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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.

MRBEANFACE

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.

MRBEANFACE2

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.

MRBEANFACE3

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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Bye week Bye-byes!

Weakestlink

Four teams in the top ten tanked this weekend.  Doesn’t anyone want to play Alabama????

Both Washington teams lost, as well as Auburn, but the shocker of the weekend was the Friday the 13th horror flick that played out in the Carrier Dome starring an unranked Syracuse team.

Friday13thClemson

While you might think that would end the Tigers’ hopes for a repeat title, think again.

Just like Jason continues to resurrect himself film after film, Clemson is poised to return to greatness; to arise from the ashes like a football Phoenix.

Clemson dropped all of FIVE spots in the AP poll.  FIVE!

Let’s look at other teams and how a loss affected their top 10 ranking:

Florida State opened the season with a loss to #1 Alabama.  Is there shame in losing to a number one team?  No.  But it did cost them 7 places as they plummeted from 3rd to 10th.  Of course, the Seminoles are now unranked, but that level of discredit was not evident after one game.

Ohio State.  The Buckeyes only dropped four spots, but that was to a team that was highly ranked at the time (Oklahoma.)

The rest of the nation does not fair so well with losses.

Southern Cal dropped 9 spots after losing.  Oklahoma dropped 9 spots despite their victory over the Buckeyes earlier.  Michigan dropped 10 spots after their loss to a now ranked Spartan team.  Washington State and Washington both dropped 7 spots.  And Auburn, bless their little hearts, fell 11 spots after losing this past weekend.

So where is this love for Clemson coming from?  Do they pass they “eye test?”

ClemsonEyeChart

Before the bye week, there was a lot of talk about whether a one-loss Georgia team (the presumptions being that Georgia wins out but loses to Alabama in the SEC title game) could jump an undefeated Nittany Lion team for a spot in the playoff.  I guess now the Bulldogs will have to worry about Clemson jumping them (assuming PSU wins out!)

Which reminds me . . .  Penn State has the first installment of a critical three game series of challenges.

THEM

As in The-M.  The Big Block M that marches across the field to the victors valiant.

The guys with wings (but not a  prayer) on their helmets (did you know that some maxipads have wings too?) come to Beaver Stadium for a 7:30 PM game.

The weather?  Meteorologists are calling for White Out conditions.

The betting line was 11 points favoring Penn State this morning.

The key to this game is simple really.  Penn State has to find a way to score against the Michigan defense.  Period.  Michigan has shown nothing offensively all year to suggest that they will put up many (any) points against the PSU defense.  The wolverines best hopes for an upset hinge on a combination of their defense scoring (pick six or scoop and score), a red zone defense that forces Penn State to kick field goals we can’t make, or a poor day by McSorley that allows the front line to bottle up Barkley.  Success in any one of those goals probably won’t be enough to win.  But two out of three could be disastrous for the Nittany Lions.    Multiple turnovers and missed field goals would be a nightmare.

Yet, I am very optimistic.  I’m not sure we’ve played our best game yet.  There is a lot of room for some improvement in things which are very improvable.  The bye week allowed us to evade the horror-filled losses that other top teams suffered, and allowed us to heal and work on our weaknesses.

We will know Saturday if we pass the eye test.

PennStateeyechart

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Wildcats Lose as Lions Cruise

There are a lot of undercurrents swirling below the calm level of a 31-7 victory.  Perhaps saying the Lions cruised to win number six (bowl eligible baby!) is a bit of an overstatement.  Yet, despite missing another field goal, having a punt return for touchdown called back for yet another holding call on a punt, and having our Heisman candidate running back post minus yardage in the first half, the scoreboard still showed a dominant victory over an opponent that has recently given us Fitz fits.

Thank you defense!

NWfans

You can’t stop Saquon forever.  Just pull your shirt over your face and chill out.  Breath deeply.  What’s that smell?  It’s you.

The Wildcats scored with less than two minutes to go, ruining what could have been a third shutout on the year.  Penn State entered the day ranked 3rd in the country in scoring defense.  Thanks to an Epic Sooner Fail that would have made Bob Stoops proud, the team will now be ranked #3 in the polls.

And despite averaging -0.1 yard per carry in the first half, Saquon did finish the day with 75 yards and another highlight reel 53-yard run for a touchdown.

When did scoring 31 points become a defensive game?  Because we didn’t score fifty, the offense sucked????

This teams finds a way to win.  Missed field goal–no problem.  Can’t run?  McSorley completes 15 straight passes (a school record by the way.)  Last guy to complete 14 passes in a row?  Kerry Collins.  Undefeated in 1994.  Could history be repeating itself?

This team is fun to watch.

How would you like to be a Pitt fan right now?  Saturday comes and you have to decide whether to watch them lose to Syracuse or go see the My Little Pony movie.  The half dozen fans that chose to watch Pitt probably regret not going to the movies now.

Oklahoma may have a good offensive line but Sooner fans aren’t happy.  Michigan is able to kick field goals, but their fans aren’t happy.

Could our relatively short list of problems cost us a game in the future?  Maybe.  Could our plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball overcome these problems?  I think so.

UNABASHED RANT:

Now, let me take a moment to complain about a rule.  Holding on a punt that goes out of bounds?  What?  Why is pass interference waved off for an “uncatchable ball” but holding (or block in the back) on a return isn’t waved off when the BALL ISN’T ACTUALLY RETURNED and worse yet, sails way out of bounds AND CANNOT BE RETURNED.  Now I’m not saying you still can’t have unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike penalties, or cheap shots called . . . but how does a hold on an unreturnable ball make any difference?  Just complaining.  I will now return you to our regularly scheduled drivel.

BY THE NUMBERS:

The stat that I think stood out the most was 8 penalties for Northwestern.  And more surprising . . .TWO players ejected for targeting.  Not what you would expect from a Pat Fitzgerald team.

Another great stat:  zero turn overs for PSU.  Two interceptions and a fumble for the boys in purple.  And this is all defensive–the defense created those turn-overs

INTANGIBLES:

This is James Franklin’s first win over Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern in three tries, once as a Vanderbilt coach.

Penn State leads the all time series between these schools, 14-5.

Saquon’s Heisman chances weren’t hurt much by the poor first half showing, with Penn State winning easily, a highlight reel touchdown run, and his next best competition failing to secure a win for Oklahoma.

THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:

I’m sorry.  Maybe Michigan State beating little brother in Ann Arbor will hurt us down the road, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Harbaugh lose.  Any Harbaugh, but especially the one in Ann Arbor.  And does the 14-10 loss and subsequent drop in the polls by the wolverines really hurt our chances if we win out?  Michigan State is now ranked, so that helps our overall schedule strength.

If we don’t win out, conference losses by Michigan and Ohio State will be critical in winning the Big Ten East.  I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine a scenario where an undefeated Penn State team (and Big Ten Champion by extension) will be excluded from the playoffs.

Indiana crushed Charleston Southern 27-0.  Someone, somewhere, cared.

The Badgers beat da Huskers 38-17.

Purdue went all Carl Spackler over the Gophers 31-17.

Iowa defeated the Illini 45-16.

The Buckeyes made Turtle soup out of the Terrapins, 62-14.

Rutgers was off and nobody noticed.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Next week the Penn State Nittany Lions have the day off.

Then, October 21st . . . WHITEOUT at Beaver Stadium.  7:30 Kick-off on ABC.

The Wolverines are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Spartans, and have a road game at Indiana before coming to Happy Valley.  The Vegas line favors the Wolverines by 7 at this point.

Regardless of their record, the boys in ugly helmets will bring their A game to Beaver stadium.  They always do.  They can play like crap against Appalachian State and then beat us like an old drum.

But not this year.  Not this time.  Not on our turf.  Not during a white out.

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Winners and Hoosiers

A couple days late and more than a few dollars short . . .

Welcome to the Indiana recap.

Don’t yawn!  That’s contagious.  (yawwwwwn.)  See what you started!

The sun broke through the clouds just in time for kick-off and what a kick off it was!  Saquon Barkley added another highlight reel to his Heisman resumé as he returned the opening kick 98 yards to the house for a 7-0 lead with only 14 seconds missing on the clock.

Apparently, Indiana didn’t think the hole they had dug was deep enough, so on their next possession, they fumbled.  Actually, Campbell forced the fumble for Penn State, recovered by Cabinda.  I am in no way asserting that our defense didn’t make a great play.  Some fumbles are due to offensive ineptitude; this one was a defensive coup.  The end result was that the Loosiers, er, I mean the Hoosiers, were now down 14 points with just under four minutes gone in the game.

And while the Hoosier defense continued to play like they could actually win this thing, special teams came up with another highlight play as Nick Scott scooped and scored on a muffed punt by the lapless Loosiers.  I mean Hapless Hoosiers.

Penn State would build and take a 28 point lead into the second quarter, fueled by yet another Indiana mistake–roughing the punter–and another highlight reel for the Heisman resumé (HRFTHR) by Saquon Barkley where he made a one-handed circus catch (one hand tied behind his back) and then juked and did that Saquon thing with his legs to take the ball deep into Indiana territory.  Trace hooked up with Hamilton for the 28 point lead.

It was at this point, for a mere 15 minutes of fame, or enough time to save 15% with Geico, that the Indiana team decided to try and upset Penn State.  They scored twice in the second quarter–their only 14 points in the game–keying on a big 54-yard reception, and then a late drive following a McSorley pick around mid field.

Indiana never really threatened in the second half, as our defense tightened.  The tone was set on the Hoosiers opening possession (they deferred after winning the coin toss to the second half) when Amani Oruwariye intercepted the Hoosiers.  Unfortunately, the drive stalled at the three yard line and chip shot field goal was sliced wide right.

Penn State did tack on 17 points in the closing half and covered the point spread easily despite miscues.  Yet, this has left some Penn State fans fretting.

Is this really a #4 ranked team?

Is something wrong with McSorley?

Why isn’t the offensive line doing better?

Sometimes I have to recheck the record just to make sure we’re still 5-0, because to read some of these people’s comments, you’d think we were losing!

Let’s look at these concerns individually.

Do we “deserve” to be #4?  No.  I also don’t think Alabama “deserves” to be number one.  The only time the ranking will be earned is the day after the championship game.  At this point, some teams have beaten better teams than others.  But constitutes a better team?  Comparing Alabama’s schedule to date with Penn State’s, is Fresno State, Colorado State or Vanderbilt that much different than Indiana, Akron or Pitt?  Yes, we played Georgia State.  Check out Bama.  They play Mercer.  Have you even heard of Mercer?  I’m too lazy to even Google that shit.  Nobody cares!

Alabama beat #3 FSU.  Are they number 3 now?  Ranked?  Will they ever be ranked this season?  No one knows at this point.

Penn State has no more right to be fourth than any other team.  The so-called experts ranked the Nittany Lions before the season in the top ten.  They belong there.  They have done nothing on the field to not deserve to stay there.  If we are not worthy of our ranking, then that will play out as the season progresses.

And, just what is a number 4 ranked team supposed to look like?  I guess maybe a fourth ranked team wouldn’t almost lose to Iowa (even though 4 previous “top 5” teams lost at Kinnick Stadium.  Maybe a #4 team would have defeated Pitt 76-0.  Pitt’s not a very good team this year, but last year, they were the ONLY team to beat Clemson, the ultimate National Title winner.

Do top ranked teams never make mistakes?  Or, rather, are they able to overcome their mistakes?  We’ve done that.

So should we be concerned about McSorley?

He is not having a great season, but if you remember from last year, he really didn’t get hot until after that awful September start.  And is season isn’t that bad.  He just led our team last week on a less than two minute drill 80 yards across a hostile field against a pretty decent defense.  He’ll be fine.  I’d like to see us roll him out of the pocket more.  I really think he throws better on the run.

Is our offensive line a problem?  Granted, Saquon isn’t burning up yards up the middle, but how many backs in this country are doing that with the defense keying to stop the run?  McSorley has been sacked a good bit, but some of that is his own doing, holding onto the ball too long, or dancing out of the pocket too quickly.  Give them time.  This could be a problem; probably won’t.

I have spent years blogging about Penn State football (I started out in 1999 on a free site called Xoom.  I’m still blogging today.  Still on a free site, because the two or three faithful readers I have would pay to read this drivel.

Over the years, I have pulled my hair out at times after winning a game.  Worrying about every turn over, and fumble, each sack or missed tackle.  I have seen teams that lose to Appalachian State turn around and beat us.  I have seen us beat the top ranked Buckeyes one week, and lose to an unranked Wolverine team the next.

We have the potential to be a great team.  None of the problems folks are losing sleep over are unfixable.  Contrast that to four years ago, when we kept hoping the team would get better as the season went on, but it didn’t due to sanctions, recruiting issues, and whatever.  The team didn’t get better because it quite frankly couldn’t get better.  We didn’t have the athletes.  We are at a point now that we could only have dreamed about five years ago.  We are probably watching a Heisman winner each week in Saquon Barkley.  We are loaded with offensive weapons and defensive playmakers.

Sit back folks and enjoy this ride.  There will be ups and downs, but we might just end up in Atlanta on January 8th!

INTANGIBLES:

Another argument across the sports world is whether Saquon is the best college football player ever?  Can that even be determined?  He certainly is one of the best playing right now.  He can run, he can catch and he can block!  And he even threw a touchdown pass last week!  He is one of the most exicting players I have ever watched at Penn State.

The Neil Diamond Impersonator?  You either loved it or hated it.  I love Sweet Caroline, and I thought the guy did a heckuva job.  Sheer genius!

The attendance was announced at 107, 542.

THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:

Nebraska cornhusked Illinois 28-6.  Wisconsin dropped scat all over Northwestern 33-24.  The Buckeyes blanked the Knights of New Jersey 56-0.  (Rutgersal still thinks Rutgers has an outside shot at the National Championship, or at least a share of the Big Ten Title!)  Maryland terped Minnesota 31-24.  Michigan State edged Iowa 17-10.

And in other news, USC lost to Washington State 30-27.

LOOKING AHEAD:

The Lions travel to Northwestern for the dreaded 11:00 am start.

Penn State has lost the last two games versus the Mildcats.  Franklin has not beaten Fitzgerald.  Yet.

The Mildcats have lost to Wisconsin (no surprise there) and Duke (41-17).  But the Dookies are 4-1 with only a loss to Miami to soil their record.  Northwestern has token wins over Nevada and Bowling Green.

The betting line is 14 points, favoring the Lions.

I’m not big on predictions, but I’m going to go out on a limb here . . . I think we win.  We cover the spread and then some.

 

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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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