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The Pennsyltucky Bowl

Or, as some people call it, the Citrus Bowl.

If the Rose Bowl is the Grandaddy of them all, the Citrus Bowl is the second cousin once-removed of them all.

Pennsyltucky is a portmanteau.  Herein I will further elucidate this subject for your perusal, because quite frankly, unless you are a Kentucky Wildcat, the game itself is not worthy of discussion.

pennsyltucky1

A portmanteau is a not only a large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts, but is also a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel (from ‘motor’ and ‘hotel’) or brunch (from ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’).

My personal favorite portmanteau, at this point in my life, is this:

masturdating

I have been found matsurdating in public quite a bit.  But I digress.

Where the Snell was I?

Citrus Bowl.  Pennsyltucky Bowl . . .

Pennsyltucky Plate

Pennsyltucky . . . the term is used to describe all of Pennsylvania outside of the metropolitan regions. The word is a portmanteau constructed from “Pennsylvania” and “Kentucky”, implying a similarity between the two states’ mostly rural sections, a connection that exists in fact after numbers of Western Pennsylvanians left the state for Kentucky after the Whiskey Rebellion. It can be used in either a pejorative or an affectionate sense.

pennsyltuckyWVA

I was rooting for Penn State to come back, not just because I am a freakish Penn State fan whose whole outlook on life is affected by the mere outcome of a game, but just so I could answer all those Snell Yeah signs . . .

Snell yeah

With a resounding Snell NO!

SnellNo

Alas, we lost and now it’s just a wasted dream in the sea of college football commentary.

What the Snell happened?

We were 6 and a half point favorites.  We had McSorley in his final game.  We were arguably a couple of late fourth quarter collapses away from a better bowl game against a better opponent.

But we couldn’t even handle this one.

In the hours and day after this debacle, I have seen the words near-comeback and gutsy competitor bandied around like ping pong balls in a lottery drawing.

Everything that has plagued this team in the James Franklin Era replayed itself in 60 minutes of regulation football.

Special teams problems.  Questionable coaching decisions.  Poor clock management.  But the biggest one of all:  MISSED OPPORTUNITIES.

Missed opportunities.  So close.  It’s reminiscent of the Franklin post-game speech about being great, but not quite elite.

McSorley, this team–good, but just not quite great.

At the end of the day, at the end of the season, this team is 9-4.  That’s good if you are Northwestern.  That’s great if you are Akron.  You’re on top of the world if you root for Buffalo.

But here at Penn State, that bar was set higher than that.  We can argue about the pros and cons of that till we’re blue and white in the face, but that’s the fact jack.

A young Joe Paterno, with a school not historically considered a powerhouse in football, began a remarkable career.  With a combination of recruiting and coaching he built an Empire, while still maintaining academic excellence.  The peak of said Empire was in the 1980’s when he recruited and coached his way to TWO National Championships.  As he aged, he did less hands on recruiting, and probably less hands on coaching.  And it showed.  In the 2000’s his great teams–2002, 2005, 2008–came close to the glory of the 80’s, but fell short.  Sometimes by a mere two seconds.

Missed opportunities.

Penn State had more total yards (407-297), and only 15 fewer rushing yards than Kentucky.  We had more first downs, although our third down conversion percentage was poor.  We also had two turn-overs, and quite frankly, the botched fake punt was as good as a turn-over.  Had it worked–brilliant.  As it is, what the Snell was he thinking?

Coach Franklin didn’t miss two field goals.  He didn’t let Kentucky run a punt back for a touchdown.  He didn’t cause a pass to sail high over an open receiver.  Maybe he should have gone for it on fourth in the fourth quarter.  Maybe not.  Hindsight is always 20/20.  Trust me.  I’m an eye doctor.  If he’d have chosen to go for it and Penn State didn’t make it then people would be yelling we should have kicked the field goal.  Or, we should have used a different play.

The very fact that game came down to that critical play is because of all the other decisions along the way.

I’m not in a place in my personal life right now that I would choose to be in.  Yet, I am where I am because of the choices I made.

As disheartening as this loss was, the future is still hopeful.  For the team.  Not me.  Recruiting is excellent.  Sometimes talent can overcome bad coaching.

But for now, there is only reflection as we wait for the next season to dawn.

PensyltuckyGrill

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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.

blahblahblah

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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Zipping Some Whine

The eve of the first game is upon us, and I can barely contain my enthusiasm.  However, the approach of this season has not been without it’s anxieties.

First and foremost . . . the season tickets.  For the last 23 years, these precious little pieces of paper came in the mail in late July.

July came and passed.  No tickets.

I got an email.  The tickets would be delayed this year.  New printer.  Blah, blah, blah.  Expect them mid-August.

Mid-August came and went.  No tickets.

I recently bought a new house and moved.  I checked my account.  Several times.  The address was correct.  Even so, the old address was my office address I was using during my divorce.  There were no tickets at the office.  Or home.

I did not see them here or there.  I did not see them anywhere.   I would not could not go to the game, if those precious tickets never came.

And then, another email.  They have been mailed!

TicketsOnWay

Oh, rapture!  Oh, joy!

That was August 22nd.

Tick. Tock.  Tick. Tock.

6DaysLater

It is now August 28th.  NO TICKETS.

Am I worried?  NO!  I was worried back in July.  I am way past worried.  I am way past panic mode.  I am a palpitation away from a stroke or heart attack.

And then they came.  Tuesday.  August 29th.  FOUR days before I actually need them.

True. . .  they could have cut it closer.  I could be running home to check the mail today like I have for the past six weeks.  I felt like Charlie Brown waiting for a valentine.

CharlieBrown

The whole thing irks me.  Penn State has pushed the due dates earlier for donations and ticket payment.  I used to get a complimentary extra parking spot (I still paid for the parking spot, but I did not have to increase my donation to get it) but they took that away.  And now I have to hope there are no mailing snafus or I might not get the tickets in time at all!  It’s just like health insurance!  I pay more and get less.  And maybe I won’t be covered at all!

But, I digress.

Enough whine.  Let’s see what’s on the main course.

Kangaroo kebabs.  A little gamy but it should be a nice appetizer before we dive into a big old plate of Panther Puttanesca (smells like victory!).  We’ll follow this up with a greasy helping of Southern Georgia Fried Panther.  Then, a more traditional serving of grilled Hawkeye (tastes just like chicken!).  Some Hoosier Hash.  Some Northwestern Wildcat, a little tougher than southwestern wildcat.  This will be followed by the main course, Wolverine sauteed in a water Buckeye Nut sauce.  Throw in some Husked Corn and Turtle Cake for dessert and you have a veritable gastronomic season of success.  No Spartan servings at this restaurant.  And NO Scarlet Knapkins!

Are you salivating yet????

Seriously, Penn State opens against the Zips of Akron.  I could write a well-thought out preview, analyzing the strengths of each team (all favoring PSU) and their relative weaknesses (only Akron over here,) but what would that accomplish?

Athlon Sports generously ranks the Zips at 109 in the nation.  This is one of their better rankings.  The Orlando Sentinel has them at 116, whilst Penn State is pretty much a consensual top 10 team across the various polls.  And while Zippy could go all Appalachian State over the Lions, keep in mind that Appalachian State had a damned good team that year.  Akron this year?  Not so much.

I predict a big win, but the point total might be lower if Franklin pulls the starters in the second half.  And if it rains.  And if Joe Moorhead wants to keep the playbook closed so as not to give future opponents video glimpses of our offensive prowess. And if I’m completely wrong and we end up losing for some unfathomable reason.

The point spread hovers around 32-35.  I think we cover that and then some.

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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.

psuwinsbig

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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