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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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And They’re Off!

Penn State stumbled a bit coming out of the gate, but the Lions found their stride en route to a 52-zip rout of the Akron Zips last Saturday.  The weather was less than ideal, (it sucked!) but didn’t seem to affect the players whatsoever.

FeartheRoo

FEAR?  REALLY?  SERIOUSLY?????

PSU took the opening drive down the field as if the Zips hadn’t even shown up.  Unfortunately, their one highlight of the day was a pick in the end zone which cost us a score on the opening drive.

Add in a missed field goal and a kick-off out of bounds, and there is little left to criticize.

There were a few drops by Hamilton, and McSorley completed a couple of passes that, had he thrown them better, would have been touchdowns, but the receivers had to dive to catch them instead of taking them in stride.  But who’s Nitt-picking?

Did I mention the weather sucked?!

I heard one (Pitt) fan opine afterward, “since when does Penn State run up the score?”

Let’s settle this right here.  Penn State did put up 52 points.  Are they not supposed to play just to spare the feelings of the other team?  What did Akron expect when they scheduled this game?  (A big paycheck–that is what they expected and that is what they got!)  It is not possible (and certainly not advisable) to play a top 25 team every week.  It is a given that teams will play opponents that are out of their league.

Alabama is playing Mercer.  Florida State is playing Delaware State.  I could go on and on.  That’s the way football schedules are today.  Some teams will play tougher schedules.  Good for them.  They can then use that to argue away a loss if they want to.

Penn State had to play Akron on Saturday.  That was the team scheduled to play.  McSorley and Barkley had no choice in that matter.  They wanted to play their best regardless of the opponent.

Should they not have played the second half?  Come on!  It’s the first game of the season!  They need some real game practice time.  They learn nothing sitting on the bench.  And maybe they have an outside shot at a Heisman.  Is it fair to bench them and deny them a once-in-a-lifetime accolade because we don’t want to hurt Akron’s feelings?  Maybe if they don’t want to lose 52-0, they should not schedule a big check from PSU or maybe they should have prepared and recruited better?

And if a large margin of victory is equated with “running up the score” then this is not unfamiliar territory for Penn State.  48-14 against Pitt?  81-0 against Cincinnati?  66-10 versus Coastal Carolina.  PSU beat Rutgers 59-34, with McQueary throwing a TD pass in the final minute.  This led to a heated exchange between Paterno and Doug Graber after the game.  Apparently the BACKUP QB changed the play at the line of scrimmage and hit the open receiver.  Paterno later said, “I should not have to apologize for Mike doing what he has been coached to do.”

I, for one, didn’t buy a ticket so I could watch Barkley sit on the bench.

Is it fair that Akron continues competing and trying to avoid a shut out (the primary goal of EVERY defense is a shut out) while PSU heads into the locker room early?  I think not.

And while the timing of the back-up quarterback entering the game can be disputed–you have to weigh game experience versus the risk of injury more so than the margin of victory on the scoreboard–Penn State did play a lot of players that were not starters throughout the second half.

And in the end, the coaches, players and probably even the pollsters know that Penn State’s fate come bowl season will depend not on whether we beat Akron 35-0, 45-0 or 75-0 but rather whether we beat Ohio State, THEM, and the other potential pitfalls in the Big Ten and out of conference schedule.

THE NUMBERS GAME:

Penn State out-gained Akron 569-159 yards, and the Zips managed only 73 on the ground.  What more could you ask for?  Akron ran 63 plays to Penn State’s 65.  The Zips won time of possession by half a minute.  And while the Lions were only 3-9 on third down, they punted only TWICE.

Each team had one interception.

Penn State came in ranked #6.  With a Florida State loss, there is a chance to move up.

Attendance was 101,684.  I was a little impressed that we did that well given the weather conditions and the Labor Day weekend with the students off on Monday.  Some people might complain, but I thought it was a good crowd with a better than expected energy level given the quality of the opponent.

THE BIG (TEN) PICTURE:

The Buckeyes jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the conference by virtue of a win over Indiana.  The Hoosiers made a game of it for a half, but faded down the stretch, losing 49-21 after leading at the half.

The Wolverines defeated Florida 33-17, and Maryland upset Texas 51-41 in a shoot out.

Northwestern struggled early as well, but beat Nevada 31-20.

Iowa handled Wyoming 24-3.

Purdue lost to Louisville 35-28 which had to rally to defeat the Boilermakers.

The Spartans beat Bowling Green 35-10, and Illinois notched a 24-21 victory over Ball State.  The Cornhuskers eked a out a win over Arkansas State 43-36, while the Badgers routed Utah State 59-10.

Minnesota managed to beat Buffalo 17-7 while Rutgers fell 30-14 to #8 Washington.

AROUND THE NATION:

Alabama took Florida State out of the early running with a decisive 24-7 win.

USC struggled early but finally put away Western Michigan 49-31.

Clemson took Kent State to the woodshed 56-3.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Pitt.

PittPanter

PITT PANTER

That’s it.  Just Pitt.

The Lions are currently about a 20.5 favorite.

While Penn State dominated hapless Akron, Pitt went to OT with Youngstown State.

So Penn State should just walk away with a win next week, right?

Wrong!

Akron is near the bottom of the Bowl Subdivision teams.  Youngstown State, on the other hand, was ranked 9th pres-season in the FCS.  We’re comparing apples to oranges here.

That said, this is not the same Pitt team that beat PSU last year, and I think we are better this year.  And don’t forget that that Pitt team went on to give Clemson their only loss.  Again, though, this is not that Pitt team.

I predict PSU will win.  I think we will cover the spread–too many weapons, and Pitt gave up 418 yards, including 311 in the air.  Doesn’t matter if they gave it up to YSU, KSU or Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.  Penn State is going to score some points.

This is a rivalry game, whether any of us want to admit it or not.  I’m old enough to remember the rivalry of the 70-80’s.  Losing to them last year was bad enough–but when it cost us a spot in the play-offs–well, that’s a panther of a different color.  I’m not a big fan of the revenge factor, but I’m hoping it gives our team a little more adrenaline and inspiration this week.

Game time is 3:30 at Beaver Stadium.  I think we start slow, but keep things close through the half, and then pull away late in the game as our arsenal of weapons becomes too much to handle.

 

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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.

dolphin

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.

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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Indiana Groans in Raiders of the Last Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Michigan lost to Iowa, he texted me:

That pretzel looks even bigger now.

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

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

GO STATE!  BEAT KNIGHTS!

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