Category Archives: football

Margin of (a) Safety

Penn State out-gained the Hawkeyes 579 yards to 273.  They had 29 first downs compared to 11 for Iowa.  99 offensive plays for the guys in white; only 45 for the black and gold that is not the Steelers.  The Lions owned the ball with nearly forty minutes of possession.  Iowa did not register a first down until the final play of the first quarter.

Yet, with a minute and 42 seconds left in the game, the number four ranked team in the country found itself trailing the Hawks 19-15.  They also trailed at the half as Iowa turned a late interception into points on a big pass play.

How could this happen?

All the usual suspects were there.  Turn-overs.  Pass after pass batted down.  Missed and blocked field goals.  A terrific effort by the Iowa defense.

Despite all it’s offensive stats, PSU managed only a field goal in the first half.  And a safety by the defense, which played a great game all but for a couple of plays.

It all brought back shades of 2008.  Penn State, ranked third in the nation, traveled to Iowa City to play an unranked Hawkeye team.  In the closing minutes of that game, Iowa took possession, got some help from a phantom pass interference flag, and ended up kicking a field goal as time expired to beat Penn State.

It was like de ja blue all over again.

But the Hawkeyes forgot one thing this time.  1:42 on the clock.

The ensuing kick-off was returned to the twenty.  The Lions were 80 yards away from keeping their hopes of an undefeated season and possibly another Big Ten Title intact.

They had moved the ball all night.  579 yards of offense!  Saquon Barkley alone had 358 all-purpose yards (a Penn State school record.)  But most of that effort resulted in no points.

Trace McSorley, hurried at times, sacked, and somewhat inconsistent, then led this team on an 80 yard drive, highlighted by two fourth down conversions and an absolutely amazing pass through traffic that put the Lions up by two with no time left on the clock.

The Hawkeye fans were stunned.  (I know the feeling.  I felt it at the end of the Rose Bowl last season when I was sure we had pulled that one out.)

The DRIVE was reminiscent of “the drive” in 1994, when Kerry Collins led his team on a 95 yard drive, on the road, against the Illini defense, which that year was ranked in the top five in the country.  It preserved what would ultimately be an undefeated season, but that drive did not end the game, and our defense still had to preserve the victory.

I don’t remember PSU ever winning on the final play from scrimmage like that–maybe on a field goal as time expired, or a defensive play–but not a Mario Manningham kind of play.

Yeah, Iowa.  I remember that game too.  Wasn’t against you, but I know your pain.

It remains to be seen if the Lions can win out this year.  But if they do, I think we will all look back on this game–and this play–as a significant moment in PSU history.

While the stars seemed aligned against us most of the night, a lot of things suddenly came together at the right time.  On the previous play, McSorley threw an incompletion.  It didn’t look like Hamilton would have been able to score on that play.  We did have a timeout, but had he tried to break free, or they stood him up, time could have slipped away before a time out could have been called.

Iowa tried for two points after touchdowns twice and failed.  The margin of victory was two points.  Both teams had field goal problems.  Had Iowa not scored a touchdown, but ran more clock off and kicked a field goal, the game might have been beyond our reach.

In the end, the Lions made the plays they needed to make, and are still ranked #4 with Indiana up ahead.

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Big Ten Championship

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Indiana Groans in Raiders of the Last Quarter

Penn State left Bloomington, Indiana with a 45-31 victory, but the outcome was far from established as the Lions trailed 24-14 with 3:13 left in the third quarter.

The first half was so boring that the TV network concentrated more on how some kids were going to get a football out of a pine tree near the stadium.  At one point, there were three footballs stuck in the fir tree, because some future brilliant IU students thought the best way to get the ball out of the tree was to throw more balls at it.  Amazingly, this did not work.  But just so you can sleep tonight–they got all the balls safely out of the tree.  And we know this because of the stellar off the sideline reporting.  At least, the TV network this week showed the correct game.

The dramatic come from behind win over the Buckeyes–faint memory of the past, fading with each tick of the clock as the Hoosiers out-gained us, out-first downed us, and in the end, ultimately out-fumbled us.  Total domination over Iowa a week before–may as well have been centuries ago.  Football wasn’t even invented then.

All of the good feeling of this resurgent season came to rest on this team as they  mounted a 5 play, 74 yard drive scoring drive in 1:41  to pull within three points before going into the final quarter of play.

As we sat in Champs to watch Indiana play us to a 14-14 draw at the half way point, I mused that we were definitely a second half team.  We always seem to play better in the second half.  We make adjustments.  Just wait.

As we fell behind by 10 late in the third, I was amending my assessment.  We are a fourth quarter team.  We always play better in the fourth quarter.  If we go into OT then we will definitely be a better over-time team.  We are like wine–we get better with age.

Something had to be done.  During the Ohio State game, my niece, sitting behind us, somehow managed to spill her hot chocolate on us, if you define spill as splattering us from head to toe (yes, we were wearing white jackets!), the people in front of us, and the lady across the aisle.  It was like being in the Shamu splash zone.  But it somehow was the pivotal point where Penn State started took control of that game.

In the second half of the Purdue game, we ordered victory egg rolls.  And Penn State rolled to a victory over the Boilermakers.  Do you see a pattern here?  I don’t either.  I am digressing at an alarming rate, and I appear to be obsessed with food and drink.

Hot chocolate wasn’t on the menu.  I was reluctant to put that much pressure on egg rolls again.  They can only handle so much, you know.  So I ordered a pretzel.

Brilliant!

The team came alive as I enjoyed that soft pretzel.   McSorley added some razzle dazzle flea flicking passing and the Lions surged ahead.  But Indiana would not stop.

THEY.  WOULD.  NOT.  STOP.  Were they not the least bit distracted by the football eating tree in the back of the endzone?

They were relentless.  They were really starting to irritate me.  Die Hoosiers!  Die!  All hail the magic pretzel.  My friend ordered a pretzel, and Penn State surged ahead once again after the annoying Hoosiers took back the lead 31-28.

In the end, the defense came up with the biggest play of the day, stripping Indiana’s QB of the ball and then scooping and scoring the final seven points to cap victory number 8.  I wonder if Torrence Brown had a pregame pretzel?

Later, John sent out this text to some of his other buddies:

Down 24-14 and things looking bleak my friend Todd made what at the time seemed like a selfish move by ordering a bowl of soup and a pretzel.  What I didn’t know at the time was the pretzel was a good luck pretzel.  As soon as it hit the table the comeback started.

After Michigan lost to Iowa, he texted me:

That pretzel looks even bigger now.

Harbaugh losing capped a wonderful day of football.  Pitt upset Clemson and USC took out Washington, as numbers 2,3 and 4 all fell.  None of those teams fell behind us in the polls, but we moved up to 9th in the AP poll as Auburn tumbled out of the top ten.

Penn State opened as a 24.5 point favorite over Rutgers.  The Scarlet Pimpernel’s are coming off a 49-0 loss to the Spartans, which is MSU’s first and only Big Ten win on the season.  RU notched wins over New Mexico and Howard (the football team not the duck,) solidifying Rutgers claim to being the Birthplace of (REALLY BAD) football.

GO STATE!  BEAT KNIGHTS!

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Go to Hell, Michigan!

I have come close to walking away from blogging before.

But this 18-13 loss to THEM is the straw that finally broke this bloggers back.

If you can’t beat a 2-4 team with a head coach who is a dead man walking and a starting quarterback with one leg . . .

This was not the worst loss in PSU history.  It was not the most embarrassing.  But it is the one that ends this blog.  Maybe I’m just getting old–staring fifty in the face next week.  Maybe it’s the recent loss of my father.  Maybe it was just a bad week on-call.  Maybe, it’s just time.  I will always be a Penn State fan.  I will continue to watch and go to the games.  But I can no longer publicly share my thoughts with you.  Mere words and funny pictures cannot begin to express my disappointment at this time.

To all my faithful readers, I thank you for reading my blog all these years.

Good bye.

 

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Foe Pause: Hoke-y Pokey Edition

THEM.

As in The-M.  A big block letter, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  (Apologies to William Shakespeare and The Nittany Turkey.)

Since entering the Big Ten, it has been us against THEM.  In their first match-up at Beaver stadium, the Lions were penalized for “crowd noise.”  Are you kidding me????  This was before Guido D’Elia and piped in music, mind you.  And it only went down hill from there.

A bad call on Tony Johnson in 2002.  (Replay appeared the next season, I believe.)

Two seconds and the infamous heel-toe in 2005.

At one point, they defeated Penn State 9 consecutive times over 11 seasons (as they rotated off the schedule for two years.)  They still lead the all-time series 7-10, but Penn State has won the last four meetings, and has not lost to THEM since 2007.

Ann Arbor University is still the only Division I school that I know of that honored a retiring referee, Dick Honig, who coincidentally has/had a shrine to UM in his office.

We could go on and on, but rehashing the past doesn’t affect the match-up this weekend between these two traditional powerhouses.  There is no Lloyd Carr or Joe Paterno on the sideline.  No Chad Henne or Mario Manningham.  No Daryll Clark or Matt McGloin either.

Penn State opened as a two point favorite, but the line has fluctuated since then, with THEM being a two-point fave at one point, but currently nursing a one point favorite at home as of the time I type this.  The oddshark power ratings have PSU at 37 and the wolverines at 69.  They still have PSU as a two-point favorite.

The outcome of this game will hinge on the answers to the following questions:

1) Can Hoke save his job, and does he think by winning, that will change the outcome?  Let’s face it, if Hoke has given up, all bets are off.

2)  Can Penn State rebound from the loss to Northwestern, and show improvement on the offensive line?  Even a modicum of improvement will go a long way.

3)  Can Gardner play without being a turn-over machine?

4)  Can Hackenberg regain his confidence?

Here is the wolverines season in a nutshell:

They avenged their loss to Appalachian State in the home opener, defeating the Mountaineers 52-14.  Of course, Appalachian State is only 1-4 this season so far, while the 2007 unit that upset THEM in Ann Arbor went on to a 13-2 record and won the FCS Championship that year.  Interesting that although Appalachian State beat THEM in 2007, the wolverines still managed to beat us.  This year, THEM won the Appalachian State game . . . does that bode a WIN for us?

Unfortunately for wolverine fans, that one game was not a season.  Any good feelings were gone the next week as the Irish drubbed the wolverines 31-0.

Miami (OH) gave the wolverines another chance to feel good about themselves, and they beat the Redhawks 34-10.  Of course, the Redhawks are now 1-5 on the season.

THEM then lost to Utah in a rain-delayed game, 26-10.

Minnesota then spoiled the conference opener in Ann Arbor, handing the Brady Hokies a 30-14 loss.

And last week, the mighty Scarlet Knights of New Jersey defeated the wolverines 26-24 in Piscataway.  In case you forgot, or Brady Hoke played you with a concussion, PSU beat Rutgers on the same field 13-10.

So at 2-4, and accusations of playing a player with a concussion, the wolverines are a team in apparent disarray.  The opponents they are victorious over are a combined 2-9 (0.182).  Contrast that to Penn State, whose defeated opponents are 10-11 (0.476) and is skewed lower because UMass is 0-6!  UCF is currently losing to BYU 24-17 in the third quarter.

But a team in disarray can be a dangerous beast.  Hoke has nothing to lose at this point.  His job is in all likelihood lost, unless he can somehow figure out a way to beat Ohio State and/or win the Big Ten title.  Neither are likely, and the issue isn’t if he will be fired, but when.

We cannot discount the referine factor.

This game will be anything but a cakewalk, but I hope that Penn State learned something from the loss to NW.  Hopefully they answer that wake up call with some inspired play on Saturday.

I predict a Penn State win, 27-20 with the defense making a stand late in the game to seal the victory.  But I have been wrong before.

In the Big Ten:

Maryland, Rutgers, Ohio State, and Nebraska are off.

Michigan State takes on Purdue in West Lafayette.  GO SPARTANS!

Indiana travels to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes.  GO HOOSIERS!

The Illini travel to Madison to take on the Badgers.  ON WISCONSIN!

Northwestern travels to Minnesota to attack the gophers.  GO WILDCATS!

In games featuring past opponents:

UCF is taking on BYU tonight.  GO KNIGHTS!

UMass looks for their first win against Kent State, which happens to be looking for their first win.  Good luck with that guys!  GO MINUTEMEN!

Akron takes on Miami (OH).  GO ZIPS!

GO STATE!  BEAT THEM!

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Sunday Sermon: Get Behind Me, Saban

And it was written,

And the old miss answered, “Get thee behind me, Saban, for it is said, ‘only Rebel not ye against the Lord.'”

–Luke 4:8 and Numbers 14:9

Oh, how the mighty hath fallen!

Look at this place!  Not an empty pew to be seen!  I have never seen so many repenters at one time!

So many denominations in one place!  Baptists, Episcopalians, Ducks, Aggies, Huskers, Sooners, and Elephants alike!

Come now and here the word!

And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up horned frogs upon the land of Oklahoma.

–Exodus 8:7

Repent!

And the Spartans laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

–Genesis 42:26

Repent!

And upon the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of purple, and cover it with a covering of badgers’ skins, and shall put to the staves thereof.

–Numbers 4:11

Repent!

As we look down the list of those anointed teams, we see much suffering and gnashing of teeth.

#1 F$U managed to avoid the upset omen, beating the Demon Deacons 43-3.  Ironic isn’t it?  Demon Deacons.  In this church???

#2 Oregon got upsot by Arizona 31-24 on Thursday night, a premonition of pain to come.

#3 Alabama got spanked by the Ole Miss, losing 23-17.

Not to be outdone, #4 Oklahoma lost to TCU 37-33.

#5 Auburn prevailed over #15 LSU.

#6 Texas A and M was beaten by #12 Mississippi State.  Lot’s of rejoicing in that state today!

#7 Baylor took care of Texas 28-7.

# 8 UCLA lost to Utah 30-28.

#9 Notre Dame used some Irish luck to overcome the #14 Stanford Cardinal 17-14.

#10 MSU outlasted #19 Nebraska 27-22.

Fifty percent of the Top 10 teams lost yesterday.

#16 USC went down to Arizona State 38-34.  Arizona is another state rejoicing today!

#17 Wisconsin fell to the Northwestern Wildcats 20-14.

#18 BYU fell to Utah State on Friday night.  Still no one paid attention to the signs!

All told, ELEVEN top-25 ranked teams choked yesterday, with the five of those ranked in the Top 8.

What can we learn from this?

Pride goeth before destruction?  (Proverbs 16:18)

The people ranking these teams don’t really know what they are doing?

It’s a really good thing Penn State didn’t play this weekend?

It ain’t over till you actually play the games?

And we will part with the wisdom and “been a dick shun” of ESPN’s premier prognosticator, Mark (Dis)May:

GO STATE!  BEAT THEM!

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Breaking BIG

Welcome to your weekly game guide, where we’ll guide you through the upcoming BIG Ten match-ups this weekend and who to root for, using our own blend of seasoning, reasoning, and irrational thinking.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are going to ride the Colum-BUS to College Park, Maryland to take on the Terrapins, led by former UConn commander Randy Edsall.  In his fourth season, he sports a record of 15-24 or thereabouts.  Good move for UConn, if you ask me.  But, you didn’t.

The opening line favored the Bucks by 10, but has dropped to 7.5, depending on whose line it is anyway.

The Buckeyes are not the team you’re rooting for. (Jedi mind trick.  Works on the weak-minded.  Covers most Buckeye fans.)

GO TERPS!

Indiana is hosting North Texas.  I’m too lazy to look up a line.  Let’s assume for a moment that someone outside of Bloomingdales Bloomington actually cares about this game.  We here at the Lions Den have no particular beef with Indiana, since we don’t care about basketball.  The Hoosiers are on our schedule, so in terms of schedule strength, it makes sense we root for the Hoosiers.  Whatever.

GO INDIANA!

The Mighty Men of THEM head east to New Joisey to take on the Scarleted Knights of Rutgers.  This is a concussive juggernaut of a game if ever there was one.  Rutgers is already calling it a rivalry.  Just what the wolverines needed.  Another rival in scarlet.  The wolverines are reeling from accusations of playing players in a coma (which would at least explain their poor record and on the field performance.)  Hoke is on the Hot Seat, but the head hunters are looking for Athletic Director Dave Brandon as well.  It’s a-maize-ing what mischief those Michiganders can get into when they don’t have football to distract them.

The reddish knights are actually favored by 2 in this contest.  Can Brady Hoke find enough injured players to beat the Knights?

I’m really torn on this one.  First, there is the generally accepted school of thought that you never root for THEM.  (Unless they are playing Notre Dame, or an undefeated Buckeye team, and even then, it goes against the natural laws of the universe to do so.)

On the one hand, if the wolverines lose, there collective backs will be against the wall more than ever, making them more desperate.  The only thing more dangerous than a nasty varmint, is a desperate one.  BUT . . . another loss could be demoralizing.  It could further erode their confidence and team spirit.  It might break their collective backs for the rest of the season, making them an easier target for us the following week.  Decisions . . . decisions . . .

Strength of schedule is meaningless since we play both teams.

We’ve already bested Rutgers, so the only logical conclusion is to say . . .

GO KNIGHTS!

The Wascally Wisconsin Badgers take on the highly annoying purplish Wildcats of Northwestern.  Boy did we here in the Lions Den underestimate the size of the fight in that cat.  Even on the road, and despite an upset over Penn State by the Cats, the badgers are the betting favorite by 8.

I personally don’t think Northwestern is that good, but I’m not convinced that Wisconsin is all that either.  Take away their run game, and they are beatable.  I also wonder whether Northwestern can sustain the level of intensity they showed last week.  I kind of doubt it, but we will go with:

GO CATS!

Purdue and Illinois will face off in Champaigne.  This game barely eclipses the Indiana-North Texas game in terms of interest.  We do not like Illinois.  We do not like their poaching coaches.  But since we don’t play Purdue, we’ll throw the Illini a bone.  And the Illini are favored by 8.5 anyway.

GO ILLINI!

So let’s see, what else do we have.  Minnesota is off.  Iowa is off.  Penn State is obviously off.  Is there anybody else?

Oh, look what we have here!

Two ranked BIG teams colliding?

The Nebraska Corn Shuckers are heading to East Lansing to take on the Spartans.  The 5-0 Shuckers are ranked 19th in the AP, while the 3-1 Spartans come in at #10.  Sparty is favored by a touchdown.  And while there is no hate here at the Lions Den for Nebraska fans, we still have not forgotten 1994, nor the non-touchdown a couple of years ago in Lincoln.  We have no love for Dantonio either.  We don’t play the Shuckers, but our strength of schedule will be enhanced and seasoned by a MSU win.

GO SPARTANS!

And, in case you missed it, UCF defeated Houston 17-12 in a wild finish tonight.  Houston was driving and had goal to go.  A holding penalty backed them up.  The UCF D let the cougar quarterback squirt free, but as he sprinted and danced toward the end zone, pirouetting and stretching to cross the goal line, the ball was knocked loose, and ruled a touch back as it rolled out of bounds.  UCF ball.  Replay confirmed.  Game Over.  And just for the record, that was not a fumble in Lincoln two years ago, but an unrequited touchdown.  GO SPARTANS again!

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