Tag Archives: Spartans

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A BIG win!

It was a gray and dismal day.  Earlier in the week, we had bought ribs and chicken to do on the grill.  But as the minutes were ticking away, the desire to stand in a windy parking lot outside Beaver Stadium and grill these meats slowly waned.  The thought of eating a sandwich in the relative warmth of our vehicle was more and more appealing.

A quick text to our travelling party confirmed that sandwiches would be fine.  But then, what about after the game?  It would be at least 7:30-8:00 until the game would be over, and probably at least another hour to we get home.  Aren’t we going to be hungry then?

So at the last minute, we head to Chili’s to eat a lunch before the game, and then stopped at Sheetz to get sandwiches for after the game.  As an added bonus, we could watch the first part of the O$U-UM game before heading to the stadium. Brilliant!

I had the grass fed sunrise burger which was an excellent choice, if you ask me.  Unfortunately, Ohio State missed a field goal, and ultimately fell behind the Merry Harbaughs of Ann Arbor.

With this cloud of wolverine spirit hanging over our heads, we continued our quest to Beaver Stadium.

Alas!  Someone was parked in my space.  Who’s been parking in my place?  They are still there.  I have had the same reserved spot for twenty years.  I have never come to a game to discover squatters. WTH?!

There is no one in the car, but the parking pass hanging from the rear view mirror is for a numbered spot just down the row from mine.  So I head there.

Interesting story.  The person there says that he parked there because someone was parked in his space.  And the person parked in his space was parked there because someone was parked in their space.

He points to an open spot and tells me to “park there.”  I ask him what happens if that person shows up and I’m in their space?  He says, “I’ll handle it.  I’ve got you covered.”

He has me covered?  If I get towed, he’ll pay the charge to get my car back?  What does that even mean?

What in the bloody wide, wide world of sports is wrong with people?!  Earlier this season my sister got into a shouting match with a guy sitting in the seat that she had the ticket to.  She shows her ticket and he rips it up and calls her a cunt.

I call 1-800-NITTANY and explain my predicament.  They say they will send someone out.  Meanwhile, I drank too much iced tea with my burger and I really need to see a man about a horse.  So I head off for the port-a-johns, leaving my car in someone else’s space.

By the time I return, there is someone standing there telling me that he will move his car out of my space and he is sorry.  He is not the same person I spoke to earlier that claimed the car was his and that he had me covered.

Ohio State is still behind, and even though I ultimately get to my spot, the mojo of the day seemed very bad indeed.  My feng shui is out of alignment with the rest of the universe.

Bundled up and well fed, and now worried that I might return to find my car keyed or my tires flat because I made someone move who shouldn’t have been in my space in the first place, I entered the hallowed portals and walkways of Beaver Stadium.

I am quite confident that we will win this game.  Unfortunately, I was quite confident that the wolverines would lose with their back-up quarterback.  More unfortunately, Speight must have soaked in the healing waters of the Lourdes Grotto and is back playing and hell-bent on denying Penn State a berth in the Big Ten Championship.  You already beat us once, man, for the love of God throw us a bone!

I was so confident we would win I replied on a fellow bloggers website (He predicted a 23-20 PSU win):

Senior day. Biggest game at the Beav since what, 2008? Better weather than Piscataway. Only three points? Oy vey! Oy and double oy even. And if Ohio state wins earlier . . . Call me crazy but I am chugging the Kool Aid. PSU by 14. Maybe more if Sparty rolls over and plays dead.

The only thing to cheer about in the first half was the news that Ohio State came from behind to tie UM, and then won in the second OT.

Yet, the team played the script as they had all season.

Penn State came out in the second half and promptly stopped the Spartans on their opening possession for their first three and out.  Michigan State did not punt in the first half.

But, they also scored no touchdowns and recovered no turnovers.  Once again, the team made adjustments at half time and executed a brilliant game plan on both sides of the ball following the break.  The final score was 45-12 and if you felt we were running up the score you might have felt right.  I know most Penn State fans felt MSU ran the score up on us last year 55-16 when Jack Allen, an offensive lineman, scored late in the game.

I almost toyed with the idea of titling this week’s entry, A Tale of Two Halves, but then you might not know which game I was writing about.

Let’s look at this phenomenon a bit further.  Here are the points scored by PSU and their opponents for each game by halves.

First Half Second Half
Game Opponent Delta PSU Opponent Delta PSU
Kent State 13 3 16 0 17 17
Pitt 28 -14 14 14 11 25
Temple 10 11 21 17 -4 13
Michigan 28 -28 0 21 -11 10
Minnesota 13 -10 3 10 10 20
Maryland 14 10 24 0 14 14
O$U 12 -5 7 9 8 17
Purdue 17 0 17 7 38 45
Iowa 7 17 24 7 10 17
Indiana 14 0 14 17 14 31
Rutgers 0 9 9 0 30 30
MSU 12 -2 10 0 35 35
Average 14 -0.75 13.25 8.5 14.33 22.83

As you can see, Penn State was slightly outscored by opponents in the first half–about a point on average.  However, the Lions outscored opponents by just over two touchdowns in the second half.

Only two opponents outscored us in the second half–Temple and UM.

Penn State shut out FOUR opponents in the second half, including the last two.

The only losses?  Penn State gave up 28 points in the opening quarters, nearly twice the overall average. And but an interception in the end zone at Heinz Field away from a win there.  Even in the loss to UM, we scored more points in the second half and allowed fewer.  The hole we dug in the first half though, was too deep to climb out of.

Wisconsin is up next in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.  The Badgers are 10-2 with losses to the usual suspects (O$U and Michigan).  They are ranked 6th in the AP and the last CFP poll.  Their resume includes a 16-14 win over LSU to start the season.  In common opponents,  they beat an 8th ranked MSU 30-6.  They defeated Iowa  17-9.  They lost to Michigan 14-7, much closer than our loss.  But we beat the Buckeyes.  A 49-20 win over Purdue and a 31-17 victory against the Gophers rounds out the list of common adversaries.  The Vegas oddsmakers have the Badgers at about a 3 point favorite currently.

The Badgers have averaged 28.5 points a game, while only allowing 13.7.  On the flip side, the Lions are scoring 36,1 points per game while allowing 22.8.

Keys to victory:

It would be great to have Saquon back, but if his injury is such that he can’t play, I think we have some good backs behind him.  A healthy Saquon would be a difference maker.

Penn State needs to keep the game close in the first half.

Have FUN–you deserve it.  Play hard.  Adjust.  Play well.

Who knows where this season might end?

starsaligned

THE STARS HAVE ALIGNED!

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Anticipation . . .

Remember this commercial (OK, I’m dating myself a bit here):

I can’t remember the last time I was looking forward to a Penn State football game like I am looking forward to this weekend.

Maybe 2005?  Or 2010 when Joe Paterno won victory #400 over Northwestern?

Since the sanctions in 2011, however, PSU football changed.  No matter how well they performed on the field, there was no ranking.  No polls.  Who cares who won the Ohio State-Michigan game?  Or if Washington wins?  I didn’t even pay much attention to the polls the past five years–until a few weeks ago.

Bill bless-his-heart O’Brien made watching the games fun.  He might go for it on fourth down on his own twenty yard line.  You might be elated by a 4 OT win over the wolverines.  But you might witness Penn State’s first and only loss to Indiana in football.

I was getting tired of the old argument . . . the sanctions.  No depth.  Not enough talent.  Will take time to get back on top.  Anticipation . . .

Yet, here we are.  Tied at the top in our division.  Almost to the Big Ten Championship game.  Perhaps even a few lucky breaks away from a bigger prize . . . .

Spartans.  Spartans.  Spartans.  Focus, Todd.

Must.  Beat. Michigan State.

One game at a time.

The team that really has the conundrum is Michigan State.  I may be going out on a limb here, but even despite the ugly Land Grant Trophy that is up for grabs, a win over Penn State this weekend would be bittersweet.  The Spartans aren’t going anywhere in the post season regardless.  And a Spartan victory would send Michigan or Ohio State to the title game, and possibly a national championship.  I may be wrong here, but I doubt Michigan State fans loathe Penn State as much as they loathe their in-state rival, or the long history with Ohio State.  If I were a die-hard MSU fan, I might actually root for Penn State this weekend.

Of course, a Michigan win over the Buckeyes will put a considerable damper on things, but all will not be lost.  I almost feel kind of dirty rooting for the Buckeyes.  But these are strange times we live in.  I’m no fan of the wolverines either, and I can enjoy a victory over Harbaugh as much as one over Urban Meyer.  In this case, I could really enjoy it.  A happy Meyer begets a happy Lion.

So . . . .

GO STATE!  BEAT SPARTANS!

and LET’S GO BUCK-EYES!

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URBAN MEYER GOES DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SPARTANS WIN 34-24!
BEST NIGHT OF THE SEASON!
THANK YOU MSU!

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