While the storylines of this game abound, a recurring theme was the playing field itself, a disgrace compared to nearly every other bowl venue in the country. Fortunately, the poor conditions did not cause any injuries as it had for Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Inexplicably, there were high school playoff games played on this field as well. Seriously? High School games? Obviously Orlando is a great location as it is in the middle of the state (think Hershey in PA) but couldn’t they play those games at a high school field in Orlando—or how about at UCF’s Bright House Network Stadium?
But did the weather and field conditions favor Penn State? Obviously, both teams played on the same field in the same weather. But I think Penn State played enough games in rainy weather this year that it did not affect them as much. But truth be told, I have no idea what kind of weather conditions LSU played in during their season.
LSU had three turnovers on the day, two of which lead to a whopping 6 points on 2 field goals. A graphic during the game showed that the Tigers averaged 3 turnovers in their other bowl victories under Les Miles, so I don’t think it would be fair to blame the weather for the turn-overs, or the turn-overs themselves for the loss.
In the end, the better team won, despite the Lions allowing an inferior team to hang around for far too long in this game. As we saw in the NCAA statistics, Penn State was clearly the better team on paper. But neither team had a signature win—neither team had beaten a top ranked opponent. As time expired, though, the Lions inked their signature win, Daryll Clark cemented his legacy with a Most Valuable Player honor, and Joe Paterno notched another play-not-to-lose victory to his list of all-time wins.
Let’s face it; we were not an aggressive team yesterday offensively. We had four possessions in LSU territory in the first half with 6 points to show for it. Granted, the weather might have accounted for more conservative play-calling, and I don’t want to take away from LSU which has a pretty good defense of its own. But come on—this game should not have been that close.
I am really thankful that we converted the four field goals. The field was certainly not favorable and nobody would mistake Wagner this season for money in the bank. In fact, the strength of our kicking game—Boone—was a weak spot in this game. Normally able to drop the ball inside the ten yard line with GPS-like precision, Boone booted four punts into the endzone for touchbacks, on a field where you could almost have plugged a kick in the mud for no roll. (It is possible that it was intentional to prevent a return, but isn’t that joe-pathetic if true?) On the plus side, he made a nice tackle to save a touchdown. Wagner also had a tackle on the day as well.
Despite having over a month to prepare, the same problems that plagued us all year long were still there. Punt and kick-off coverages were awful. Even a squib kick was returned across the fifty yard line and was perhaps the reason why we opted not to squib the final kick-off which gave LSU decent field position on their final drive at the 42 yard line.
I do want to address the officials. There were two calls on the final moments that have LSU panties all bunched up. The first was a pass interference call on Moye that I must admit was questionable at best. But let’s put it in perspective. The result was a nine yard gain on FIRST down. The way PSU moved down the field on that drive it is hard to believe that a non-call on that play would have made a difference. Whole different story if it was third or fourth down.
The second was the personal foul call after LSU blundered the playcall and opted for a short screen in the middle of the field with no time outs. Was it justified? Who knows? He did pull the Penn State player off the pile. It was a judgment call. Roles reversed, I’d have been upset about it, but with the clock ticking down, I’m not sure I can argue that it made the difference between a win and a loss—it simply sealed a loss that appeared to already be in the books.
And, forgotten in the aftermath of that exciting ending, was the illegal shift penalty on Penn State at the goal line. Replays showed that the Penn State player was moving sideways—not forward—and that LSU was off-sides. The correct call would have given the Nits another chance to score and a touchdown would have made LSU’s final push for a FG immaterial. At the very least, the fouls should have been off-setting with a replay of the down. In the final analysis, I think the calls evened out and probably did not affect the final outcome, although one can never be sure about that.
The Penn State defense continued its dominance at the line, stuffing the run game and holding the Tigers to an anemic 41 yards on the ground (1.6 per carry.) The Penn State secondary was still vulnerable to the big pass play, especially in the second half after the rain had stopped. LSU missed at least two opportunities to get an INT, and Penn State won the turn-over margin despite two fumbles on exchanges that we recovered.
Overall, it was a solid win over a solid opponent, far from perfect and perhaps a little too close to disaster than we would have liked.
BY THE NUMBERS:
|NET YARDS RUSHING||124||41|
|Average Per Rush||3.1||1.6|
|Yards Gained Rushing||147||66|
|Yards Lost Rushing||23||25|
|NET YARDS PASSING||216||202|
|Average Per Attempt||6.2||8.4|
|Average Per Completion||12.0||15.5|
|TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS||340||243|
|Total offense plays||75||49|
|Average Gain Per Play||4.5||5.0|
|Average Yards Per Punt||39.8||33.0|
|Net Yards Per Punt||24.4||30.6|
|Average Yards Per Kickoff||48.2||58.8|
|Net Yards Per Kickoff||25.7||39.2|
|Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD||3-17-0||2-43-0|
|Average Per Return||5.7||21.5|
|Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD||4-78-0||6-135-0|
|Average Per Return||19.5||22.5|
|Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD||1-0-0||0-0-0|
|Third-Down Conversions||7 of 19||3 of 12|
|Fourth-Down Conversions||0 of 0||0 of 0|
|Sacks By: Number-Yards||2-17||1-11|
LSU won the toss and deferred.
Joe Paterno notched his 24th bowl victory and handed Miles his first bowl loss of his LSU career.
Penn State finished the year 11-2 and JoePa with 394 wins. Bobby Bowden won his final game as coach at F$U to finish 5 games behind, pending possible NCAA sanctions that might cost him 14 more victories. I wonder if Bobby has sent his resume to Texas Tech???
THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:
With Michigan State and Iowa left to play yet, the Big Ten is 3-2. Minnesota simply couldn’t overcome Iowa State, losing 14-13. Northwestern should have, could have, would have but didn’t. They lost to Auburn in OT after a failed fake FG came up short. But the Wildcats twice turned the ball over in the redzone—and Auburn returned the one INT 100 yards for six points the other way. They also missed a 44 yard field goal in regulation that could have won the game. No matter how you cut it, it was a difficult loss for Fitzgerald’s team, and NW has not won a bowl since 1949.
The Buckeye’s surprisingly handled Oregon (surprising to most of the country that is,) winning the Rose Bowl 26-17.
Wisconsin beat Miami and looked impressive.
The next game is the Blue-White game in April 24, 2010.
Although I will miss the games, I will not miss that awful I am the Champion crap on ESPN.