene–by a respectable score of 23-7.

Yawn.

This game would have had no more importance had the Nittany Lions entered it undefeated. As it were, we entered it with but one win. We managed to make a meaningless game even more meaningless!

Enter with one win. Leave with two. We doubled down!

Seriously, Rutgers may be the default birthplace of college football, but for the past century or so, it has also been the graveyard.

Yes, Greg Schiano has returned. Cue the heavenly music. How did it work out for Pitt when Johnny Majors tried to resurrect their program? And at least Johnny Majors had an impact the first time, taking Pitt to a National Championship in 1976.

What has Greg Schiano done for Rutgers football? From 2001-2011, he was 68-67 at Rutgers. His collegiate record is 70-72. (In case you are wondering, Majors was 185-137-10 in his long career.) Granted, Mr. Schiano has taken the scarlety nights to six of their 10 bowls, winning five of them against the mighty likes of Kansas State, Ball State, NC State, Central Florida and Iowa State.) This was Schiano’s first game against Penn State as we did not play Rutgers during the 2001-2011 seasons.

Why am I even talking about this? Because the game itself was pedestrian, irrelevant, and the equivalent of a teenager beating his 4 year old brother at Mario Kart. We came. We played. We dominated.

Since 1950, Rutgers is 1-24 versus Penn State with the only win coming in 1988.

The only reason Penn State fans were worried about this game is that we have already established the propensity to lose against any body.

I do give credit for the players hanging in there and putting forth more effort on the field than I have done in this post.

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Episode VI: A New Hope????

Just when you think you have this Penn State team defined as an under-performing, over-rated, confused and poorly coached, clunking, clattering collection of caliginous junk . . . they go and win a game.

Albeit against Michigan. The Lions win 27-17! A-maize-ing!

Normally this would have been a marquee match-up.

In 2020, the reality was closer to this:

Pat Forde described this game as a “cringe-worthy mess.” Thank you Mr. Obvious. Keep your mind sharp and your pencil sharper.

Granted, few fans outside of Pennsylvania or Michigan likely cared much one way or the other about the outcome of this game. It probably didn’t even have a great TV audience.

But for die hard Penn State fans, this was a Thanksgiving Miracle. A spoonful of sugar to make the pandemic go down. We put the ape in apricot! A ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary world.

And no matter what happens the rest of the season . . . we are not the team that lost to Penn State.

For Harbaugh, it must be a humiliating defeat. He almost and should have lost to Rutgers the previous week. And with Maryland (who mauled Penn State in week 3 of this Big Ten season) and Ohio State left on their schedule, Jim may not notch another victory in 2020.

But for the Lions and James Franklin . . . . there is hope. It is but a glimmer, but it is there. In the darkness of this miserable season, it stood out today like a welcoming beacon. A torch on our Statue of Victory–give me your tired, your poor and your huddled football team, yearning to breathe victory, the wretched refuse of your dismal season.

A fan from Lock Have, PA made this for me many years ago.

So how did this miracle occur?

Aliens.

It’s as good as any guess.

Let’s face it. We beat a team that is arguably and probably worse than we are. Therein is probably the only analysis necessary.

But pick a stat–any stat. Penn State dominated. 25 PSU first downs to 14 Wolverine first downs. 254 rushing yards to 174. 163 Lion passing yards to 112 for the Maize (we call it corn) and Blue. Total yards were thus 417 for PSU and 286 for UM. We were 8 of 16 (50%) on third down while they were 4 of 12 (33%.) We won time of possession 36:36 to 23:24! They had two fumbles but only lost one–thanks to illegal touching! We did not commit a turn-over!

We did however, miss a field goal, twice kick the ball out of bounds on the kick-off, and got out-penalized 5 times for 30 yards versus only one 10 yard indiscretion by the wolverines.

But it was difficult to enjoy the game. Why? Because I sat there just waiting for the shoe to drop. The fatal mistake. The bone-head play call. The clock mismanagement. You just knew it was going to come. It always comes. The piss poor pass and pick six by Michigan. We almost had the Michigan scoop and score! But replay actually saved us on that one! You can’t say we didn’t try!

Cue I Got You Babe. Okay sportsfans, rise and shine, and don’t forget your crying towels because it’s lousy out there today. It’s lousy out there every Saturday . . . .

Somehow, some way, the Nittany Lions managed not to shoot themselves in the paw, look a gift horse in the mouth, throw caution to the wind while throwing the baby out with the bathwater or find gloom, despair and agony of defeat.

For the record–I went to Zach’s to watch the game instead of Champs or Primanti’s. I went back to my Nike PSU logo sneakers that I wore for the Indiana game, a game which we coulda, shoulda, woulda won. I nixed the PSU socks. Game day decision. Different PSU boxers and a different shirt. I will wear this ensemble for the remaining games. Without washing. (Thankfully there are only two irregular season games and one Championship week match-up left!)

Can we build on this performance? Can we keep momentum rolling?

We will find out next week as our beloved Lions travel to Piscataway, NJ. Welcome to hell, Blofeld! A fitting reward for a win like this? We shall see.

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Making History

Little did we know that Penn State football would make history this past Saturday when they squared off in Beaver Stadium against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawks were 2-2 in this COVID-crazy season while the formerly mighty Nittany Lions (the football team formerly known as Penn State) are winless. 0-4.

Some say that Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. If not Einstein, then probably someone pretty smart said it. Definitely not Jeffrey Epstein. But I digress.

Penn State football is insane this year. And so are the fans. Or perhaps the football team is driving us insane. Every Saturday is February 2nd. We wake expecting something new–like a win–only to be disappointed by the same shit, different day. Or same day? It gets confusing. Over and over again.

Cue I Got You Babe. Okay sportsfans, rise and shine, and don’t forget your crying towels because it’s lousy out there today. It’s lousy out there every Saturday . . . .

Penn State lost 42-21 in yet another lackluster, dismal performance that made even the cardboard cut outs in Beaver Stadium want to wear paper bags over their over-sized heads.

But in the process, we made history. This is the silver lining. Really. It is. I’ve got nothing else that even looks remotely promising.

This team became the first one in PENN STATE FOOTBALL HISTORY to open a season 0-5. Ta-da! So we’ve got that going for us. I wonder if a team ranked in the top 10 pre-season EVER went 0-5 once play actually began. That could be another first!

Unlike professional football, this won’t get us a first round draft pick out of high school. Oh, yeah. Ohio State already snatched up the top ranked football player in the country. As if they need it.

Fans more knowledgeable than I have noted that Franklin seems disconnected on the sideline. He seems to rarely interact with players. And the camera frequently catches him with a blank look on his face, staring up at the video board, or down at the ground. What is he thinking???

I actually watched most of the Michigan versus Rutgers game later that evening–just trying to get a sense of whether Penn State might be able to beat either of these two future opponents (my uneducated guess based on this viewing is a resounding NO–cue the DISCOVER commercial starting with Dr. Evil … How about NO!) I also didn’t have anything else to do. Anyway, I noticed that Schiano was very involved on the sideline. When his kicker missed a field goal he went up to the kid and coached him! Imagine that!

Some random thoughts after the game:

Did Matt Millen really play for Penn State? Did he have a stroke? Could he be any more pro-whatever team that is playing Penn State? Did someone get skipped over in the coaching search process with a chip on his shoulder?

Did TUMS intentionally sponsor the Big Ten Network knowing that Penn State fans would be watching and needing Costco-sized jars of TUMS for our indigestion? Marketing brilliance! I ordered six bottles on-line in the first half alone!

Does anyone know how many conference wins Coach Ferentz has? I’m just wondering. I mean he’s been around a long time. Probably has close to a hundred don’t you think? (In case you are wondering, Joe Paterno had 95.)

Next week Penn State will take this travelling circus on the road to Ann Arbor to square off against the Haughty Harbaughs.

Cue I Got You Babe. Okay sportsfans, rise and shine, and don’t forget your crying towels because it’s lousy out there today. It’s lousy out there every Saturday . . . .

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All Shucked Up

And once again, I am left with the unenviable task of trying to entertain my readership–all six of you–with a witty, insightful and interesting recap of yet another Penn State football epic fail.

OK. For the record, I have NEVER written a witty, insightful (although perhaps inciteful) and interesting recap of any PSU football game, win or loss. But that has never stopped me before! Damned the torpedoes! Straight ahead!

And just like the Titanic met the iceberg, Penn State football showed up in Nebraska.

There were oh so many areas and weaknesses we could improve upon after a lackluster 0-3 start. Nebraska was likewise winless. This was an opportunity. This was a turning point.

Nope. Captain Franklin did his best stubborn Joe Paterno imitation and ran that ship right into the side of that iceberg in some cornfield in Nebraska.

And I have yet to decide whether the second half comeback is a reason to look optimistically toward the future, or if it was all that much more frustrating to see that this team could–for but a few moments in the history of that game–play decent football worthy of a victory.

Oh I have decided. There is no optimism here. I just wanted to build up the suspense.

The last time Penn State opened a season 0-4 was 2001. We finished 5-6 that season. But a marquee come from behind victory to defeat Ohio State 29-27 was the win that broke Bear Bryant’s record for Joe Paterno. I don’t know–maybe beating Rutgers will put James Franklin past Gerry Faust. It won’t. Don’t bother looking it up. Unless you count his wins at Vanderbilt. And then he broke Gerry Faust’s 79 wins back in the Cotton Bowl against Memphis. Again, I digress.

Penn State has never opened a season 0-5. NEVER. Not under Paterno. Not even Bill Bless His Heart O’Brien.

We are blazing new trails here folks. Pio-freaking-neers. Uncharted waters. Watch out for the ice bergs. And the Hawkeyes.

Penn State technically had a winless season. That year was 1888. The second season of Penn State Football.

“Penn State football has had a winless season before, but never as the Nittany Lions (that nickname began in 1904): In its second year of football, in 1888, Pennsylvania State College did go winless — tying Dickinson 6-6 at home, then losing to Dickinson 16-0 on the road before losing 30-0 to Lehigh in the season finale for a record of 0-2-1.”

I don’t know if there was a pandemic that year and I am way too lazy to look it up. I hope they fired their coach for losing to Lehigh. And Dickinson. Sheeesh! Can you imagine????? Makes this season look great!

But this is not 1888. It is 2020. And yes this season will have asterisks all over the place–every game–every sport.

Here’s the thing. The pandemic didn’t set back Alabama. Or Notre Dame. Or Ohio State. Even Pitt has managed to win some games. For the love of God and all that is Holy . . . Liberty is 8-0 and ranked 21st! Where are we?

You’ve got the Fire Franklin crowd. You got the I bleed blue and white and root for this team even if they lose to the Bad News Bears 73-0 and Buttermaker is called Boilermaker and carried off into the sunset by his merry band of misfits who somehow can’t play baseball but picked up football in time to defeat Penn State. You get the picture. They are TRUE fans. Stick behind the boys. Root ’em on. Give ’em hell!

I am not a fair weather fan. I have sat through rain and snow and frigid temperatures. I have missed only a couple of home games in 30 years—all since Joe Paterno passed away. I rooted for them when they lost to Toledo. I rooted for them during the dark years of 2003-4. I rooted for them back when they lost to Alabama in 1979, and when they lost to Michigan in 2005. I watched them lose to Iowa 6-4 when Ferentz had his team deliberately give up a safety because he KNEW we couldn’t score.

Yes I basked in their victories. But I was there for every defeat as well.

But this team is pushing my patience to its limit.

I do not know how much more of this I can tolerate.

I have tried everything as a dedicated fan. I have worn four different pairs of Penn State sneakers. No help.

I have worn different (and clean) Penn State underwear. No help.

I have tried all white. All blue. Blue and white. Nothing helps.

I have sacrificed virgins on the altar. What?! Wait?! OMG! Maybe they weren’t virgins!!!!!

I’m too old for this. I’m not getting any younger.

Please be Penn State again. In my lifetime. Please.

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No Merry in Maryland

Where can one even begin?

At least two long-time Penn State fans (since the sixties) have told me they thought this was the worst game they have ever seen Penn State play.

Granted, that’s a sample size of two. But still . . .

I’m not sure it is the worst, but it is certainly in the top ten. Maybe top 5. I sat through the 6-4 loss to Iowa. I’m not sure this loss to Maryland quite approaches the level of frustration and impotency that that game had.

Nothing is right. Something is terribly wrong in the program right now.

Confucius say, “Sum Ting Wong.”

Coaching?

Another poor decision to go for it on fourth down, early in the game, on our own side of the field.

Desperation?

Confusion?

I really think it’s poor coaching.

And the day started so well. Michigan fell to Indiana. Hey, maybe we aren’t as bad as we thought we were. Both teams that beat us are undefeated.

And then we took the field.

Good feeling gone.

Social media lit up with fire Franklin posts. Some noted that the cardboard cut-outs in the stands were starting to boo. One fan said his cardboard cut-out called and wanted him to pick him up at half-time.

You can laugh or you can cry. There is nothing to cheer about.

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Brutal Brutus

I hope you weren’t expecting a thoughtful, insightful recap on Penn State’s signature game versus THE ohio state buckeyes.

Alas, you have come to the wrong place.

Instead, I will sum up that contest with an image:

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I Survived a Pandemic, and All I Got Was This Lousy Team

Are you freaking kidding me?!?!

You know that feeling when you order something on line? Maybe it’s a new pair of running shoes (or some jeans, or a book, or maybe an electronic gizmo.) You waited in excited anticipation for it to arrive. You’ve read the reviews. This is a wonderful product. It’s the eighth or ninth best product in the country depending on who you read.

And then it arrives. It looks great on you. The running shoes feel great. You walk around the house. These really are the best running shoes. Maybe they are even better than the experts say they are.

And then you actually run in them.

The first 100 yards are truly special. But then . . . Your feet start to hurt. They smell bad. The arch support that was supposed to be the best did not support your arch. They come untied at random times. And now you have a blister.

Or . . . perhaps a better analogy . . . a new movie is coming out. Rave reviews. 8 or nine out of ten! But it won’t be playing for three months. And then you finally get to see it.

The opening scene is wonderful. Riveting. So is the second. But then something goes horribly wrong. The highlights in the trailer are the only bright points and are sparse and surrounded by chaos. The casting is awful. The acting is deplorable. The director appears to be a clueless dimwit. They can’t get the lighting right nor the camera angles correct.

This is Penn State Football 2020. Welcome to hell, Blofeld!

And if I’m truly honest with myself, this has been Penn State football more or less since about 1987, with a few good years thrown in every decade just to keep us coming back to that theater, time after time, expecting Academy Award Winning Performances, and getting less–sometimes far less–than that. We want Chariots of Fire. We get Chariots for Hire.

Can you imagine the water cooler talk Monday morning in Indiana . . .

“Did you see what happened to Penn State?”

“Yeah! Coach Chambers got canned!”

“No. Not basketball . . . . Football! Did you see the Indiana game?”

“Indiana plays football?”

More or less.

You can say what you want about Coach Paterno . . . but he never lost to Indiana. None of his successors can say the same. (I don’t include Tom Bradley because he was only an interim head coach and never actually led the team against Indiana.) But I digress.

Donald Trump brought back Big Ten Football. Could he work on Making Penn State Great Again?

How could this team be so poorly prepared? And poorly coached.

It’s not recruiting. Franklin has recruited well, and that talent alone is likely the only reason he is still has a job. But talent alone can only take you so far.

Why can’t we have good special teams? At the risk of offending anybody, we have special-ed teams. Muffed punts. Missed field goals. I’d settle for just somewhat special special teams. So-so teams. Not flat out lousy teams.

Our coach cannot manage the clock. He can’t. Never has and I fear never will. I’m not even sure if he can tell time at this point. Maybe he didn’t even know it was Saturday. Game day.

He is not alone, though, as an “accidental touchdown” also doomed the Atlanta Falcons today. They would have done well to study the Penn State film before their game. They would then be the only souls on this planet outside of Bloomington that would be served well by watching that game.

And yes, the final goal line review by the Keystone Kops otherwise known as Big Ten Refs only added salt into the already festering wound.

Penn State should have won that game easily. They dominated virtually every statistical category. Unfortunately, that dominance also included penalties, missed field goals, turn-overs and probably three or four more that I can’t even recall now, the memory is so painful.

We are! Penn State!

We deserve! Better than this!

I’m glad I didn’t waste my money on a cardboard cut out of myself to watch the game next week. If this same shit show shows up, then this game will be over in the first quarter. My picture would be embarrassed and probably head out to tailgate, if tailgating were actually allowed. Instead it would probably have just spontaneously combusted.

There have been more than a few disappointing losses at Penn State over the years. The 1979 Sugar Bowl. The 1999 Minnesota game. The 6-4 loss to Iowa, perhaps the ugliest loss I have ever seen. The 2005 two-second, heel-toe loss at Ann Arbor. Iowa in 2008. I’m sure there are others.

But this . . . this was just disappointing on a whole new level. I can’t even pinpoint why. Did we really have a shot at the play-offs this year? If we did, then yes, this is a major disappointment. But in retrospect, maybe that “shot” was just the shot of whisky we need to stomach these games. Maybe we were over-rated from the get go.

But that’s not quite it either. We may not be play-off material, but I don’t think we were THAT much over-rated.

I mean, we really sucked.

Receivers couldn’t get open. When they did, our QB over threw them. The back up fumbled. We shot ourselves in the foot so many times, we have no feet left. We don’t have a foot to stand on.

Perhaps it was the hope for something bright in an otherwise dismal year. Perhaps it was just frustration at seeing out beloved team play so poorly.

On the plus side, we can’t play much worse. There is plenty of room for improvement. See–I can find something nice to say!

But regardless of whatever made this loss so disappointing, a win next week would go a long way to making me feel better.

GO STATE! BEAT BUCKEYE$!

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To Be There, Or Not to Be There . . . That IS the question

Penn State fans are not rookies when it comes to considering the question “is there going to be a football season?” It was not all that long ago–2012 to be exact, when many fans were wondering if there was going to be another season for Penn State football or would the NCAA deliver the “death penalty” to a once proud and successful program.

Fast forward to 2020. Fans–across the country–are now wondering, “will there be a football season this year?” Some already know. The Ivy League presidents have already voted and nixed a 2020 season amid COVID fears and uncertainties.

Choose Wisely . . .

Apparently the Pitt Athletic department has had to change its phone number due to the number of calls from programs across the country seeking Pitt’s advice on playing sports without fans.

Some schools have already considered the logistics of a shortened season (The Big Ten will only play Big Ten teams, and the season will likely be 9-10 games, although no revised schedule has been made public.) The University of Illinois has already issued some preliminary guidelines which include such things as a reduced stadium capacity (20% of 60,670 seats would max out at 12, 134) which is still under their 2019 average attendance figure of 36,702. Fans would only be able to purchase pre-packaged food, and no tailgating would be allowed. Fans would also be encourage to wear face masks. Helmets and foam fingers appear to be optional as well.

This is of course a fluid process at this point, with many athletic departments waiting closer until season kick-off to solidify their guidelines based on fluctuating state regulations (Pennsylvania currently does not allow groups larger than 250 which would mean NO fans if that is not changed,) and how the virus numbers pan out over the next month. Sharply rising numbers (cases and/or deaths) will likely slide the ultimate outcome toward a fan-less season, if any season at all.

Spring football is an option still on the table, but there is no guarantee that the situation risk-wise will be any better, and that also throws a monkey wrench into the normal NFL draft time-frame among other issues.

Just for the record people–a Vaccine does not solve this problem. We have had a flu vaccine for decades and 50-60,000 people still die each year from the regular flu. There is no data yet whether a vaccine will affect the death rate for this virus or not.

I have no crystal ball, and I apparently have no inside sources, but here is my prediction for whether there is or isn’t a season. I think there will be a season, shortened with rule changes in place to protect the players. There will be no fans. I just don’t see that happening. The logistics for PSU to determine which 20% get to go or not is a nightmare no one wants to wake up from. And you can pretty much assume that most fans will be unhappy whatever the final guidelines are. All or none is the better option even if only the Sith deal in absolutes.

Consider this: IF fans are allowed to attend, you are going to spread 20,000 or so fans throughout a 110,000 seat stadium. You will likely be asked to or forced to wear a mask, and probably not be allowed to cheer (yelling creates droplets that spread beyond six feet.) Concessions will be limited or non-existent. Tailgating will be prohibited. Flow of fans into and out of the stadium will be controlled–and keep in mind these jokers can’t even get your cars into and out of the parking lots without an hour of headaches.

Who would even want to go under these circumstances????

I have seen several options being thrown around–refunding the ticket cost for this season versus carrying a credit over to next year. (And what about the seat licensing fees and donations? Another logistic nightmare.) I might consider this if there is a guarantee that ticket prices won’t go up more than say 5-10%. But somewhere down the road, someone is going to have to pay for this lost season (or lost revenue season.) I’d rather it not be me. I am leaning strongly to just getting my money back because the future of large sporting events is likely going to change forever. This virus will do to sports what 9-11 did to air travel. You still enjoy that don’t you???

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Running on Memphis

Put on my plain black shoes
And I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Dallas News
In the middle of the pouring rain
J.V. Paterno, won’t you look down on me
Yeah, I got a first class ticket
And I bleed blue as a man can be
Then we’re running on Memphis
Running with my feet ten yards down the field
Running on Memphis
But does the vict’ry feel like we are healed?
WalkeninMemphis
Probably any season can be distilled down to a few plays; a few moments.  Snippets of time that mean almost nothing out of context, but everything in the moment.  Their full meaning may not even be evident at the moment they occur, but in retrospect as part of a broad canvas of strokes continually being applied.  Any season can be marked by ups and downs, the natural tides of human emotions splashing up and down the shores of our lives.
But this season feels different.  Maybe not unique–but different.
I still recall the 2005 season.  Penn State was coming off a 4-7 season (2-6 in the conference)–the end of the “dark years” but see, we didn’t know that at the time.  We did not know that as the 2005 season opened.  We were unranked, and ended up #3.  But we coulda been a contender!  After a lackluster out of conference schedule,featuring  wins over South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan (none of these teams having a good year) and then a come from behind 34-29 win at Northwestern that kind of sparked the imagination and excitement.  The turning point!  (Some argue it was the goal line stand against Indiana the season before and I could concede that argument–and it only bolsters what I am trying to say here in a very circuitous way.)  But it was not until we upset #6 Ohio State 17-10 two weeks later that we actually became ranked for the first time since 2002.
And then we lost a heart breaker to THEM–Michigan.  Spit.  Spit.
Who forgets the infamous two seconds?  The heel toe alleged catch?  Multiple shenanigans by the referines.
Those memories are only there because they mattered in some broader unforeseen context.  If Penn State had lost to Northwestern, or Minnesota or Cincinnati–none of that would have mattered or even be remembered.  They might not have even happened!
I am one of those fans that wished Penn State had the chance to play Nebraska in 1994.  In my heart, I truly believe Penn State would have won and been crowned the National Champion.
But that doesn’t mean it would have happened that way.  Penn State might have gone to the Orange Bowl and LOST to Nebraska.  In fact, that scenario is probably statistically just as likely as the one we Lion fans assume would have happened.
Ask any Ohio State fan about that today.  They all sat glued to their seats watching the Fiesta Bowl–where they wanted their team to be–where they deserved???? to be–where destiny was going to watch one of the best offensive powers in the history of college football and a stingy defense to go with it dismantle Clemson and move on to a championship that was almost pre-ordained.
It didn’t happen.  In the end, those moments–snippets in a time sequence that are part of a future always in motion–take on new perspective.
Instead of remembering Justin Fields completing a comeback touchdown pass to win the game, Buckeye fans will forever have etched in their collective memories a receiver falling down, a Clemson defender intercepting and falling to the ground in the end zone, and no National Championship.  Along with that, a touchdown pass to Dobbins waved off for failure to complete the process, and a scoop and score reversed and changed to an incompletion.  A star-player ejected.  There are others I’m sure.  Just ask a Buckeye fan.
That could have been us in 1994.  As it is, we can still believe in our hearts and minds that we were Number One, and we still have some great memories of one of Penn State’s most glorious seasons.
I was afraid our players would not take Memphis seriously.  I was afraid that we would not play with any intensity.  That instead, the collective morale of the team would be one of thinking about what coulda, shoulda, woulda been had the snippets earlier in the year been different.
Nobody wanted a win against Minnesota more than I did.  NO ONE.  Depending on who you are, I will grant you that the desire is equal, but trust me, it was not greater and I am still stewing over the Minnesota loss in 1999.  Iowa 2008.  Michigan 2005.  Oklahoma 1986 Orange Bowl.  USC 2017 Rose Bowl.  I could go on.  You get the point.
I have gone on record asking fellow Penn State fans not to watch the Rose Bowl this year.  The Bowl didn’t want our team–they shouldn’t get our fan support either.  WE ARE!  A package deal.
But then I wonder?  Would a win over Oregon be guaranteed?  Would a loss in a “better” bowl be better than our win over a good Memphis team?  Would a win in the Rose Bowl be more remembered than our victory in the Cotton?  Would we be ranked higher?  We still won’t be number one, and does five mean more than nine after the dust settles?
No.  It wouldn’t.  The loss in Minnesota and the near comeback that failed in Columbus will be what is most remembered.  And a bowl loss would have been equally etched in our collective mindset in a negative way.
This season is what it was.  A year with fairly high expectations (ranked 15th I believe before even the first snap) and while a lot of folks worried about losses to Michigan and their little brother, an almost expected loss to the Buckeyes, and potentially another loss at Iowa, we out-performed expectations and then some.  And although there was disappointment, at the end of the proverbial Ryan Day, I think we will be ranked in the Top 10 and will enjoy the off-season and good memories much more than 95% of other programs in this country.
The Cotton Bowl, although perhaps stressful to us fans that really want to win, was a fun game to watch.  When we finally decided to just run the daggum ball and not try to force passes, we did amazingly well.  I still think James Franklin needs to work on his clock management skills.  A timeout with a minute left in the first half and barring a potential Memphis penalty that would give us an automatic first down, was unnecessary.  We only had two plays left.  TIME WAS NOT THE ISSUE.  Granted, maybe they needed the timeout to come up with a play, but that is a whole other can of worms to open up for an ice fishing trip in Minnesota.  But it looked like we panicked and called time out to save time.  I’m sorry, barring that automatic first down which may or may not occur, you are only going to run two more plays.  You don’t need a minute to do that.
So what happened?  We scored.  Yay!  But now we left enough time on the clock for Memphis to score, and true to the script of the season, they did just that, tacking on a field goal before the half.
In the great, grand scheme of things, it turned out not to have mattered.  But that is hind sight.  We didn’t know at the time if those three points could be the difference in the game.  It was 35-23 at the half (12 point difference) versus the coulda, shoulda, woulda difference of 15.  Both are two score margins, but you know what I’m talking about.
YOU DON’T WANT AN OPPONENT KICKING A FIELD GOAL TO END A HALF.  Period.  If nothing else it gives the underdog momentum.  I’m not even going to argue this any further.
Micah Parsons had a great game, and the defense bent but did not break.  Wait?  What?  Didn’t we give up 39 points?  Yes.  Yes we did.  But Memphis also had more total yards than we did, yet we won the scoreboard battle, which is ultimately the only stat that counts.  Let’s look at those numbers . . .
BY THE NUMBERS:
I think the key stats were the 63 yards rushing for Memphis versus the nearly 400 for Penn State, the eight penalty yards for the Tigers, and the interception returned for a touchdown by Penn State.  Also, the defense forced 6 field goals!  Again, they bent but did not break.
INTANGIBLES:
This was the first meeting between these two schools.  We lead the series 1-0!
Attendance was listed at 54,828.  Penn State didn’t seem to dominate those numbers, but that could be due to Memphis being a lot closer.  Dallas isn’t an exciting bowl destination.  I’m making excuses, but the fan base that traditionally traveled well, didn’t seem to embrace this bowl trip for whatever reasons.
MemphisFans
THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:
The flagship program of the Big Ten bit the big one against Clemson in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl.  Too bad.  So sad.  Clemson scored late to take a 29-23 lead, but Justin Fields was unable to orchestrate the comeback drive.
Iowa looked impressive as they defeated the Trojans of So Cal 49-24.
Michigan State outlasted the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, winning 27-21.
Illinois, despite being able to upset the Badgers in the regular season, laid an egg against Cal, losing 35-20.  At least the Buckeyes have some company in the Big Ten Teams that didn’t win their bowl category.  Michigan might join them.  They can have a party!
LOOKING AHEAD:
Up Next–> Blue-White Game:  Beaver Stadium  April 18, 2020.

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