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On Second Thought

As I reflect on the nightmare that was the Northwestern game this past Saturday, I realize that perhaps my recap was a bit harsh.  At one point I even said something like, “There are no bowls for that kind of effort, unless you count your own toilet bowl.”  A bit melodramatic.  It’s true . . . I haven’t seen that much sucking since I toured the Hoover Vacuum Factory.

The game of football often comes down to a few inches or a couple of plays (or in some cases a couple of freaking seconds on the clock!)  Even as crappy as we played most of the day, we were only down 8 points before the Hackenberg’s pick six, that was then followed by his fumble.  That was a nine point swing on basically two plays.  You change two plays against Rutgers or UCF and this team is 2-3.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we couldn’t make those plays on Saturday.

But the end of the season it is not.  There are a lot of games left to be played, a lot of opponents who have their own issues and struggles, and an exciting group of players who will entertain us later, even if they failed to make us happy in Happy Valley last weekend.

But while it is not the end of the season, it is the end of a perfect season.

Granted, no one expected Penn State to go undefeated.  But be honest.  Didn’t the thought cross your mind?  Didn’t you start to think that this team could just find a way?  Even down 20-6, didn’t you expect Hackenberg to suddenly ignite, do that thing he does with his arm and just start scoring?

Didn’t you start to look ahead . . .oh, the wolverines are struggling . . . we could go into the Ohio State game undefeated.  Don’t you look away from me.  Look me in the eyes and say you didn’t start thinking about it!  Didn’t you want it to happen so badly, that your brain started thinking it could happen?  Didn’t you want to see Penn State crash the final four party in their first post-sanction season?  Can you imagine the look on Emmert’s face when that happened?  Or even some members of our own BOT?

Damn it!  You wanted that to happen!  I know you wanted it.  We all did.  We all wanted to see James Franklin do a Terry Bowden at Auburn impersonation, but actually compete for the mythical national championship instead of a perfect season with an asterisk.

And when it didn’t happen, not only were we disappointed that we didn’t beat Northwestern, but we were disappointed that we didn’t see our dreams come true.  It’s only natural to over react and panic.

And then I wonder . . .

Did the players start thinking it?  Coaches talk a great talk about one game at a time.  James Franklin went out of his way to make that point.  Doth the coach protest too much?  Maybe the kids were trying too hard, instead of playing loose and free.  Lifting the sanctions freed this team in one way, but bound us to how important winning each game is now.  They knew they were 4-0.  They saw tape of Northwestern.  You have to live under a rock and have never heard of Geico not to know about the troubles Brady Hoke is having in Ann Arbor.  Those players knew the score!  Yet, they couldn’t play hard enough to win.

Multiple people have discussed the game with me, and almost everyone asks why our players weren’t playing with the intensity of the Northwestern players?  I can’t answer that, but our team enthusiasm did seem to be muted.  We played tight, uncomfortable and tried too hard.  And how can that be with over 100,000 fans, beautiful weather, and the best atmosphere in college football to play a game?  It’s almost unfathomable.

One player having a bad day?  Maybe he’s catching the flu.  Maybe he had a rough week in classes.  Maybe his girlfriend is giving him crap about something.  Maybe his mom is sick.  Just a usual athletes slump.  Who knows?  But the whole team???  How is that possible?

We all know our offensive line is having troubles, but at what point do these guys get tired of getting pushed around and start pushing back?  Every time your quarterback is hurried, that’s your fault.  Don’t you want to get up the next play and just hammer the enemy back?   Franklin talks about getting off the bus and going after them.  He talks about determination and playing with a chip on their shoulders. The word swagger was thrown out there.

So where was the swagger last Saturday?  What happened to attacking them as soon as they got off the bus?

I don’t know.  But whatever cosmic alignment of forces brought about the complete team failure we saw is unlikely to occur again in this season.  That is not to say they won’t lose more games–there are teams that are playing better with full scholarship complements that are simply going to be better than we are, no matter how well we play.  But I still think that Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, and Temple are still winnable games, as well as the trip to Ann Arbor.

It does seem that every team has their best game against us.  The wolverines were 7-5 in 2005 yet were the only team to beat PSU.  Iowa in 2008 couldn’t beat Pitt, but managed to knock us out of #3 in the nation.  But if those same cosmic forces that aligned against us last week choose to align against the buckeyes or the Spartans, then watch out.

Silly me.  We have no chance of winning those games.  The bandwagon fans are already dusting off their 5-7 and 6-6 predictions they hid away after we started 4-0.  Smug they are, now.

But you know and I know that those little doomsday bastards were thinking undefeated season somewhere deep in their puny little gray matters.  They’ll never admit it.  They never said it.  They staunchly stand by their dismal predictions.  But deep down, they were just as disappointed as the rest of us.  The difference is they will now revel in being so smart at predicting a bad season.  They are football gurus.  We should bow down and lick their shoes clean.

Personally, I’d rather be disappointed with high expectations, than satisfied with lower ones.  And I don’t think I’d like the taste of shoes.

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Rutgers Issues Apology

From the Scarlet Knights website:

On behalf of Rutgers University and the Athletic Department, we would like to apologize for the regrettable actions of a handful of Rutgers fans on Saturday that do not convey the message of good, competitive spirit that we look forward to having with our new Big Ten rival Penn State University.

Some of the signage and t-shirts that we have been made aware of were both inappropriate and offensive.

I have spoken with and apologized to the Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour and I would like to apologize equally to the Penn State University fans, as well as Rutgers fans that were subjected to this classless display that does not represent the ethos of our university, athletic department or fan base.

The two inappropriate pictures that appeared briefly on our Facebook page as part of a 200-picture montage were immediately removed when we were alerted to their content.

It is unfortunate that the actions of a few spoiled an otherwise historic and record-setting night that Rutgers fans provided for our first Big Ten football game.

Julie Hermann

Rutgers Athletic Director

Sometimes there is a fine line between humor and insensitivity.  I think that some Rutgers fans crossed that line.  But some think I cross the line sometimes.  Oh, well.

In a related story, New Jersey has renamed the town of Piscataway . . .

And apparently, a picture of Franklin heading to New Jersey on a recruiting trip has surfaced . . .

We can only hope the Land Grant Trophy on the back falls in the river!

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Shoop! There It Is!

Having been blogging about Penn State football since the mid 1990’s, you’d think I would finally be able to post a game recap without forgetting something.  As if!

But while thinking back over the game notes, I realized I hadn’t mentioned how great a job Bob Shoop did as defensive coordinator.  The second half was tarnished a bit by the performance of Holman at QB, but then those things happen.  When you prepare for one type of QB, and then suddenly face another, it’s not always easy to adjust for that.  And Holman certainly looked like a better passer.

So here are some more thoughts that I forgot to hit yesterday:

* Zettle is a FORCE.

* Penn State played the 1st quarter with no headset communication.  Maybe that contributed to the disparity between the stats and the points.  Apparently, the NCAA doesn’t have rules like the NFL, which would have equalized the situation by not allowing UCF to use their headsets.  Despite the set back, we prevailed.

* Penn State had TWO receivers over 150 yards on the day.  That’s the first time in school history!

* Ficken Kickin Good–we all know he hit the game winner, but he was 4-4 on the day!

* Forgot to mention the parachutists–the PSU guy hit the stadium, but the UCF rep landed along some train tracks off the mark!  Talk about your omens from the sky!

* Did anyone notice how well we did on first downs?  I meant to look back on this but forgot.  Especially in the first half, we kicked butt on first down, leaving a LOT of 2nd and short situations.  If you look at the second down situations in the first half, Penn State had 5 second and one’s, 2 second and two’s, and was second and six or less 11 out of 14 second downs.  (One second and six was actually a second and one that became a second and six after a five yard penalty.)  In the second half, there were 11 second down opportunities, and PSU was 2nd and five or less 5 of those times with three second and one’s.

* The running game didn’t generate much yardage, but as you can see above, it didn’t have to in order to keep the sticks moving.

* Hamilton and Ficken pulled in Big Ten Players of the Week Honors–not something I forgot, but worth noting at this juncture.

Some great articles were written across the pond.  Johnny Watterson of The Irish Times writes:

But first the cast and inventory: two parachutists, one on the pitch the other on the railway track; a choir of 17; two three-storey sized flags; two marching bands; three Irish Army soldiers and four marines, all bearing flags; a team of Penn State dancers and two teams of cheerleaders; soft drinks engineers; chair arranging executives; four lieutenants of the tape measure; two team rosters of 100 players each; eight team captains; 24-ish coaches and two F16s drowning out the Star Spangled Banner. Gridiron loves its hardware.   

But Penn State had a quarterback called Christian Hackenberg. “Hack”, a young man in just his second season, threw for 454 yards on Saturday, breaking Zack Mills’s single-game school record of 399 yards. 

The most important of those yards came in the run-up to Ficken’s winning field goal as “Hack”, with composure beyond his years, engineered the territory and kept the ball in Penn [State] hands.  

As it sailed over the posts at the Hill end on a trajectory towards Nally, Croke Park became the Bull Run in Pamp lona. The Penn State bench burst on to the pitch and cheerleaders were thrown in the air.

Aisling Crowe describes it as theater and sport colliding:

It was a jaw dropping, awe inspiring sight when first glimpsing the transformed interior of the stadium before the University of Central Florida clashed with the Penn State University. It was Croke Park but not as we know it. The surreal panorama spread out before your eyes. A shrunken pitch surrounded by athletic cheerleaders, acrobatically somersaulting into dangerous positions, marching bands putting a brass spin on some classics including the theme tune to The Sunday Game and flagbearers, mascots and whatever else was needed in the way of support.
The truly awesome scene was in the middle of the pitch where 200 athletes prepared to begin their college season, hopes and dreams spread out before them and the glory of last season behind champions University of Central Florida. 

The clock counted down the minutes to kick off, and a parachutist clad in the Penn State blue and white landed in the middle of the pitch. The UCF Knights parachutist went missing in action, his radar slightly wonky. He came up a little short of the pitch and landed on the train line behind Hill 16. Saturday afternoon shoppers suffered the convenience that shadows the commuter daily as trains were delayed while the errant knight was rescued.  

The NFL may be America’s game but the college version is giving it a run for its money.
This may have been a spectacle but it was also a serious sport. Every tackle, every intercept, every pass that found a runner was greeted with a roar the like of which is usually only heard when the referee blows the final whistle in an All-Ireland final. 

Anyone with dismissive attitudes towards American football would have had their prejudices seriously challenged by the on-pitch action. The first collision from the opening kick off saw the helmet of one of the Nittany Lions fly through the air, knocked from a head with the force of the impact. 

They followed Flynn’s advice to the letter in Croke Park with razzle dazzle to beat Banagher but the sequins were not some frippery tacked on as a distraction. Sport and theatre collide with spectacular results in American football. The sparkle and the show are an integral part of the spectacle but there is real steel behind the stardust that was sprinkled on Dublin yesterday. 


The author had Sam Franklin kicking the winning field goal, but otherwise it was a good report.

And if you are really bored, here is an Irish message board with some locals regaling their thoughts such as these:

That’s was a great game! My first time ever seeing live football, only got sucked in in the last few years. Now I reeeeeally want to see if I can get tickets to one of the Wembley games! The Penn State support was great, really cool to be in the thick of it. 

Fantastic game. Made a converted out of my brother who begrudgingly came along, moaning right up to the start about how ****e AF is. He was screaming at the pitch at the end and has just called me to find out when the next one is.. 

The Penn State head coach stayed for a little while by the tunnel to start up chants with the fans as he left the field, crazy guy  [He’s a WILD and CRAZY guy!]

Just home from a thoroughly enjoyable day. Went with Penn State in all our bets, all came in, Outright win, 1st Touchdown and over 43.5. Some show, great entertainment and at least the rain stayed off. Managed to get a vid of the National anthem and the F-16’s too. 

Fecking savage day. 8th game I’ve been to (3 college, 5 NFL) and first I’ve seen settled by the final play. Had the over backed too so happy out. Pity it wasn’t in the Aviva, looked silly looking down on an empty hill all day, mind you, the ESPN crew did a great job of avoiding that. Jesse James is a legend, plus that WR, thing he was number 7 for Penn. Great day out. Penn state fans were a credit. Really, really great day. 

Apart from the empty stand and rip off programme, great day. Sat with some Penn State fans amongst the UCF hoarde in a great spot. Wife very pregnant and we had planned to ship a few mins before the end. Glad I didn’t, what a finish! Super atmosphere, some slick game play from QB#14 and WR#7 for Penn. The Wife got right into it too but was puzzled why the game, apart from stoppages, just seem to pause quite often? When I told her it was for commercial breaks she cracked up 😁 The noise was cool, the F16s very cool, mexican wave fun and I cannot wait for the NFL reg season to K.O!!! 

Really enjoyed that yesterday. Penn State fans were great even if I was cheering for UCF. Great second half of football. Not sure what it looked like on TV but looking around, it felt quite cavernous. My mate was more interested in the gargle but I really got into it.  [Gotta love the gargle!]

Great day out – great game. First time to go to a game “in the flesh” – absolutely loved it. First two qrts I thought Penn State were gonna walk away it (despite only leading by a single score). UCF’s rushing game was poor and the passing game was non-existant – only for their defence , they would have been buried. 3rd & 4th Qrt’s – UCF’s Qrtback remembered he could throw and the drama went up a notch. To have the game decided on the final play with 3 secs left on the clock – just brilliant (even if I was a tiny bit gutted for UCF).   Will definitely go to the next one (if/when it happens). 

Good day. One of the closest games I’ve seen live, score wise. Atmosphere was okay were I was sitting . Wish I had a chance to do this every week. 

Great game. Really enjoyed it, and was a bargain for e20. My seats were great. Very happy that it was close, as it was a good way to show my friends from here the sport. A blowout would have sucked. . . .A few small things about it did bother me though. The quality of the replays was shocking. I remember a big important offensive PI call happened, and I looked up to see the replay of it, but all they showed was the QB throwing the ball… Hill 16 being closed was also odd and looked awful behind the goal. That last field goal was one of the most exciting finishes to a game this weekend, and will have been all over sports highlight reels in the states last night, and the backdrop is an awful, empty terrace, which is a little embarrassing. The PA system was also terrible, especially for the ref. Could barely make out what was being said half the time. [Sounds like a “true” PSU fan–c/o replays, empty seats and the sound system!]

I have yet to read any reports of “bad” PSU fans.  And the reports from Penn Stater’s sound like they were treated exceptionally well by the locals.

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Vote 4 Joe!

This is not an April Fool’s joke.

Joe Paterno is going head to head with Pat Summit in ESPN’s final coaches bracket.  It’s madness, I say!  April madness!

CoachBracket

You can vote here.

As of when I voted, JoePa was leading 63% to 37%.

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OB Gone Completely

This post, with a title playing on Obi Wan Kenobi, is a day or two late, and more than a few dollars short.  But alas, I was away in Phoenix when the bad news broke, just another cracked brick in the wall of a rather regrettable 2013 year.

O’Brien on his way to Texas.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about Bill O’Brien leaving the Penn State program, but like grief, my emotions are going through a five stage process.

Denial.

They are just rumors.  There were rumors last year.  Had he stayed, there would have been rumors next year.

Maybe this is just a chess game to get more money, better facilities, a different AD–the rumors were nearly endless as the talks heated up between OB and Houston.

In the end, they weren’t just rumors.

Anger.

Who wouldn’t be angry?  OB was the best thing that happened to Penn State since the fall of Joe Paterno and the whole Sandusky Scandal surfaced.  While it would minimize the efforts of players like Mauti to say that Bill saved the program, it would certainly have been more difficult for the players to remain united if the coaching vacancy hadn’t been adequately filled.

But OB was just on the cusp of greatness.  Hackenberg was progressing.  There was hope that Allen Robinson would stay as part of the revitalized Penn State offense (and hopefully he still will!)  There were rumors that perhaps even more sanctions might be reduced in the off-season, such as the bowl ban–already OB was armed with more scholarships than originally decreed.

The future was looking bright and there appeared to be some stability to a program that had more instability in the past two years than in the previous century.

Bargaining.

This is a stage of grief and has nothing to do with this situation at this point, so let’s move on.  We will probably never know what went on behind the scenes and who did or said what.  OB apparently told David Jones of the Patriot News this:

“You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a —- what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program. I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.

“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”

This talk with Jones apparently occurred on December 4th.  Reading that now, is it any surprise that O’Brien left?  With road rage like that, who would stay in a job that created such adverse emotion?

It does beg the question of WHO these Paterno people are that he refers to?  Sue Paterno?  Bloggers?  Fans?  Coaches?  PSU administrators?  BOT?  Again, we will never know for sure who pissed him off, but Bob was apparently a ticking time bomb with some anger management issues.

Depression.

The sky has fallen!  Woe is me!  The end is near!  Oh, the inhumanity!

Acceptance.

The dude has done moved on.  Let’s get to work on a replacement before we lose any recruits.

Seriously, though, I’m not sure just how I feel about this.  I am obviously disappointed, but not surprised.  In an era where the average coaching tenure is 3.9 seasons, one would be blissfully ignorant to expect O’Brien to be coaching at Penn State 10+ years from now (and that article is from 2010 and Joe Paterno’s years skew that number higher than it would be if recalculated today–and those numbers might include Tressel and Bobby Bowden as well, depending on their endpoints.)  It sure would have been nice for him to hang around another 2-3 years for Hack and the guys he convinced to stay with him, but then what can you say?  The NFL was HIS DREAM!  Isn’t that what this is all about?

This is unfortunately the message being taught to our young people today.  It is OK to screw others if the self-benefit is above a certain level.  There is a price above which loyalty and courtesy have no currency.  It is OK for O’Brien to chase HIS dreams, even if in so doing, he may harm the dreams of others.  And the reality is this:  unless Penn State hires an unemployed coach, whoever replaces OB will be doing the same thing to the team they leave behind.  And Penn State fans, if we like the choice, will all be down with that, right?  Hypocrisy is often no further than the nearest mirror.

There are at least interesting choices available at this point (perhaps moreso than two years ago when O’Brien was named). . . Al Golden appears to be the front runner if you believe the Internet rumors.  James Franklin just guided his Vanderbilt team to a victory over Houston in their bowl game, so he has not even had the opportunity to interview yet, if he is even interested.  Mike Munchak was fired today as coach of the Titans.  Is that good/bad timing or what?  I have not even gotten over OB leaving yet, let alone started to worry about who the next coach should be.

But time is a valuable commodity and cannot be wasted.  We don’t want to lose any players or recruits at this point, so there is some need for haste.  But haste makes waste, and we don’t want to make a hasty choice we might later regret.

I would love to know if there have been inquiries from other coaches/agents around the country, but again, we will never be privy to that information as no current coach will want it known that they are pursuing a job opportunity elsewhere.  But it makes me feel better believing that a few great coaches out there would be interested enough in the job to reach out and touch someone, even if that someone is Joyner.

As an aside, I found it refreshing to hear that Mark D’Antonio doesn’t have an agent–you need to call his wife.  I don’t think we need to call her, but I wonder if she called Joyner and Co.?  It’s fun to fantasize about things like that, and we could certainly do worse than him with whoever ends up with the job.

For O’Brien . . . None of this was his fault.  He took the job BEFORE the sanctions were announced, and I believe he did make the best of what he had to work with given the circumstances.  But he is being decidedly obtuse if he thought he would follow a legend like Paterno without there being loyalists who would criticize his actions.

I do not wish him well, though.  I must admit that if he fails at Houston, I will feel a certain amount of pleasure, retribution, and justice.  I still cling precariously to the hope that good people will win out over evil or greedy people.  Maybe this is part of God’s plan.  And perhaps wishing ill will is not a very Christian way to think, but my Ten Commandments don’t have a Thou Shall Not Wish Ill on Thy Enemies commandment.  There is that whole Do Unto Others Golden Rule, but I’m okay with that.  Bill is certainly welcome to wish ill on me and take pleasure in my failings any time he wants.  It can work both ways.

In the long run, I think Penn State will be better off.  Things are certainly more stable now and while we might lose a few recruits, it will be more difficult for players to transfer, as the usual transfer rules will now apply, which they did not when Silas fled with others.  O’Brien said he considered the NFL the ultimate job, so in that respect, he has kept his word.  If he doesn’t want to be a Penn Stater, and if people who support Joe Paterno annoy him, then good riddance.  We can do better than that.

After all. . . WE ARE . . . PENN STATE!

Was O’Brien here too?

The above picture apparently was taken in the Buckeye locker room after their loss to Clemson.  An angry player, Bill O’Brien, or the ghost of Woody Hayes?  You decide.

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Buckeyes Go Down Again!

How sweet it is!

Urbie’s win streak at THE ohio state went down to MSU and tonight, his undefeated record in BCS games went down as well.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and fan base!

Of course, Urban showed remarkable restraint in not punching out any Clemson players.

Clemson wins the Orange Bowl 40-35 with #5 throwing a pick to seal the deal.  Fine job!  well played, sir!

THANK YOU CLEMSON!

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