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IT IS COMING . . .

The 2017-18 season will begin in less than one month, as the Nittany Lions open at home on September 2nd against the Zips of Akron.

The Lions are ranked 6th by the Coach’s poll and Lindy’s Sports.

Can we produce this level of excitement again?

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Big Ten Championship

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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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RU Ready for Penn State Football?

Apparently not.

Rutgers did its best to hang in with Penn State, and even managed to make it to halftime behind by only 9 points.

But Rutgers is a really bad football team.  They have two wins on the season.  Howard.  And New Mexico.  They have not won a Big Ten Game this season.  They came close with a 34-32 loss to Minnesota.

almosthadit

I’m not Penn State but Big Ten give me a win!

Yet, the score was a god-awful 9-0 at the midway point.  Penn State fumbled the opening kick-off.  The Knights still could not score, as they missed a field goal.  I’d have to check the stats (and quite frankly I am too lazy to do that right now) but that might have been the only time they started in PSU territory all night.

But true to form, the lackluster first half performance was just a bland appetizer to the festive and delicious meal yet to come in the second half.  Penn State pulled away while the defense shut down the Scarlet Knights and handed them their 4th shutout of the season.

Special teams avenged their game opening fumble with a blocked punt in the third quarter.

I almost felt sorry for the Rutgers players as the stadium was nearly empty by the middle of the fourth quarter.  Granted, the weather was not pleasant, but still you would have thought some of their fans would hang in there until the end.  I guess that makes them fair weather fans.

Next Up: The Michigan State Spartans.

Sparty almost upset the Buckeyes on senior day at home in East Lansing, but a questionable decision and subsequent play call to go for two with over four minutes to play in the game, left the Green and White a point short.  They lost 17-16.

Up north, the wolverines dispatched the annoying Hoosiers 20-10, but trailed Indiana 7-3 at the half.

This sets up the season finale next week.

If Michigan wins, they will go to the Big Ten Championship game.

If Ohio State wins, and Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions will play in their first ever Big Ten Championship game in sunny Indianapolis, a prize package worth millions.

Since UM and O$U face off at high noon, Penn State will know the outcome of that game by the time they kick off in Happy Valley at 3:30.

The Spartans played the Buckeyes tough, but O$U has struggled on the road this year while dominating at home.  The game against Harbaugh’s team will be in Columbus.  Ohio State opened as an early 7 point favorite.

Either way, PSU needs to take care of business on their own senior day.  The Spartans have three wins (Furman, Notre Dame, and Rutgers.)  When you’re marquee win is against Rutgers, it really puts your season in perspective.

I think Penn State wins this game comfortably, but if UM beats O$U, it may take the wind out of our sails and work against us.

But . . . an Ohio State victory?  Beaver Stadium will be rocking!

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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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Hawk and Awe

It was Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium.  Navy beat Notre Dame earlier in the day.  And Penn State released it’s shock and awe weaponry on Iowa.  The Lions devoured the Hawks to the tune of 41-14. And it really wasn’t that close.

iowacorn

The Hawkeyes were ranked as high as 13th in the AP poll (11th in the Coach’s poll), before North Dakota State went all Appalachian State over them in week 4.  The Hawkeyes never recovered completely, dropping games to Northwestern and Wisconsin before coming into Beaver Stadium looking to prove themselves bowl worthy.

Of note, the Hawkeyes were only giving up 18.9 points per game.  The most points they gave up so far this year was 38 to Northwestern. Penn State posted 599 total yards, scoring on their opening drive and never looking back.

Defensively, Penn State held the Hawks to 234 yards, and only 30 on the ground.  THIRTY yards.  On 26 carries, in case you thought they did nothing but pass the ball.

According to GoPSUsports, it is the first time since entering the Big Ten that PSU has held two consecutive Big Ten teams to 50 yards or less rushing.  Penn State has now guaranteed its 12th consecutive winning season, something only four other teams have done in that span.  (They don’t list those teams unfortunately.)

On special teams, we did have a blocked field goal that cost us 3 points, but otherwise, we played very solid.  The return game, especially on kick offs, has vastly improved.

Iowa had the Big Ten’s leading kick off and punt returner.  The Hawks managed to average 19.5 yards per return on kickoffs, and though PSU only punted TWICE, they had zero yards in punt returns.  Put that in your pipe, but don’t inhale!

Penn State went into this game dead last in third down conversions, but despite Iowa’s supposedly good defense, we went 7-14 on that dreaded down which also helped us win time of possession 35 to 25 minutes.

The only thing we lost all day was the coin toss.

Saquon Barkley continues to impress and added a 57 yard scamper for Penn State’s second touchdown. He ran for 169 yards and had 211 all-purpose.  He went over 1,000 yards for the season and is the 8th PSU back to have multiple 1,000 yard rushing season.

One of the big plays in this game, perhaps the turning point if you will, was Cabinda’s Arrington-esque leap to stop Iowa on a fourth down play on their opening drive after PSU took a 7-0 lead.  Iowa was driving with a tying score in mind when this happened:

106,194 fans enjoyed an absolutely beautiful autumn evening in Happy Valley.  The drum major stuck both flips.  The half-time show honored our military.  The Penn State glee club sang “God Bless America” and there was a USO performance as well.

Next up are the Indiana Hoosiers, who are coming off an amazing trouncing of Rutgers, 33-27.  They lost to Ohio State, Nebraska and Northwestern, as well as Wake Forest.  They beat MSU 24-21 in OT in the Big Ten opener, but the Spartans are 0-6 in conference play, and their only wins are against Furman and Notre Dame.  Who would have thought their marquee victory would be Furman?

That’s not to say that this game is an automatic win for Penn State.  If nothing else, the last five years should have taught us there are no automatic wins.  Indiana played the Buckeyes tough for a half of a game.  With the exception of Purdue, we haven’t played as well on the road, and it will be an early start (12 eastern.)

Without going into specifics, I predict a slow start, but a comfortable margin of victory when the final seconds tick off.

Penn State debuted at #12 in the College Football Playoff Rankings last week.  They are already ranked 12th in the AP and 14th in the coach’s poll after beating Iowa.  Nebraska, Texas A&M and Florida were all ranked ahead of us in the CFP ranking, so we could conceivably crack the top ten this week.

For the moment, Penn State is back.  We are winning.  We are improving each and every week (something that I did not see in Franklin’s first two seasons as PSU head coach.)  We are ranked.  How wonderful is that?!  Every game left is WINNABLE, but not automatic.  10-2 is not unrealistic.  This team is exciting.  There is chemistry.  They are fun to watch.  They don’t give up when the chips are down or if they make a mistake.

Strap yourselves in.  There are 3 more wild regular season rides to go.

GO STATE!   BEAT HOOSIERS!

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O What A Feeling!

I know this game was played 2 weeks ago, but I wasn’t blogging then.  This was my Facebook post after Penn State upsot THE ohio state university.  And beating the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer never grows old.

The day started out cold and windy. I ran a 5K race at St. Francis. It was cold. The rest of the day got no better, and by the time we got into the stadium, we were already cold, despite white down jackets and multiple layers. My seats are under the North Upper Deck, so we at least were dry.
 
The pregame sequence included a video that started out with the definition of PANDEMONIUM. Apparently, we were going to cause some, if the media hype was correct. I have searched high and low on the interwebs for a copy of it but my research has yielded nothing. At the time, I thought it was hokey. Even moreso than the constant “UNRIVALED” slogan which after the past four seasons only makes me think UNRAVELED.
 
But the elements for pandemonium were there. We have improved since the debacle in Ann Arbor and the shoot out at Heinz Field. Ohio State, for all the hype and publicity, did not seem to be playing like a second ranked team. Pundits weren’t calling for an upset, but they thought PSU might give O$U a run for their money on this white out night.
 
A good friend of mine asked me before the game, “Do you think we can pull off the upset?” This question has been asked many times in the past 5 years, but there was a tone to his voice to suggest that although he was asking, he thought perhaps an upset could be pulled off.
 
I wish I had jumped on the chance to look like a freaking psychic and say “yes,” without reservation, but instead I waffled like a politician a week before the election. I gave him the “on any given Saturday,” response. I added that I didn’t think the Buckeyes looked sharp in their most recent games. If we played a perfect game and they made a lot of mistakes . . . And we were looking better, albeit against Gophers and Turtles, not wolverines or buckeyes. I could have prematurely prognosticated in public, but I left it at that.
 
Yet, there was a feeling. There was something in the air. There was an electricity in the stadium, that was at the same time feverish and subdued.
 
We wanted to win this game.
 
We could win this game.
 
But we have seen so many failures in the post-Paterno era that we were afraid to let the emotion out of the bottle, lest we look like idiots drinking in the spirits of 1982, 1986, 1994 and 2005 and ignoring the reality of today that stares us in the face.
 
We haven’t beat a top 5 team since 1999 (Arizona.) Seventeen LONG years.
 
We haven’t beat a one or two ranked team since Notre Dame in 1990. Twenty-six LONGER years.
 
Our last recognized national championship was 1986. Thirty years ago. WOW.
 
How could we ever expect to win this game? We were 21 point underdogs. We haven’t beat O$U since 2011.
 
And the first quarter looked good, until we fumbled a punt. We were moving the ball though we failed to convert points. We had already had a field goal blocked on our opening drive–a drive that looked destined for points until it bogged down in Buckeye territory. We could have been up 7-0. We should have been up 3-0. But a blocked field goal left nothing to show for the effort on the scoreboard. Our defense was playing well, and we were holding our own in the field position battle.
 
Until the muff.
 
But here’s where the script deviated from the past five years.
 
Instead of rolling over and playing dead, the defense rose to the occasion and forced a field goal. Down 3-0 in the second quarter to the 2nd ranked team was not anything to be ashamed of. It was a damned moral victory, if nothing else. And even as we fell behind 9-0–the Buckeyes missed a PAT–there was still a chance we could pull this out.
 
The Bucks would tack on another three, before PSU took over with less than two minutes to go in the half. O$U would get the ball back to start the second half and was looking to take a 12 point lead into the locker room. But the offense would have none of that and scored with 9 ticks left on the clock to make a respectable score of 12-7 at the half.
 
The third quarter would be marred by a defensive breakdown that led to a 74 yard rushing TD to make the score 19-7. A second special teams gaffe (snapping the ball over the punters head) led to a safety and a fourteen point margin for the Scarlet and Gray.
 
But then the fourth quarter came, and PSU decided to win this thing. No more mistakes. McSorley scampered the width of the field to make two yards and the pylon and suddenly, the upset-minded Nits were within 7 points.
 
YOU COULD FEEL THE STADIUM COME ALIVE. 107,280 white clad fans (with an unhealthy smattering of red pox marks throughout) rose to the occasion. The defense shut down the Buckeye scoring machine, which heretofor was averaging 49 points per game. Special teams avenged themselves with a field goal after blocking a punt, and then the piece de resistance–a blocked field goal returned for the winning score by Haley.


PANDEMONIUM.
 
There was still 4 and a half minutes left on the clock. For a team and fanbase that so desperately needed a win, it would seem like an eternity. A field goal by O$U could tie and send us into overtime on this blustery, cold night. A TD would shatter the glass slipper and leave us with nothing but pumpkin juice, mice and a tattered dress. But the defense rose to the occasion, and Penn State took over on downs and knelt a couple of times to run out the clock, just before midnight. We lived happily,pandemoniously, ever after.
 
PANDEMONIUM!
 
It’s been awhile since fans had any reason to storm the field. Exhilaration filled the air, and yes, there was relief. We didn’t screw it up after all.
 
I am going to fall short of saying “we are back.” One game does not make a comeback. But it is a damned good start. If we can build on this, then I’ll admit that we are back. But a loss to Purdue, Rutgers or a struggling Michigan State, and the good feeling will be gone. Tonight would become just a fluke. I think having Iowa at night at home should favor us too. Hard to believe, but a lot of fans are now dreaming of a 10-2 season with a nice bowl bid somewhere warm.
 
Which makes a cold Pennsylvania night a little warmer.

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