No Mo-Joe

Nebraska and Penn State played a football game yesterday.  The Huskers prevailed 17-14.  But the hearts and the minds of the fans and players were probably not on the game so much. It was a well-played exciting game, but the atmosphere and sportsmanship couldn’t overcome the “elephant in the stadium.”

There was something else there.  And there was something that was missing.

The tragedy that has brought the football program to it’s knees–in humility and prayer–was talked about in tailgates and among friends.  Everyone has an opinion.  Everyone thinks they are right.  But all those differences were put aside as the two teams joined in prayer before the game at midfield.

It was refreshing to see a spectacle like that in an age where opposing teams are more likely to plant their flag on their opponents logo or stomp on a Terrible Towel.

As many put it, it was the start of a long slow healing process.

No matter how exciting the game was or what the outcome, though, it could not overcome the grievous pain felt for the victims.  It will be a long time–perhaps never–before that elephant in the stadium is gone.  Maybe it should never leave, as a painful reminder of the evil that lurks in the hearts of some men (and women!)

But the game could also not overcome the loss that fans felt as one person was absent.  To be honest, that man’s physical absence on the sideline has been present most of this year, and several times in past years.  This was not the first time Tom Bradley was in charge.  But it was the first time he was officially in charge–and ONLY in charge.

His interim debut was not rewarded with a victory.  The players could not walk the winning game ball to the house on McKee Street.  The hole left was most palpable as his son broke down, missing his father.

I don’t think it matters whether Tom Bradley wins or loses.  I strongly suspect this is the last season for all these coaches on this sideline.  My sense from the Board of Trustees is that they will clean house at the end of the season.  Sometimes, when you operate to remove a tumor, you have to remove some good tissue with the bad, just to make sure you get all of it.

It is not clear how the Board plans to go from here.  The best case scenario would be to hire a new athletic director and allow that person, in conjunction with Rodney Erickson, to conduct a national search.

But already, there are rumors of Trustees reaching out to other coaches (Garban calling Virginia coach London for instance) and this kind of approach will not end well.  The Board is not made up of people who are uniquely qualified to pick a football coach.  Having individual Board members making calls is not an effective way to produce a candidate.  The Board needs to put qualified people in place who will then continue working with the next coaching regime, rather than pushing personal agendas along haphazardly.  I would rather start next season with Tom Bradley still at the helm, than rush through a selection process to just to have the job done but not done properly.

But I digress.

I felt the men on this team played their hearts out on Saturday.  Readers who are familiar with me will know that I do not take losses well.  This loss may just be the best loss I have ever seen.

Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, this team faced down a top 20 opponent who was favored to win before they even stepped onto the field and went toe to toe with them until the last seconds faded away into a beautiful autumn afternoon in Happy Valley.  In addition to all the emotions swirling in the stadium like the wind, for some this was their last game in Beaver Stadium as seniors.  Their coach was gone with little time to prepare for that sudden change.  I am so proud of these men for rising above all that, even if they came up short on the scoreboard.  They did not come up short in the eyes of the world or in the hearts of true Penn Staters.

Falling down by 17 points, this team fought back and fought back hard.  They scored 14 points in the final quarter and a half and came up a field goal short of tying Nebraska in the final minute.

If you want some football analysis, here it is:  the missed field goal in the first half might have been the key to this game.  It totally deflated the team after that, and obviously the margin of losing was 3.  Those points were critical.  The fumble by McGloin led to another score and was arguably the play of the second half.  (His reception on the trick play was a close second!)   But I firmly believe the unsung heroes of Nebraska’s victory were its special teams.  Their punt unit downed 5 of 8 punts inside our 20.  In case you are wondering, we punted 7 times and downed no punts inside the Husker’s 20.

In a game where the two teams were almost evenly matched in turnovers, passing, rushing and time of possession, it was special teams that carried the day.  They kicked the field goal.  We missed.  They controlled field position–we did not.

And like that one presence that was missing–physically but not spiritually–that one man who could not finish his career . . . it just wasn’t meant to be.

BY THE NUMBERS:

From the GoPSUsports site:

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Team Totals NEB PSU
FIRST DOWNS 21 21
Rushing 10 10
Passing 10 9
Penalty 1 2
NET YARDS RUSHING 188 166
Rushing Attempts 48 43
Average Per Rush 3.9 3.9
Rushing Touchdowns 2 2
Yards Gained Rushing 200 174
Yards Lost Rushing 12 8
NET YARDS PASSING 143 209
Completions-Attempts-Int 13-27-0 17-35-0
Average Per Attempt 5.3 6
Average Per Completion 11 12.3
Passing Touchdowns 0 0
TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS 331 375
Total offense plays 75 78
Average Gain Per Play 4.4 4.8
Fumbles: Number-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties: Number-Yards 6-45 3-32
PUNTS-YARDS 8-360 7-296
Average Yards Per Punt 45 42.3
Net Yards Per Punt 40.4 36.6
Inside 20 5 0
50+ Yards 2 3
Touchbacks 0 2
Fair catch 1 4
KICKOFFS-YARDS 4-276 3-193
Average Yards Per Kickoff 69 64.3
Net Yards Per Kickoff 48.8 44
Touchbacks 1 0
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD 0-0-0 3-37-0
Average Per Return 0 12.3
Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD 3-61-0 3-61-0
Average Per Return 20.3 20.3
Interceptions: Number-Yds-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0
Miscellaneous Yards 0 0
Possession Time 29:03 30:57
1st Quarter 5:09 9:51
2nd Quarter 9:07 5:53
3rd Quarter 8:28 6:32
4th Quarter 6:19 8:41
Third-Down Conversions 6 of 16 5 of 16
Fourth-Down Conversions 0 of 1 1 of 3
Red-Zone Scores-Chances 2-2 2-2
Touchdowns 2-2 2-2
Field goals 0-2 0-2
Sacks By: Number-Yards 1-7 1-3
PAT Kicks 2-2 2-2
Field Goals 1-1 0-1

I won’t dwell on these as they were discussed above.

INTANGIBLES:

The Drum Major stuck the flip.

The crowd of 107,903 was fantastic and the largest crowd of the season.

Nebraska won the toss and deferred.

To whoever was responsible for the airplane flying around the stadium with its disparaging message:  you should be ashamed of yourselves.  You are entitled to your opinion, but that was not the venue or manner to express it.

Of course, I also question the decision to play “Lay your hands on me” during the senior video montage.  Kind of questionable if you ask me.

Nebraska evened the all-time series at 7-up.

THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:

Penn State is still leading the LEADERS division, but must win both of it’s remaining games to make it to the conference championship.  Actually, with the Buckeye loss, I think PSU would still go to Indy with a win over the Badgers, but I’m too lazy to look up the tie breakers.  But the opposite is simple:  win both and PSU is in.

The Buckeyes lost in OT 26-23 to Purdue.
THEM beat Illinois 31-14.
Wisconsin crushed Minnesota 42-13.
Northwestern fried Rice 28-6.
Michigan State defeated Iowa 37-21.

SHEDDING TEARS:

1.  For the victims of sexual abuse.  These are real.
2.  Boise State–lost to TCU 36-35.  TCU scored a two-point conversion and Boise missed a 39 yard field goal.
3.  Stanford lost to Oregon 53-30.
4.  Texas Tech was demonized by Okie State 66-6. 
5.  Speaking of Texas, the Longhorns lost to Missouri 17-5.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Penn State head to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes next week.  PSU could still lose this game if they beat Wisconsin, assuming Whisky wins out as well.

I’ll preview this game later.  I don’t feel up to it at the moment.

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Filed under analysis, Big Ten, football, Nebraska, Penn State, recap, statistics

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