Blue White Roundtable: Alabama Week Edition
September 7, 2011 – | 1 Comment

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The Sky is Not Falling

Submitted by on October 3, 20109 Comments
He haunts my dreams
I think I’m more frustrated with the reaction to last night’s game than I was with the game itself. And that’s not something I would’ve expected at 10:30 last night.

But apparently, to an unfathomably large percentage of the Penn State fanbase, a tough loss to a damn good Iowa team, one that matches up impeccably with a young, rebuilding Penn State squad, means we’ll go 6-6 if we’re lucky. That Rob Bolden is garbage, that this is the beginning of the dark years, part 2. And perhaps the most prevalent complaint: that the staff is entirely incompetent, that Joe Must Go.

Look, I get it. You were mad last night–not mad so much as annoyed, and embittered. Even I was ready to throw a chair through my TV. But if you expect this team to become Ohio State overnight once Joe Paterno is replaced, well, you’re only kidding yourself. Until today, Penn State had been ranked in the AP poll for 36 straight weeks–the 5th longest streak in the nation. In the past 5 years, we’ve been just as good, just as competitive as any team, save for a very select few.  Twice, Penn State was one play away from an undefeated season. All this was accomplished under the watch of a senile, out-of-touch, old schmuck?

No, last night’s performance wasn’t pretty. But if you just couldn’t watch, and flipped over to CBS, you’d have watched Florida get absolutely shellacked, 31-6, by an Alabama team that we played tighter. What’s my point? Tough losses happen. Even yesterday’s 24-3 loss to Iowa isn’t the end of the world.

Remember, this is the best Iowa team in decades. They were ranked in the top 10 to start the year, they returned virtually every impact player from that Orange Bowl Champion team of a year ago, and their one loss, to Arizona, was about as fluky as a loss could be. Nobody predicted Penn State to win this game before the season started. So why, exactly, is this loss cause for panic?

There are legitimate gripes to be had. The offensive line was abysmal last night, as it has been more often than not in recent years–but let’s not forget, Iowa can make a lot of offensive lines look silly (though, on a self-defeating side note, I would be amenable to a change at the offensive line coach).  There was an obvious disconnect between the coaching staff upstairs and those on the field, which resulted in some clock management snafus. The defense didn’t seem to wake up until it was in a two-score hole, and even then, Ricky Stanzi was barely, if ever, touched.

Yes, that was about as poor a performance as imaginable. But the overwhelming negativity is simply astounding.  Penn State wasn’t “outclassed” or “outcoached,” they lost to a better team. Give Iowa their due–this isn’t 2008 or 2002, or even 2009. Iowa is a solid, veteran, disciplined team, and it’s a damn shame that they lost to Arizona, because they really had the potential to be a standard bearer for the Big Ten. And Penn State didn’t embarrass themselves–they were outgained by 48 yards, they held the ball for 28 minutes, and they held Iowa to 3.2 yards per rush and 2-10 on third down conversions.  In all but one aspect of the game, Penn State was just about as good as Iowa.

And did we really expect an offensive line that has one experienced player to hold at bay a defensive line that features at least 3 NFL-caliber players? Let’s be completely honest here, that’s where the game was won. Rob Bolden was under pressure every time he dropped back, and rarely if ever did a Penn State running back have even the slightest hole to burst through. Meanwhile, Ricky Stanzi could sit in the pocket all day and pick apart the Cover-3.

But let’s give the defense some credit here–Tom Bradley tried, and he tried hard. We saw 4 linebacker sets, even some blitzes off the edge.  Penn State rotated through more than a dozen players in the front 7, trying to find the right combination of players. Khairi Fortt saw extended time, and so too did Glenn Carson. It was James Terry and DaQuan Jones in at defensive tackle in the second half.  And after Penn State had settled in, we saw them stuff the run fairly effectively. Stephon Morris struggled, but Ricky Stanzi made some NFL-quality throws to beat him. We haven’t given Iowa their due in the last few years, but Stanzi is a damn fine quarterback, and those skill players are going to be playing on Sundays.

The offense, of course, was much less crisp. And when the line gave Rob Bolden enough time to throw, the receivers simply couldn’t hold on to the ball. I counted 6 drops before the end of the third quarter, when my attention started to wane. But even a handful is unacceptable, when you’re playing a dominant defense like Iowa’s. You can not repeatedly and consistently shoot yourself in the foot, and expect to win games. Graham Zug was the worst culprit, and he’s been conspicuous in his absence from the score sheet all season. At this point, he’s maybe the 4th best receiver on the team.  But one word defined Bolden’s performance, the one word that’s been used almost ad nauseum, but still holds true: poise.

Look: things are only going to get better, folks. We chalked this one up as a loss in the preseason, and I’m more than willing to write it off. We didn’t lose to Kent State or Temple. We’re not going to lose to Illinois, or Minnesota. We all knew this would be a rebuilding year, that we’d be setting up for a Big Ten championship run in 2011 and 2012. Even despite the struggles of the early season, I’m still confident in that projection. Maybe we’ll slip up somewhere along the way, and this will be an 8-4 season or, god forbid, a 7-5 year instead of a 9-3 campaign. But even that is not the end of the world, given the surprising talent in East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Evanston.

But Rob Bolden last night was infinitely better than Daryll Clark ever was against the Hawkeyes, and that’s with an inferior cast around him and a superior Iowa squad on the other side of the field. We’ve seen the defense come together and be very stout–if only they could start the game thinking they’re down two scores.  And this has been a breakout season for such young studs as Justin Brown, Silas Redd, and Devon Smith. Other than Ollie Ogbu, there might not be a single impact senior on this team–even Stefen Wisniewski was abused last night.  This is a learning experience. It only goes up from here.

I hate to play the “3 plays away” game, since I already used that card after the Alabama game. But what if the officials look over to the sideline, and notice that Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary are screaming for a timeout with 6 seconds left at the end of the first half. Needing just a yard, who’s to say Penn State doesn’t make it 17-7 at the half?  And they came roaring out to start the third quarter–what if Rob Bolden keeps going to the outside on 4th and 1, and walks into the end zone? And what if some receivers were able to hang on to the damn ball, and set up another scoring drive or two? Would a 17-14 loss have more acceptable? Would those plays have restored faith in the coaching staff, in Joe Paterno?

It’s a rhetorical question. I honestly don’t care. If you’re ignorant enough to demand Joe’s resignation, then I don’t want to hear what you have to say.

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  • Leokollar

    I agree with you completely, even with a change in O-line coach. That has been our weak link for the last 3 or 4 years with no improvement lurking in the near future. Sometimes the better team wins.

  • Rdickson2

    There is a solution to your complaint about the PSU O-line coach. Just got off an Ohio State blog and they want to get rid of their O-line coach also. What would it prove if we traded coaches and neither line got better?

  • Rdickson2

    There is a solution to your complaint about the PSU O-line coach. Just got off an Ohio State blog and they want to get rid of their O-line coach also. What would it prove if we traded coaches and neither line got better?

  • Megan

    Finally. Someone who understands. I felt like the only Penn state fan not panicking.

  • TimOwen

    Well said, Devon.

  • TonyLion

    Everyone (almost) before the season expected losses to Bama, Iowa and OSU.
    But five games into the season, frustration has built up with the coaches/team/refs/ whatever
    because every time PSU is knocking on the door, they can’t kick it in.
    The final score at Bama was not as painful as the final score at Iowa
    simply because we remember the 6 FG attempts against Temple, and “they” (whomever they are)
    still haven’t FIXED IT. Other than that, everything’s peachy.

  • Bob I

    Very Nice…. I have been a Penn State fan since I was 8 years old, that is 39 years, PSU Fans have been so spoiled over the years that they think rebuilding doesn’t have to happen… what the hell people, a true freshman has done a pretty decent job against the #1 team and a preseason top ten team… I am ready to go 7-5 and wait for next year…. we are going to be fun to watch with the young talent we have, that is if the rabid side of our fan base doesn’t have them transfering to other schools. Give the kids a break, Joe Pa and his crew has done a great job recruiting and we should be in the hunt for the next couple of years.

  • Channelsurfr

    While I somewhat agree with the story and the comments following, there is one thing that is clearly missing (and this indicates why the PSU faithful are so negative): Penn State has recruited MUCH better than Iowa; yet, the team Iowa fielded performed MUCH better. Don’t care about the “youth” argument. The O-Line is not laden with freshmen – maybe it should be. For all the nervousness about Chima, I think he did pretty well. Better than #67 who was tossed about like a rag doll.

    The concern of the PSU faithful who harbor negativity is that every year, there is “rebuilding” and every year, the coaches don’t know what kind of football team they have. This is the same statement as they made in 1978. Maybe it was applicable in 1978. It’s not anymore.

  • Charlie

    Well put Devon. The anti-Joe rhetoric following this loss is ridiculous. Somehow losing to a favored Iowa team on the road suddenly means Joe no longer knows how to coach against and upset higher ranked teams? That we are doomed to mediocrity? Didn’t we just upset a higher ranked LSU on New Year’s Day? How about that win which temporarily ended our futility at the Horseshoe in 2008. Sure a loss is always tough to swallow, but let’s keep things in perspective here. Just take a look at Georgia for an example of how a rebuilding year can really go wrong, take a deep breath and remember that we are still Penn State.