Tag Archives: Big Ten

What in the Hell, MI happened?

Four weeks ago, the Penn State Nittany Lions were on the top of the world.  Well, almost the top.  Number 2 to be exact.  They had just defeated arch-enemy Michigan at home, in primetime, under the lights in their trademark White Out.

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And then the cracks started to appear.  A road trip to Columbus was low lighted by a fourth quarter comeback by the Bucks where Penn State snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  Some people blamed it on sphincter ball.  Others criticized Joe Moorhead, who perhaps shoulder some of the blame, but quite frankly probably did not garner enough of the fame when Penn State was winning.

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And while the Lions dropped to 7th in the polls, a shot at the national championship was still tantalizingly within reach.

But first, they had to get past a pesky Spartan team, themselves coming off a heart-breaking loss to Northwestern, and an earlier loss to Notre Dame, a team which seemed destined for the final four.

The weather was less than ideal.  The game was postponed.  And while the Lions sat in a locker room somewhere in East Lansing, the Buckeyes were getting pummeled by Iowa in Kinnick Stadium.

The Lions not only had an outside shot at the national championship picture, but a Buckeye loss might put them right back in the Big Ten Title race.

Apparently, we were tired of racing.

In the late hours of a long, weather delayed game–I was tired waiting–Penn State failed to convert a fourth and short–I liked the call, but not the execution.  With the game still tied, the Spartans marched toward field goal range.  And just when it looked like we stopped them short and could head to over-time, we made the critical mistake.  Roughed the passer.  Fifteen yards pushed them inside the makeable range for their kicker who split the uprights as time expired.

Game.  Set. Match.

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This doesn’t mean Penn State can’t end with a 10-2 season and a decent bowl.  Given the events of the past five years, it is still amazing that we were even within sniffing distance of a Big Ten Title last year, or a chance at a National Crown this year.

So why were so many Penn State fans standing on the ledge?  Why are we so upset this season has taken such a turn for the worse?  How can we not be content to be ranked at all, and heading for a bowl game, when but a few years ago we weren’t even allowed to have such aspirations?

I think there are several reasons.

One, we really lost those games.  Teams win or lose.  Sometimes you get beaten.  Sometimes you play well and get upset.  Sometimes you make more mistakes than the other guy.  While the Buckeyes were picked by the odds makers to win (they didn’t cover by the way) Penn State was in command of that game until the final six minutes, and led up until the final 1:42.  I don’t want to take anything away from the other team’s effort, but Penn State really controlled that game for 3 and a half quarters.  It’s a tough way to lose a game.  Had we fallen behind by 14 in the first quarter and never caught up, so be it.  But to blow a lead like that was just devastating.  It’s not that we lost as much as how we lost.

With Michigan State, who knows what went wrong.  They too are a good team.  We did not play our best.  The weather was less than favorable, but both teams endured the same conditions.  We did not dominate the game.  And we did not make the plays when we needed to make them.  We made the mistake (roughing the passer.)  We might not have prevailed in OT.  Who knows?

Then, on top of losing games we really had legitimate chances to win, we essentially took ourselves out of an undefeated season and a chance to play in the playoff and the Big Ten title is off the table unless Ohio State loses TWICE to Michigan this weekend.

We were in the driver’s seat and we lost control.  Crashed and burned.

Maybe Penn State fans are spoiled.  We have had a lot of success when it comes to undefeated seasons.

According to Wikipedia, Penn State is 8th on the list of schools with undefeated seasons.  That list includes games from the 1800’s, so teams like Yale and Princeton lead the list, followed by Michigan, Notre Dame and  USC.  Harvard is on there, and Oklahoma edged us out.

If you further distill this data to the Joe Paterno era and beyond (1966-present), there have been 56 undefeated teams over basically 50 years.  You won’t see Harvard or Yale on that list, but Boise State and Utah have 2 unblemished records, Toledo has 3, Alabama has 4, but PSU leads the nation with FIVE.  Consider also that Penn State was a yard away from possibly a sixth in the 1979 Sugar Bowl, and a couple seconds in Ann Arbor away from an undefeated season in 2005.

Perhaps we expect to go undefeated, when the odds are really against teams running the table.  Statistically, about one team a year (there are currently 130 schools in the College Football Bowl Subdivision) goes undefeated.  Even if you assume two teams can go undefeated in a season, that is only a 1.5% chance of any given school being unbeaten.

Or maybe, since we have been there before, we do appreciate how precious and rare an undefeated season is, particularly in the era of football that allows forward passes!  Pitt has 8 undefeated seasons overall, but only 1 in the last 50 years.  Of Michigan’s 23 undefeated records, only ONE occurred in the last 50 years (1997.)  For the Irish, 22 overall undefeated seasons with only two in the modern era (1973-Ara Parseghian, and 1988-Lou Holtz!)  Joe Paterno alone has more undefeated seasons (5) than all but 37 schools in their entire history, which includes teams no longer in the Bowl Subdivision.

Regardless of the setbacks and disappointment, this program has come a long way, baby.  With only Maryland on the horizon, a 10-2 season is reasonably expected but not guaranteed.  With the 56-44 victory over the Cornhuskers, Penn State is now undefeated at home for two straight years . . . the last loss in Beaver Stadium was on November 21, 2015 (lost 28-16 to #12 Michigan.)  PSU is 20-1 at Home over the last 21 games!

Penn State is currently 10th in the College Football Playoff Rankings. (12th in the AP.)  Unfortunately, I don’t see any possible way for us to move up 6 spots.  Of course, If Michigan beats Ohio State, who then beats Wisconsin badly to drop them below us–Auburn could lose to Bama.  Clemson and Miami will face-off in the ACC Championship. I believe Oklahoma has a championship game as well . . . . Stranger things have happened.

GO STATE!  BEAT TERPS!

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Lions Come Up Short

There is no pithy title.

There is no joy in Mudville.  Or State College.  Or here.

The Lions came out of the gate as expected.  Opening kick-off returned for a touchdown.  Another score.  14-3 at the end of one.  28-17 at the half.  We took a FIFTEEN POINT lead into the fourth quarter dammit.

How did this happen?

Did we not learn anything from the Rose Bowl loss?

I am disappointed beyond words.  I know that Ohio State was favored.  I know that FN Urban Meyer is 21-1 coming off a bye week.  Ohio State is a good team.

None of that mattered until we gave up 19 points in the final quarter.

Unbelievable.

We are still farther along as a program than we should be after the last five years.  Doesn’t matter when you lose like that.

We finally scored more than 14 points in Columbus (that was our previous highest point total since joining the Big Ten in the Shoe.)  Doesn’t matter when you lose like that.

They made adjustments.  They made plays.  They won.

The question is, why didn’t we?

EpicFail

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Michi-gunned Down

For an entire week I endured the media hype.  Michigan has the best defense in the country.  They were going to shut down Barkley.  Penn State had no offensive line.  McSorley was going to be running for his life and making mistakes.  Blah, blah, blah.

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Did they know this was 2017 and not 2016???

Jim Harbaugh actually looked shell-shocked in his post-game interview.

I can’t believe their coaching staff only looked at last season’s 49-10 game to prepare for last Saturday.  Yet, they looked unprepared.  They couldn’t stop Barkley.  They couldn’t cover him as a receiver.  They actually looked slow on defense (or we looked really fast–take your pick.)

Of course, there is the possibility that they did prepare but I guess their best wasn’t good enough.

Before a record-setting white out crowd of 110,823 exuberant fans, the second ranked Nittany Lions proceeded to methodically dissect, out man, and out play the vaunted Wolverine defense.

It didn’t take long.  On the second play of the game, Saquon Barkley (for those of you who are Michigan fans, he is a running back that plays for Penn State, a school that is not Michigan nor Ohio State if you can actually believe the concept that there are other schools out there) shifted to take the direct snap out of the wildcat formation.  He then proceeded to take the football 69 yards untouched for six points and our kicker made the point after.  Saquon Barkley . . .  say Bye Bye!

Penn State would go up to 14-0 on the team from up north, on yet another run by Barkley, this time from the fifteen yard line.  Georgia State held Barkley to fewer yards than this alleged number one defense.

The first quarter ended as the wolverines got a spark of life support from a Trace McSorley interception, where it appeared the quarterback and receiver weren’t on the same page.  But one-time PSU commit Quinn Nordin would miss the extra point.  Wouldn’t mean anything in the final analysis but it was just a bit of karma in his face.

To their credit, the maize and blue would try to make a game of it with a second touchdown in the second period, but the score was 21-13 at the half thanks to a 7 play, 75 yard drive engineered by Trace McSorley (for Michigan fans, he’s a quarterback who plays at Penn State, blah, blah, blah, he’s pretty good outside the town of Ann Arbor or so I’ve heard.)  The drive took all of 52 seconds and the team never looked back.

Let’s do some Michi-gun bullets baby:

  • Penn State amassed 506 yards of offense against the “number one defense”
  • Penn State only punted twice.
  • Penn State never had to kick a field goal
  • The Lions averaged 7.2 yards on first down plays
  • The pathetic Penn State line allowed only two sacks
  • Penn State sacked O’Korn seven times
  • McSorley ran for 78 yards
  • Penn State has still not allowed a point in the first quarter
  • If you think that’s impressive, PSU has outscored opponents 72-3 in the third quarter
  • Penn State shut-out the wolverines in the second half.
  • The loss drops the University of Michigan out of the AP poll

The final score was 42-13 as Penn State rattled off 28 unanswered points.  They are 7-0 on the season and still ranked number 2.  This was one of the best whiteout games and certainly one of the most entertaining.  I still put Ohio State 2005 at the top of the list because that game was close, it was an upset victory, and Penn State was resurging from the dark years of 2003-4.  This game was never really in doubt but was just plain fun.  Michi-fun.

THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:

The Buckeyes had a week off to prepare for Penn State.

Wisconsin badgered the terrapins 38-13.

The Spartans outlasted Indiana 17-9.

Northwestern fricaseed the Hawks 17-10.

Rutgers beat the Boilers 14-12.  Wait?  What?  Let me check that.  Wow.  They won one.

And the Gophers defeated Illinois 24-17.

Outside the conference, the Irish embarrassed the Trojans 49-14.

LOOKING AHEAD:

The Nittany Lions travel to Columbus next week to face the 6th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.  Kick-off is 3:30.

The Buckeyes struggled a bit with Indiana in the opener, trailed at the half, but ultimately put the Hoosiers away 49-21.  If you recall, we beat Indiana 45-14.  Kind of a wash there.  That is the only common opponent to date.

The Bucks have scored no fewer than 54 points in their last four games, against the likes of UNLV, Maryland, Rutgers and Nebraska.

Their one loss was a night-time, prime time loss to the Sooners, 31-16.  This was the second game of the year on their schedule and no game since has been even close.

Ohio State opened as a 7 point favorite.

I think we win.  Their front seven will keep Barkley in check, although I still see him breaking free at one point.  However, our offensive line is getting better, and I think McSorley will have a good day against the Buckeye secondary.  This will be one of the better if not the best offenses we have faced so far so it will be a test for our defense.  I think they will rise to the occasion.  It won’t be as lopsided as this week, but we shall see.

And I leave you with this . . .

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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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Roses are Red, But I am Blue

Better late than never, they always say.

But is a recap of the 2017 Rose Bowl really worth anything at this point?  Who wants to read about that now?  It’s been a whole week for goodness sake!  That’s like 49 years in blog years.  The Steelers won their first play-off game yesterday, but I imagine most web browsers are more interested in Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle or Joey Porter’s arrest following their win than they are in rehashing the X’s and O’s of Sunday’s victory over the Dolphins.

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While I have revived this blog, such as it is, I have not completely revived my zealousness for blogging.  Years ago, I created the 50-Yard Lion Blog for Penn Live, an on-line adjunct to the Harrisburg Patriot News.

At that time, I posted nearly every day.  Maybe it was a recruiting tidbit.  Or a funny picture/meme.  Or a blurb about an opponent.  Or something I read on a message board.  Whatever.  I posted like I was being paid to do it.  Well, I was.

But after a complaint by an Ohio State fan, I was unceremoniously dumped, and left to blogging on my own, sans remuneration.  The zeal has never been the same.

So here are my post-bowl season thoughts on the Rose Bowl (I know, there’s still a bowl game tonight between Alabama and some other team that also lost to Pitt and must have been way more impressive than Penn State so we don’t really care do we–bowl season for most of us blue and white fans ended about 9 pm January 2nd. but I digress):

Damn it!  I’m proud of this team.  The final two minutes were anti-climatic and completely unscripted.  They spoiled what turned out to be one of the most special seasons for Penn State football ever.  We were lucky to even be here.  After the last five seasons, I would never have expected to be in a prestigious bowl at all.

We have almost everyone coming back.  Next year should be fun to watch!

I am already looking forward to September.

You have to give credit to USC.  Down 14 points in the fourth quarter, they did just what Penn State has done to other opponents all season long.  They didn’t give up.  They made the plays they had to make.  They took advantage of our mistakes.

I really wish we had faked the hand off to Barley on 3rd and 4, and then passed the ball for a first down.  USC was waiting on Barkley.  I think a play-action fake would have left something open on a quick slant or to the tight end over the middle.  The time we ran off the clock by losing yardage on a play doomed to fail turned out to be inconsequential, and a first down would have probably won the game.

I vowed to myself not to play the coulda, shoulda, woulda exercise in futility with this game.  But I just did it.  I am a bad person.

I hope we can hold on to our coaches, at least for another season.  There has already been interest in Morehead and Pry.  They are staying for now, but we know how loud money can talk sometimes.

I’m glad I opted not to go to the game.  I had my finger poised to purchase tickets, but the total cost of the trip seemed too excessive given my current circumstances.  (No one’s paying me to write this tripe anymore!) But that lack of regret is not based on the outcome so much as the Rose Parade weather looked gray and cold, and even the game seemed unseasonably cooler than expected.  It would have pissed me the hell off to no end to spend that much money and have to wear a coat in Southern California.  And then to lose the game on top of it!

I am blue, though.  I really thought they would win this game.  I really thought we had it won when we were up 14 points in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. I even EXPECTED the Trojans to miss the field goal and send the game into over time.  It’s not like he hadn’t already missed two kicks.  Or maybe we would block it ala Ohio State.

But for some teams, the glass slipper shatters before midnight.  There is no prince.

But I think there will be a happily ever after.

It was still a phenomenal and fun season.

And despite losing the Rose Bowl, the future still looks rosy.

I remember feeling this way after losing to Oklahoma in 1985.  That loss though, was a springboard to the 1986 undefeated championship season.  Could history be repeating itself?

Only time will tell.

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Badgers Bested in BIG Bout

Seriously, who would have thought back in September that Penn State would be playing in Indianapolis this past weekend?  After a narrow loss to Pitt, and uninspired wins over Kent State and Temple, and a dreadful disaster in Ann Arbor, there were probably a lot of fans wondering if Penn State could even become bowl eligible, let alone win the conference and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl.

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Yet, Saturday, our beloved Nittany Lions took the field, slight underdogs to the big bad boys of Wisconsin who averaged something like 600 pounds on the offensive line.   They defeated the Badgers in a come from behind win that has become their signature this season.  The final was 38-31 and was sweet for a school and fan base who has suffered needlessly the past five years.

One Penn State fan wrote a public letter to Dr. Emmert, who spearheaded the sanctions against Penn State:

At no point in the investigation or trial of Jerry Sandusky was one student-athlete ever implicated in either aiding and abetting Sandusky or in covering up said crimes. Despite that, Dr. Emmert, you chose to sanction a football program and, ultimately, student-athletes, to say nothing of the dedicated student fan base who had nothing to do with the horrific mistreatment of children. And, when you quietly walked back the sanctions and restored the wins to Coach Joe Paterno, you never apologized to those students or alumni for what seemed to be a vengeance against our beloved university.

And that, Dr. Emmert, is why Saturday night in Indianapolis was so sweet. For the athletes who stayed and for those who moved on. For the students who looked beyond the headlines and applied and were accepted to our great university. For our alumni – our wonderful, dedicated alumni. For Coach Bill O’Brien and Coach James Franklin and their staffs. For the lives that have been positively impacted by the research and teaching of our faculty. For the hundreds of thousands of diehard Penn Staters, the 2016 football season only represents what we already know. Penn State is an amazing place. We never believed that we were who you tried to tell us we are.

Dr. Emmert, we are Penn State.

Last week, I posted some numbers about Penn State’s performance vis-a-vis first and second half performances.  I concluded that giving up 28 points in the first half was a bad thing, since both games where opponents scored 28 points in the opening half were losses.

And as the Badgers went up 28-7 in the first half, I did start to have my doubts.  Couple this with the fact that Wisconsin was running the ball virtually at will, and we didn’t seem to have an answer for that.  But apparently, we had them right where we wanted them

The scenario played out as it had for most of this season.  Penn State narrowed the deficit to 14 before the half, and then outscored the Badgers 24-3 in the second half to win the Big Ten Title.

Simply amazing.

Trace McSorely had a record setting day passing.  The defense adjusted and Wisconsin no longer moved the line of scrimmage at will.  Our defense stuffed the over weighted Badger line on fourth down to secure the win.

But while the SEC, PAC-10, and ACC will send their champions to the college playoffs, the Big Ten will send a team that LOST to their champion.  I know, the conference had nothing to do with the selection.  But  . . .

Oddly enough, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney argued before the championship game that Ohio State had “done enough” to earn a spot in the playoff.  Is it any wonder that the fans in Indianapolis booed him soundly during the awards ceremony?

What did the chief representative of this conference have to gain by arguing that the winner of the conference championship did not deserve to be in the playoffs?  Shouldn’t he have been lobbying for two conference teams to be in the playoff?  Wouldn’t that have been good for the conference? (Of course, if he made that argument, he would in all likelihood be arguing that Ohio State and MICHIGAN be in the playoff together).

Is it mere coincidence that one of the playoff committee members is Barry Alvarez, a former Wisconsin coach with strong Big Ten ties?

Some would argue that we should be happy.   Maybe we don’t want to play Alabama?  The Rose Bowl is a really nice bowl in a really nice environment with really nice weather and a really, really nice parade.

So for an NFL team, is just making it to the playoffs as good as making it to the Superbowl?

We can argue for hours about why Penn State should be in the playoffs.  We could do the same for Western Michigan, Michigan, Oklahoma, and whoever else feels slighted.

It seemed the stars were aligning.  But in the end, they got sucked into a black hole of politics and rhetoric.

Sometimes an entire season comes down to a play or two that makes a difference.  Had Penn State not been intercepted by Pitt and won that game, they might have made it in at 11-1.  Had Michigan State kicked an extra point instead of going for two against the Buckeyes, maybe they would be out.  If we hadn’t had half our defense out for injuries against Michigan, maybe the score wouldn’t have looked so bad.

But . . . had we not blocked the punt against OSU–or if Urban had chosen to punt us deep or if Wisconsin had made their last fourth down or if Minnesota hadn’t lost to us in OT . . .  the what if game just goes on and on and on and on and on.

It sure would have been fun to see what this team could do against Alabama.

Instead, we’ll get to see them in action against a very good Southern Cal team.  And Tide jokes are never as funny as Trojan jokes.

After the way September went, I’m thrilled to see this team head to Pasadena.

 

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Big Ten Championship

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