The Return of the Blue/White Roundtable
August 30, 2011 – | No Comment

It’s an institution of the Penn State blogosphere, and sure enough, it’s back for the 2011 season. That’s right, what we’ve got here is a genuine, bona-fide, electrified Blue/White Roundtable. There might be fewer seats, …

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Penn State Pregaming: Joe Goes for #400

Submitted by on November 5, 20102 Comments

Sorry, Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden. In another week, your quarterback controversy would be getting all the attention. And my apologies to Dan Persa–your homecoming is but a footnote this week.

No, this Saturday is about Joe Paterno, no matter how much he’d try and downplay it.

That's right, Joe. Just 1 more win.
400 wins is just a staggering number. It reflects not just longevity, but tremendous success. And there isn’t a coach in history who embodies those tenets more than JoePa. He’s the last vestige of a now-bygone era, when coaches weren’t just mercenaries for hire, but they had a greater commitment to their university–and Joe would certainly rather talk about the millions of dollars he’s raised for Penn State than his 399 wins.

And it might just be a quirk of scheduling, or a cosmic coincidence, but I think it’s meaningful that the one thing standing in his way is Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern team. You see, Fitz is just like JoePa, minus about 50 years–he’s got the same passion, not just for football, but for his kids, for his school. He’ll have trouble reaching the same level of success, but he’ll never fall short in the honor department. If there’s another Paterno in the coaching ranks today, it’s Pat Fitzgerald. It’s no surprise why he’s often mentioned as a potential replacement for Joe, whenever he decides to step down–but, for Northwestern’s sake, I hope he stays there for another couple decades.

This year, his team is what you’d expect, a feisty group, but one with an inflated 6-2 record that doesn’t feature a single win over a team with a winning record. Ah, but they almost took down Sparty, leading Michigan State 17-0 before collapsing, outscored 21-3 in the final quarter as the Wildcats lost, 35-27. And the week before that, Northwestern lost to a Purdue team that was coming off an 11-point defeat at the hands of Toledo. The Wildcats’ two league wins came over Minnesota and Indiana–hardly wins you’d tout as emblematic of a program on the rise.

But perhaps that’s not giving enough credit to a team that never seems to outstep its “Cardiac Cats” nickname. Dan Persa has, quietly, put a phenomenal season in Northwestern’s quick-strike, spread offense–he’s completing a staggering 74% of his passes, with 12 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. And Persa even leads the team in rushing, albeit with just 360 yards. He won’t be readily confused for Michigan–nor will the Wildcats run an offense anything like the read-option tendencies of Rich Rodriguez, but he’s more than capable of putting together the kind of game his predecessor Mike Kafka did against us a year back, and, if you’ll remember, Northwestern led at the half last year, 13-10, before Kafka came out of the game with an injury. And wide receiver Jeremy Ebert is tough to shadow–he’ll line up anywhere on the field, and if he can draw a linebacker, it’s almost impossible to defend the quick hitters.

And the Northwestern defense has been stout–ranking 33rd nationally in scoring defense–though their proclivity for forcing turnovers and a “bend but down break” scheme that would impress even Tom Bradley disguises a middle of the pack unit that ranks 66th in total defense. But the unit has stepped up–especially against the run. Even in the brutal loss to Michigan State, the Northwestern held the two-headed beast that is the Spartan run game–one that’s averaging over 175 yards per game–to just 100.  Then there’s defensive end Vince Browne–who’s got 6 sacks on the year–and poses a significant threat for a still vulnerable offensive line.

But this is still a game that Penn State ought to win, especially if they can ride the wave of last week’s emotional victory, under the lights, over Michigan. I’d be more likely to buy the “trap game” excuse–that they’ll have an emotional comedown, or be looking ahead to next week’s monster match-up against Ohio State–if it wasn’t for the sheer excitement that will be Joe Paterno’s milestone win. He might not want to talk about that #400 publicly, but the players know it, how much it means, not just to Joe, but to the Penn State program that would never be here today if it wasn’t for Joe.

Penn State doesn’t have the sheer talent edge they’ve had in years past, but there will be no letdown.

Prediction: Penn State 27, Northwestern 14

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  • Joe Poops Himself

    Hopefully we will be spared and PSU will lose all of their remaining games!

  • Charlie

    Way to go Joe!! It doesn’t matter where I travel, whenever Penn State is brought up, everyone immediately references Joe Paterno and their admiration for him. All those years, all those wins and never a sniff of NCAA violations. Joe Pa is the reason I am proud to call myself a Penn Stater.