On a breezy and brisk November afternoon, the Nittany Lions, coming off a heart-wrenching loss to the Wolverines and an overall disappointing season to date, faced the Scarlet Pimpernel of Piscataway. It was senior day at Beaver Stadium and Military Appreciation day as well, highlighted by a Pennsylvania Air National Guard EC-130J plane flyover at the end of the national anthem.
But the Lions were battling more than just Rutgers . . . fighting off the flu as well–a total of 21 players had it during the week and 14 tried to play.
The results, though, were electrifying, as the Lions shut out the Knights (the first time in school history that the defense shut out two Big Ten teams in one season) and cruised to a 28-0 win before a faux crowd of 106,038. Apparently whoever counts the fans in the stadium also counts election ballots. I know. I know. They count seats SOLD not occupied. And the students were on break. There were actually more fans there than I expected, but hardly a filled stadium . . .
And the first half was as exciting as watching paint dry. Seriously. The bleacher in front of me was empty and I was really tempted to take a nap. I may have nodded off a time or two. The first quarter was simply a punt fest. EIGHT PUNTS. NO POINTS. Penn State didn’t score until there was 1:03 left in the half. But . . .
It was turning point in the game, and quite possibly the future of Penn State football.
Christian Veilleux took over for the ailing Sean Clifford in the second quarter. And while his first two drives weren’t anything to write home about, the kid settled in and finally threw a touchdown pass to Dotson to put Penn State on the board.
Veilleux went 15 of 24 for 235 yards, threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in his college debut. He showed a lot of poise in the pocket albeit against the Scarlet Knights, not the Scarlet and Gray. Poise in the pocket, poise in his pants. Sounds like a commercial for something . . .
His performance already has many fans wondering . . . what if? What if he had come in against Iowa instead of Robeson? What if he started against Illinois? What if? What if?
I was really impressed with what I saw. He had a couple over thrown passes, but for the most part he was right on the money. His ability to throw back across the field while on the run was simply incredible. He used his feet as well as his arm. He was sporting number 9, and I was having flashbacks of McSorley.
Like it or not, Penn State needs a mobile quarterback to be effective. At least since joining the Big Ten. We don’t get many Kerry Collins or Todd Blackledges. Two in fifty years. Our most successful seasons, and by extension most successful quarterbacks, are guys that can throw and run. Doesn’t matter who the head coach or offensive coordinators are. This is who we are, like it or not. Michael Robinson. Darryl Clark. Trace McSorley. And Sean Clifford before his injury which limited his mobility–and by extension, limited our offense.
This is even true in the big league. Look at the successful QBs in the NFL. Lamar Jackson. That Herbert kid that ran all over the field against the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Steelers slog it out with an aging QB that can’t run like he did back when he was more successful. Everyone would love to have a Tom Brady at the helm, but most have to settle for a mobile QB to keep the chains moving. The more options an offense has the more effective it will be.
Of course, they always say the most popular player on any team is the back up quarterback. We humans can be very fickle. And there is a certain gambler in all of us. The idea here is that when we don’t like what is going on, a change–any change–has to be better. We’re willing to bet on it. That’s how most coaches got their jobs in the first place–previous guy got fired because he couldn’t win–the new guy HAS to be better! Hell, that’s how Sleepy Joe got his job. Be careful what we wish for . . .
Which brings us back to James Franklin, who apparently told the State College Quarterback Club earlier in the week that he was not going anywhere. Well, we know he’s not going to Indianapolis or to any playoff games, but I guess we can cross off USC and LSU as well.
I have very mixed feelings.
I really liked JF from day one. His ability to recruit is like nothing we have ever seen at Penn State.
But then there are all the other little things: clock mismanagement, ill-timed trick plays, losing to teams we should defeat, not performing well against ranked teams. It’s been eight years and there doesn’t seem to be any progress.
But would bringing in another coach be any better? Who knows? Only the shadow knows!
Look how well Texas is doing with their carousel of coaches. When was the last time Nebraska had a great team. Tom Osborn? Sometimes, patience is a virtue. But on the other hand, stubbornness can be a curse as well.
For now, I am going to savor this victory, and I look forward to seeing Christian Veilleux lead this team in the future!
Penn State dominated the stat sheet this week. They held the mighty Knights to under a hundred yards rushing OR passing. But the 3rd down conversions are still a problem–might have been better if Christian had started the game and we didn’t have punt-a-palooza in the first quarter.
Next week, the Lions travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on the formerly highly ranked Spartans. Sparty was simply crushed by THE Ohio State College this past weekend 56-7! They are still ranked 12th/13th in the two polls. Their only other loss was to the Boilermakers in a lopsided 40-21 defeat. They beat Rutgers 31-13 and went to OT with Nebraska. They beat Indiana by 5 points.
After the Illinois game, I thought we had little chance to win this one. Now, I’m not so sure. The Spartans opened as a ONE point favorite. Odds Shark has Penn State winning, covering–take the OVER.
And in other news . . . Oregon doesn’t want in. They bowed out, losing to Utah 38-7. Maybe the Ducks should hire Franklin? Michigan and Notre Dame are still on the outside looking in, but Michigan “controls their destiny” as a victory in THE GAME over the buckeyes would catapult them into the Top 4. Not sure Michigan can win that game, but you never know. On any given Saturday, even Illinois can beat Penn State.