Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hopes for the New Year for Penn State

2011 was wonderful for 10 months, hellacious for the last two; may the recovery begin in 2012

May the New Year bring to Happy Valley ...

 ... as swift and painless a resolution to the Sandusky scandal as possible. May there be no more victims, no drawn out legal process, no more jarring and scarring revelations, no more national media convergence. May there simply as good a resolution as there can possibly be at this horrible juncture.

 ... recovery for the alleged victims, and peace in their lives.

 ... recovery for the Penn State community from the anguish imparted by the scandal.

 ..  recovery for Joe Paterno as he battles cancer and other health issues, as well as the emotional toll of the Sandusky scandal and his removal as Penn State football coach. And may he have his day to explain himself. And may people listen with clear minds. For example, telling your administrative boss and the head of campus police about possible wrongdoing by definition means you attempted to have that possible wrongdoing investigated properly. A clear mind can recognize that.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Halfway to failure? The Penn State coaching search languishes

Having failed miserably in expediency, and losing its grip on secrecy, the search committee now must try to secure an extraordinary coach while battling the negative momentum it created and the all-consuming legacy of Sandusky

Why would the Boise State coach (reportedly) decline the Penn State job?

Why would former PSU All-American Mike Munchak pass on the opportunity?

Why isn't Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald a candidate? What happened to Miami's Al Golden?

Yep, things are looking down for the Penn State football search committee. When Boise Freakin' State (Boise State!) is considered more desirable - reportedly BSU coach Chris Petersen did not reciprocate Penn State's interest - you have to begin wondering what is going on.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All signs point to bowl drubbing for Nittany Lions

All signs point to TicketCity Bowl defeat for No. 22 PSU (9-3) vs. No. 19 Houston (12-1) 
Well, almost all signs point to a PSU drubbing. Not that anyone will notice the TicketCity Bowl anyway, as it is played concurrently with the Gator, Outback and Capital One Bowls, during the middle of a workday for many Americans

From the file of "Important things about Penn State football that are happening now yet few seem to care about" is the TicketCity Bowl vs. Houston on Jan. 2.

With all of the focus on Paterno, Sandusky and the coaching search, many have overlooked the fact that PSU actually still has a football team (a good team, too) and a bowl game to play, on Monday.

Historically, Penn State is an outstanding bowl team. The Nittany Lions lead all Big Ten teams in bowl victories and winning percentage (27-14-2, 65.1 percent).

But that was P-SS (pre-Sandusky scandal).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Penn State, State College and the post-Sandusky media narrative

Many are inaccurately conveying that little town with the big university in central Pennsylvania, perhaps because it doesn't fit the media narrative

Wright Thompson didn't quite get it. He didn't grasp what State College and Penn State are all about.

Which is fine, since he never never lived there or went to school there. Except that Thompson wrote a major feature story about Penn State in the wake of Sandusky, and thus he needed to get it right.

Thompson, an accomplished writer with a college football background, wrote the story titled "We were ... ," in the Nov. 26 edition of ESPN The Magazine. (

Among many observations Thompson made was the following:

"This paragraph will prompt hate mail, but it's true: State College is an ordinary college town. No more, no less."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Penn State Really Considering Hiring JoePa's Replacement From Within?

Three people are known to have interviewed for the position, and all are on the current staff

Good thing all is quiet about Penn State, so we can just sit back and enjoy the holidays and ...

Kidding, of course. Tumult is the new norm at PSU.

Between the Sandusky trial and Curley/Schultz trial (or, as the media thinks of the Curley/Schultz trial, MORE REASONS TO WRITE ABOUT PATERNO-PATERNO-PATERNO ... ) and the various investigations, PSU will be in the media cycle for months and maybe years, most of it ugly. Sigh.

What new football coach will inherit this?

Since the scandal mushroomed like nuclear fallout and Joe Paterno was fired, RFBS and others firmly believed PSU would hire from outside. Someone with little or no connection to the PSU coaching staff - and thus no connection to the scandal - would be the next head coach. It just had to be that way. For a clean fresh start, and to ensure no embarrassing revelations later.

Now? Well, we've got reason to wonder if that is the mindset of the committee.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time is Running Out: Name a Football Coach, Penn State

The search committee should introduce a new head football coach in the next week

Aside from the colossal blunder of PSU president Rodney Erickson saying he wants to de-emphasize the spotlight on athletics at the same time Penn State is named the best school for graduating its football players and is in the midst of trying to find a new football coach (memo to Erickson: NOT the way to sell your program to potential coaches), the coaching search has been going well for Penn State.

How do we know? Because we haven't heard much. Which means everyone involved is keeping their mouths closed.

Several names have been kicked around - Mike London? Dan Mullen? Mike Munchak? Tom Bradley? Greg Schiano? Al Golden? Chris Petersen? James Franklin? Ken Niumatalolo? - but little if anything has been confirmed regarding interest from PSU in a candidate, and vice versa.

Which is pretty hard to do these days, with the skills and technology the media has at its disposal for figuring out such things.

So, that's nice.

'Tis the Season: Holiday Sing-Alongs for Penn State

Sing along with abridged versions some old favorites, reflecting on the bizarro-tragic turn of events for Penn State

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

You know JoePa and Spanier, and Joyner and Curley,
Franco and LaVar, McQueary and Schultz-ey,
But do you recall
The most infamous Lion of all?
Jerry, the red-handed Lion
had a very wicked brain.
And if you ever met him
you would even say insane.
All of the other Lions
used to keep him at arm's length.
Yet they always let sick Jerry
inside Lasch for fitness and strength (workouts)
Then one tragic autumn day
the Grand Jury presentment said:
"Jerry with your hair so white,
you're going to jail for many nights"
Then only the media loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Jerry the red-handed Lion,
you'll go down in infamy!
(And drag Penn State with you)

The 12 Days of Christmas
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Sandusky gave to thee ...

  • Twelve sordid counts against him (plus 40),
  • Eleven (thousand) Old Main vigil-ers,
  • Ten alleged victims accusing,
  • Nine million-plus THON dollars overshadowed,
  • Eight recruits reconsidering (at least),
  • Seven stages of grief (or denial?),
  • Six (hundred thousand) Penn Staters suffering,
  • Five (hundred thousand) dollars raised for RAINN
  • "Four quarters" of legal fighting promised (nooooo!), 
  • Three neverending investigations launched, 
  • Two damaged media vehicles
  • And a waived preliminary hearing in Bellefonte

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Sandusky's taking State College down
He made his list,
Abused it 52 times (allegedly)
There's no doubt he's naughty, not nice.
Sandusky has destroyed children's lives (allegedly)
He abused when they were sleeping (allegedly),
He abused when they were awake (allegedly)
We know he's been sooo bad, not good (allegedly)
So plead out for goodness sake!

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Sandusky's taking PSU down

Frosty the Snowman
Jer-ry the phony, was a jolly happy soul,
With denial and an vile heart,
And a charity founded on fraud.
Jer-ry the phony was The Second Mile saint,
He was made of gold but the children know
what he did when they were all alone.
There must have been a door open in
Lasch Building that night.
For when McQueary walked inside,
Well, what did he actually see?
Oh, Jer-ry the phony
Whatever happened to your soul?
And the children say he could laugh
And play, just not the same as you and me.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Very Early Sneak Peek at Penn State Football 2012

While all the news out of State College is related to the ongoing Sandusky scandal and its collateral outcomes, for many Nittany Lion football players the 2012 season begins now, during bowl preparation

Football coaches consider preparation for mediocre bowl games to be the start of the next season.

The additional practice time might be the best thing about the bowl game; teams that don't go to a bowl miss out on a few extra weeks of practices. A good month of practice and/or a strong performance on game day provide a springboard into the next season.

Did someone say next season? Well, the Nittany Lions don't even have a head coach for next season (the search continues ... ). And they're likely to have an entirely new coaching staff.

They're also likely to lose several committed recruits, and have more players transfer than usual this offseason due to the impending coaching change and Sandusky scandal (which, as long as Sandusky doesn't plead guilty and go away, will continue to be brutal front-page news).

And there's still the bowl game to play Jan. 2 vs. Houston (once everybody gets over the disappointment of getting a raw deal and stuck with the bottom-tier TicketCity Bowl). And then Signing Day, and spring football practice, and the spring game, and ...

Yes, there are a lot of things to be far more concerned with right now regarding Penn State football than the on-field personnel for next season.

But RFBS is taking a peek forward anyway.

For many up-and-comers who have played little, such as LB Mike Hull, DT Evan Hailes, DE C.J. Olaniyan and DB Adrian Amos - and all of the redshirting freshmen such as OLs Donovan Smith and Angelo Mangiro, and DEs Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel - the 2012 season begins now. There is a lot of intriguing potential. And many question marks as 14 starters graduate.

(all stats from 2011 season unless otherwise noted)
Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - OFFENSE

1. Paul Jones (So.)
2. Matt McGloin (Sr.)
3. Skyler Mornhinweg (true Fr.)
4. Shane McGregor (Sr.)
  • The skinny: No QBs graduated. Rob Bolden needs a fresh start and is likely to transfer. McGloin has underwhelmed in two years of significant playing time. Jones, who sat out this season to concentrate on academics, is entering his third spring at PSU and is a good bet to seize the starting job. If HS senior Mornhinweg honors his commitment to PSU, he could get a chance to play early.

1. Silas Redd (Jr.)
2. Curtis Dukes (Jr.)
3. Brandon Beachum (Sr.)
4. Derek Day (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Backup Stephfon Green graduated. This could be a huge position of strength next season, though PSU will need to sign a couple of RBs to offset the lack of depth. Perhaps WR Bill Belton could play RB in a pinch. Redd (1,188 yards, 5.2 avg, 7 TD) is an All-American candidate, Dukes looked good in a flash of action at midseason, and sadly Beachum once again must overcome a serious injury (broken leg) if he wants to return for his fifth year. Day, a walk-on, plays a lot on special teams.

1. Michael Zordich (Sr.)
2. Zach Zwinak (So.)
3. Andre Dupree (Jr.), Pat Zerbe (Jr.), P.J. Byers (Jr.)
  • The skinny: Co-starter Joe Suhey graduated. Zordich is a fiery team leader, special teams player and good blocker, but fumbles and dropped passes plagued him in 2011. Zwinak has been relatively nonexistent his first two seasons for a pretty big recruit. Unless he's overwhelmed or has off-field issues, he'll be the backup FB and play some. Zordich and Zwinak - the Z boys - should be special teams stalwarts as well. Dupree, Zerbe and Byers are walk-ons battling for backup duty.

1. Mike Farrell (Sr.)
1. Donovan Smith (RS Fr.)
2. Adam Gress (Jr.)
2. Nate Cadogan (Jr.)
3. Ryan Nowicki (RS Fr.)
3. Patrick Christie (So.)
  • The skinny: Starters Chima Okoli (RT) and Quinn Barham (LT) graduated. Farrell has looked good in spot duty at RT, but he has spent four seasons on the bench. Smith impressed right away as a true freshman and will have a shot at LT along with Cadogan and perhaps Gress, two veterans. Expect one or two other scholarship players to move to tackle, either from the defensive line or interior offensive live, and Nowicki could play guard. 

1. John Urschel (Jr.)
1. Eric Shrive (Jr.)
2. Angelo Mangiro (RS Fr.)
2. Mark Arcidiacono (Jr.)
3. Frank Figueroa (Jr.)
3. Khamrone Kolb (So.)
  • The skinny: Starters Johnnie Troutman (LG) and De'Onte Pannell (RG) graduated. Arcidiacono, Mangiro and Shrive, once a top recruit, all could be competing for the LG spot opposite Urschel at RG. Urschel has impressed in spot duty and along with Matt Stankiewitch, the returning starter at center, appears to be the most likely starter on the rebuilt offensive line. 

1. Matt Stankiewitch (Sr.)
2. Ty Howle (Jr.)
3. Miles Dieffenbach (So.)
  • The skinny: No starters graduated. One of the deeper positions on the team, with Stankiewitch starting the entire 2011 season and Howle very experienced as the long snapper. Dieffenbach was a highly regarded recruit and might get a crack at guard. 

1. Justin Brown (Sr.)
1. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
1. Shawney Kersey (Jr.)
2. Devon Smith (Sr.)
2. Brandon Moseby-Felder (Jr.)
2. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Allen Robinson (So.)
3. Matt Zanellato (RS Fr.)
3. Christian Kuntz (Jr.)
4. Ryan Scherer (Sr.)
4. Evan Lewis (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Starter Derek Moye graduated. Though the No. 1 receiver is departing, this is one of the deepest positions on the team, with several quality players deserving more targets than PSU's ineffective passing game has provided. Brown (34 catches, 448 yards) is not fast but he has big-time potential and one more year to prove he is an All-Big Ten caliber player. Drake finally should be fully recovered from his broken legs. Kersey has speed, size and hands but has languished on the bench in favor of Smith (23 catches, 353 yards). Belton, Moseby-Felder and Robinson all had limited opportunities in 2011 (combined 8 catches) but could crack the playing rotation.

1. Kevin Haplea (Jr.)
2. Garry Gilliam (Jr.)
3. Brian Irvin (Sr.), J.D. Mason (Sr.), Kyle Carter (RS Fr.)

  • The skinny: Starter Andrew Szczerba graduated. This position has degenerated since Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler departed after the 2009 season. Haplea and Gilliam have some talent and need to step up, and if anyone else would like to challenge them, great. Gilliam missed all of last season with a knee injury, and Haplea didn't do much as the backup to Szczerba in 2011. OT Nate Cadogan always could return to TE, and anyone buried on the DE depth chart could too.

Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - DEFENSE

1. Sean Stanley (Sr.)
1. Pete Massaro (Sr.)
2. Deion Barnes (RS Fr.)
2. C.J. Olaniyan (So.) 
3. Kyle Baublitz (So.)
3. Brad Bars (So.)
4. Shawn Oakman (RS Fr.)
4. Jordan Kerner (RS Fr.)

  • The skinny: Starter Jack Crawford and co-starter Eric Latimore graduated. Stanley has a big-play knack (4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and will start full-time if he takes care of business off the field, while the other starting spot (and the backup to Stanley), should be a battle between Massaro, Barnes and Olaniyan. Massaro's promising career was derailed by a second major injury (knee) and he missed 2011. Baublitz (6-5, 275) and Oakman (6-7, 260) have intriguing size, while Bars, at 226 pounds, ultimately could end up at LB.

1. Jordan Hill (Sr.)
1. DaQuan Jones (Jr.)
2. James Terry (Sr.)
2. Evan Hailes (So.)
3. Anthony Zettel (RS Fr.)
3. Anthony Alosi (RS Fr.)
3. Luke Graham (So.)
  • The skinny: Starter Devon Still graduated. It's an epic drop off from Big Ten defensive player of the year Still to Jones (7 tackles). But Jones is likely to share time with Hailes, Terry and perhaps Alosi and Zettel alongside Hill (in the position that booted-from-team Brandon Ware should have occupied in his senior season 2012). It will be tougher sledding at NT for the productive Hill (58 tackles, 8 for loss, 3 fumble recoveries), who is accustomed to defenses focusing on Still. PSU has commitments from numerous DLs, so reinforcements are coming, though they might not have much impact in 2012. And many commitments might bail out due to the Sandusky scandal and coaching change. Expect the defensive line performance to nose dive in 2012, despite the presence of Hill and Stanley, because DEs Crawford and Latimore, and especially DT Still, were a major physical presence.

1. Gerald Hodges (OLB - Sr.)
1. Michael Mauti (OLB - Sr.)
1. Glenn Carson (MLB - Jr.)
2. Khairi Fortt (Jr.)
2. Mike Hull (So.)
2. James Van Fleet (Sr.)
3. Michael Yancich (Sr.)
3. Ben Kline (RS Fr.)
3. Dakota Royer (So.)
  • The skinny: Starter Nate Stupar graduated. If Mauti comes back at close to 100 percent from his second ACL injury, this will be one of the best LB corps in America. Again. Same as every season since 2004. Fortt (31 tackles, 4 for loss) is just too good to be a backup, so he'll play a lot behind both Carson (74 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Mauti - unless he starts ahead of them. Hull also is an eventual first-rate player, though probably not until 2013. Hodges is the lead dog after a stellar, All-Big Ten 2011 season (team-high 97 tackles, 10 for loss, 4.5 sacks) but there's an outside chance he opts for the NFL draft this spring even though he doesn't turn 21 until January.  

1. Stephon Morris (Sr.)
1. Derrick Thomas (Jr.)
2. Alex Kenney (So.)
2. Mike Wallace (Jr.)
  • The skinny: Starters Chaz Powell and D'Anton Lynn graduated. Adrian Amos could move from CB - where he was so impressive in spot duty as a true freshman in 2011 - to safety for 2012. Which would ensure Morris gets his old starting position back, and he should play well. Thomas seemingly had a lifetime pass to JoePa's doghouse, but with Paterno gone he needs to seize the opportunity to fulfill his potential. Kenney and Wallace have been around awhile and will push for playing time, with both being prime possibilities in nickel and dime packages. Some true freshman also could get a chance to play in nickel and dime packages.

1. Adrian Amos (So.)
1. Malcolm Willis (Jr.)
2. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (Jr.)
2. Jacob Fagnano (Sr.)
3. Ryan Keiser (So.)

  • The skinny: Starters Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino graduated. Amos was not a particularly highly regarded recruit, but he was PSU's best freshman in 2011. With his size (6-0, 205) and instincts he could easily slide from cornerback to safety, where there seems to be more of a need. Willis has played well as a top backup and substitute starter the past two years, with 79 total tackles in 2010-11. A Willis-Amos tandem has mouth-watering potential if it survives some growing pains; the drop-off to the backups is significant.

Projected 2012 Penn State depth chart - SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Anthony Fera (Jr.)
2. Sam Ficken (So.)
3. Evan Lewis (Sr.)

1. Anthony Fera (Jr.)
2. Alex Butterworth (Jr.)

  • The skinny: No starters graduated. Fera is The Man for placements (14-17 FGs), punts (42.0 avg. ) and kickoffs (10 touchbacks) again in 2012. If he were to lose any of those jobs (or if the coaches did not want him doing them all), he most likely would cede punting - if Butterworth can continue developing and do better placing the ball inside the 15 yard line, or if the new coach employs rugby-style punting.

1. Ty Howle (Jr.)
2. Emery Etter (Jr.)

1. Adrian Amos (So.)
1. Shawney Kersey (Jr.)
2. Devon Smith (Sr.)
2. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
3. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Alex Kenney (So.)
3. Stephon Morris (Sr.)
  • The skinny: Starter Chaz Powell graduated. Kersey needs to touch the ball more so maybe he gets that chance here. Smith, despite his road-runner speed, averaged a paltry 10.4 yards in four kickoff returns. So hopefully Kersey gets a shot. Amos averaged 21.2 in six attempts as the No. 2 returner behind Powell. The blazing-fast Morris has never had an opportunity to be a primary kickoff returner.

1. Curtis Drake (Jr.)
2. Adrian Amos (So.)
3. Justin Brown (Sr.)
3. Bill Belton (So.)
3. Devon Smith (Sr.)
3. Alex Kenney (So.)
  • The skinny: Reserve Derek Moye graduated. It'll be interesting to see if the new coaching staff views Brown in this role; he was probably the biggest (6-3, 215) punt returner in America (26-194-7.5 avg.), and he'll be the No. 1 receiver next season. A safety is always the default punt returner in punt-safe alignment, and you could do a lot worse than Amos in that role. Drake needs to touch the ball more, has sure hands and can make big plays, so he is the leading candidate to supplant Brown.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The New York Times egregiously misses with Jerry Sandusky (12.4.11)

The New York Times speaks for four hours with Jerry Sandusky and ... writes about Joe Paterno. With a unique and important opportunity to delve into Sandusky, the Times instead retreads old information about Paterno 

The past couple of weeks, with the unprecedented scandal at Penn State and follow-up scandal at Syracuse, have provided telling insight into the mentality and fallibility of the national media.

And it has been a sad commentary, especially for a public that relies on the national media for objective reporting and investigative journalism.

Today's case in point: The New York Times - that sanctified, celebrated, historic bastion of journalism - recently spoke with Jerry Sandusky for four hours.

In four hours obviously a lot of ground can be covered. Have you ever had a two-hour conversation? Just double it.

And what did the Times write about after these four hours, over the course of two interviews, with the infamous man accused of dozens of heinous sex crimes against children?

About Joe Paterno, of course.

The lead to the Times' big weekend Sandusky Scandal feature, following four hours of exclusivity with Sandusky himself, was the following: "The former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, in his first extended interview since his indictment on sexual abuse charges last month, said coach Joe Paterno never spoke to him about any suspected misconduct with minors ... ''

That was the first sentence - directly to Paterno. It was followed by a few sentences that pretty much just reiterated the same thing ("Sandusky said Paterno did not speak to him or confront him ... despite the fact that ... blah blah")

Hmmm. So after four hours with Sandusky, the best the Times can do is repeat exactly what Bob Costas gleaned three weeks ago in a relatively brief phone interview with Sandusky. Here is an excerpt from Costas' highly publicized interview on Nov. 14:
To your knowledge did Joe Paterno at any time ever speak to you directly about your behavior?
He never asked you about what you might have done? He never asked you if you needed help? If you needed counseling?                       
No. No.                       
Never? Never expressed disapproval of any kind?                       
(The full transcript can be found at:

So, Sandusky sheds no new light whatsoever on Paterno's role in this epic tragedy, yet the Times chooses to lead its story with Paterno. What, were the other 3 hours and 57 minutes that unrevealing?

Sandusky is one of the most sickening, confounding, flagrant, mortifying and notorious accused criminals of our time. Millions are shocked and dumbfounded by the sheer volume and horror of the allegations against him. The Times speaks with him for four hours, an incredible opportunity to uncover, unlock, unveil, reveal and ... it leads with photocopied news about Joe Paterno.


Why would the Times do this?

Because the Times is more interested in supporting itself than anything else. What other conclusion is there?

The national media simply can't help itself from focusing on Paterno, or trying to justify its focus on Paterno, or justify its insistence that Paterno be fired (which of course he was). Despite the magnitude of Sandusky's alleged crimes.

The fact is, Paterno should have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation. The grand jury presentment provides a sliver of incomplete information re: Paterno. A potentially damning and explosive sliver, for sure, but a sliver nonetheless.

There is an incredible amount that is as yet unknown about this saga. There is an investigation, and of course possibly a trial for Sandusky upcoming. Far too much is unknown at this point to fire Paterno - the PSU Board of Trustees canceled Paterno's press conference and never spoke with him before firing him -  but enough is known to place him on leave pending the investigation.

Nonetheless, supporting its conclusions about Paterno is only part of the Times' rationale for focusing on Paterno. As importantly, the Times knows Paterno's name gets eyeballs, gets pageviews, gets attention.

(Curiously, the Times also seems to think that if Sandusky says something to someone else besides the Times - in this case Costas -  he didn't actually say it.)

So, instead of journalistic prudence, instead of focusing on how Sandusky managed to get away with the widespread allegations against him, instead of burrowing for hours into the seemingly inconceivable - how such such monstrous behavior could occur so often over such a long period of time with so many individuals so close to Sandusky either unknowing, unwilling or unable to prevent it - instead of zeroing in on "how could this have happened?", the Times opted to recycle Sandusky's comments about Paterno, which were virtually identical to his comments to Costas.

How sad - for us. The media is supposed to be the watchdog. Instead, it's your neighbor's annoying little barking fur ball, yelping the same screechy yelp, over and over.

Yes, of course there was much more to the Times' story. They did actually move beyond Paterno. There was some insight into Sandusky's charity, The Second Mile, permitting his continued access to kids for years even after it was informed in 2002 of the molestation allegation against Sandusky by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary.

But there wasn't much more. And it was all buried beneath PATERNO. Just like everything seems to be.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Fab 44 of Penn State Football 2011

PSU's best players and coaches this season, ranked in order, after the Lions compiled a 9-3 overall record, 6-2 in the Big Ten, and played the final three regular season games immersed in the greatest scandal in school history

The Fab 44 for 2011
  1. Tom Bradley, DC/Head Coach - Perhaps his best season yet in his 12th as a coordinator, comparing favorably to 2005, 2008 and 2004. But much more than just good PSU defensive play was the steady hand Bradley provided in the most difficult of circumstances when asked to replace Joe Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Despite the blowout finale at Wisconsin, Bradley gets Penn State football's top honor for 2011 from RFBS.
  2. Devon Still, DT, Sr. - For PSU to succeed, he had to play every snap like a beast. He did. Rarely taking a breather, Still consistently made big plays, including 17 tackles for loss, Still has earned all of the honors coming his way, such as Big Ten defensive lineman of the year, the fifth Nittany Lion to do so (Courtney Brown 1999, Jimmy Kennedy 2002, Tamba Hali 2005, Jared Odrick 2009), and conference defensive player of the year. Should be picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
  3. Ron Vanderlinden, LB Coach - Since about 2004, there have been no better collection of LBs in college football than Penn State's. And Vanderlinden, in his 11th season at PSU, is as much the reason for that as anyone. Emerging star Michael Mauti injured his knee early on, and PSU barely flinched, plugging in Nate Stupar and continuing to excel.
  4. Larry Johnson, DL Coach - And the beat goes on, Part II. Like Vanderlinden, since about 2002 there have been few if any DLs in America than can match PSU. And Johnson, in his 15th season at PSU and 11th as defensive line coach, is as much the reason for that as anyone. 
  5. Gerald Hodges, LB, Jr. - When Mauti went down in Game 4, Hodges, a true junior who was injured much of his sophomore year, stepped it up, emerging as a complete 'backer, big-play maker  and occasional pass-rush specialist. He joined Still as PSU's lone first-team All-Big Ten selection, leading the Lions with 97 tackles.
  6. Silas Redd, RB, So. - As the season went along and the passing game regressed, Redd kept adding more and more responsibility. He responded in a big way - until an injury Nov. 12 vs. Nebraska slowed him for two weeks - leading the nation in rushing in October. Chosen second-team All-Big Ten, Redd finished with 1,188 rushing yards, a 5.2 avg and 7 TDs. Barring injury, he should challenge PSU's all-time rushing mark before he is finished.
  7. Jack Crawford, DE, Sr. - Once upon a time he was considered a prime candidate to be the next great PSU defensive lineman. It never quite materialzed, but Crawford was a rock this season and should be a mid-round NFL draft pick due to his size/speed/toughness combination. Led PSU with 6.5 sacks and led the DLs with 5 passes defensed.
  8. Derek Moye, WR, Sr. - He missed almost three games due to a freak foot injury, but his gutty return for the final drive vs. Illinois was one of the highlights of the season, and it's not his fault the QBs were lame. With good health and QB play, Moye (40 receptions) would have been first-team all-conference. He departs third all-time at PSU in receiving yards (2,395), fourth in receiving TDs (18) and fifth in receptions (144), and like Crawford figures to be a mid-round NFL draft pick.
  9. Jordan Hill, NT, Jr. - The always-hustling overachiever just keeps getting better. Like Still, he rarely took a breather due to lack of quality depth at DT, yet he continued to make plays into the fourth quarter, notching 58 tackles, 8 for loss, and 3 fumble recoveries - great numbers for a nose tackle.
  10. Anthony Fera, K/P, So. - Started the season in Paterno's doghouse and on the bench, then pounded too many punts into the end zone. But he was very good on field goals (14-17), good on kickoffs (10 touchbacks) and his punting improved late in the year, stabilizing PSU's special teams.
  11. Chaz Powell, CB/KR, Sr. - His excellence on kickoff returns gave him an edge among the quartet of senior DBs in these ratings. He could play in the NFL if he can settle on a position at the next level (offense? slot receiver? nickel back/special teams gunner?) and devote himself to special teams.
  12. Joe Paterno, former Head Coach - Penn State's internal investigation of the Sandusky scandal, and the trial, obviously will dramatically alter Paterno's perception and legacy. We'll see how much. As far as his coaching this season goes, JoePa needs to get some credit for the close wins and strong defense and some blame for the offensive regression.
  13. Drew Astorino, SS, Sr. - In the playing rotation since his redshirt freshman season, the once lightly-regarded recruit had the best season of his career, finishing second in tackles with 77, with 5 for loss and 7 passes defensed. His size/speed combo makes him an NFL longshot.
  14. Nate Stupar, LB, Sr. - Stupar figured to be the hard-luck story of the year, a productive veteran supplanted in the starting lineup when Mauti moved from MLB to OLB in the preseason. Then Mauti got hurt, Stupar stepped in and was superb the rest of the way, finishing fourth with 68 tackles. Like LB predecessors Tim Shaw and Josh Hull, Stupar could stick in the NFL and might be a late-round draft pick.
  15. John Thomas, Strength/Conditioning Coach - In his 20th season at PSU, Thomas must be credited for the extraordinary performance in the second half of games by the Lions defense this season.
  16. Nick Sukay, FS, Sr. - Had a good season and made a lot of big plays, but also seemed to just miss on some other critical opportunities and occasionally struggled tackling (he's now featured on Montee Ball's highlight reel). Sukay also could possibly get a look from the pros if he's dedicated to playing special teams and his 2010 injury continues doesn't red-flag him with NFL teams.
  17. Johnnie Troutman, LG, Sr. - A bull in the trenches, Troutman was good at pulling or plowing on run plays and was stout against the pass. Like Powell, Sukay, Stupar and a few other PSU seniors, he has just enough ability to play in the NFL if he can stay healthy and is fully committed.
  18. Justin Brown, WR/PR, Jr. - Despite improvement each season, Brown, a true junior, still seems to be not quite fulfilling his potential. Came very close to making several great catches, made a few of them, but looks a bit overweight for a WR and misses some makable plays for someone with his ability. Finished second to Moye with 34 receptions for 448 yards.
  19. Chima Okoli, RT, Sr. - PSU quarterbacks were sacked just 12 times, least in the Big Ten, and Okoli was one of the primary reasons. He played DL for a few years before settling in at RT last season, and this season earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.
  20. Quinn Barham, LT, Sr. - Had played relatively little prior to this season (13 starts) for a senior captain starting at an important position, and by and large he came through for the Lions. Bookend tackles Barham and Okoli won't be confused with Levi Brown, but they were solid. 
  21. Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney, OL/TE Coaches - The offensive line was loaded with fifth-year seniors, but it wasn't overly experienced or talented. Nonetheless, Anderson (centers/guards, 34th season at PSU) and Kenney (tackles/TEs, 24th season) molded them into a quintessentially solid-but-unspectacular unit (of note is that the TEs were well below average this season). Redd's 5.2 per carry average and the low sack total are excellent measures for the OL.
    1. D'Anton Lynn, CB, Sr. - Injured in a midseason collision, Lynn missed a couple of games, and he came up with few big plays (the Nebraska game was not a good one for him). But Lynn was reliable most of this season and in his four seasons in the lineup. He's one of many seniors on the bubble re: the NFL, where he might play safety and special teams. 
    2. Sean Stanley, DE, Jr. - With the graduation of Crawford and Eric Latimore, Stanley will be counted on even more next season. Though a bit undersized (6-1, 245), he notched 4.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2011 - and could pair with returning-from-injury Pete Massaro and redshirt freshman Deion Barnes, among others, in a nice DE rotation in 2012.
    3. Glenn Carson, MLB, So. - Named a surprise starter just before the season, Carson proved his back injury was a thing of the past and that he is a capable Big Ten-caliber LB. He'll need to take it up a notch next season as fellow sophomore Khairi Fortt and others are pushing for playing time.
    4. De'Onte Pannell, RG, Sr. - Had some bad moments, but overall was decent. He fended off John Urschel to remain the starter throughout the season and put a generally good finish on a very uneven career.
    5. Matt Stankiewitch, C, Jr. - The nondescript offensive line steadily improved as the season went along, as did Stankiewitch. He will be counted on next season to lead a revamped unit as the lone returning starter.
    6. Joe Suhey, FB, Sr. - Ultimately it was a disappointing season for the talented Suhey. He battled injuries at midseason and was underused otherwise, his excellent receiving and surprising rushing skills rarely on display. He also split time with Michael Zordich in PSU's "legacy" FB tandem. Suhey should get a chance to make an NFL roster as a FB, H-Back and special teams player. 
    7. Stephfon Green, RB, Sr. - Green capped a bizarre season and career with a blaze of glory in the final few games. Booted off the team for several months, Green was granted a reprieve during training camp after the seniors pleaded with Paterno for his reinstatement. He scarcely touched the field the first half of the season but finished with 203 rushing yards and 5 TDs. His special teams prowess and third-down back potential should get him a free agency opportunity in the NFL.
    8. Matt McGloin, QB, Jr. - Provided leadership during the Sandusky crisis and handled the two-quearterback situation much better than Rob Bolden, earning the starting job the final few games. Nonetheless, if/when the new coaching staff comes in McGloin, due to mediocre performance, will be tossed back into the pool of QB candidates for 2012, along with Paul Jones, possibly Bolden (who seems likely to transfer) and likely incoming recruit Skyler Mornhinweg.
    9. Kermit Buggs, Safeties Coach - PSU safeties Sukay, Astorino and Malcolm Willis played both the pass and the run well throughout 2011, aside from the Wisconsin game (which could be said about many PSU players). Buggs is in his ninth year on the staff and fourth working with the safeties.
    10. Michael Mauti, LB, Jr. - Was off to a sensational start before tearing an ACL for the second time in his career early in the fourth game of the season. Has the total package of LB skills and looked like the successor to Posluszny, Connor, Lee, Bowman, etc. The questions now are if he can get back up to speed, and if he can remain healthy.
    11. Eric Latimore, DE, Sr. - An occasional starter throughout his career, Latimore was always hustling, if not always producing. Continued the pipeline from Delaware (Devon Still, Justin Brown) to PSU. His size (6-6, 275) and effort will get him an NFL look.
    12. Devon Smith, WR/KR, Jr. - Bad hands, diminutive stature and bad instincts (impossible to believe he didn't block the Wisconin DB who made the tackle on Stephfon Green's 89-yard run that was called back vs. Wisconsin) offset Smith's blazing speed and grit. Third-leading receiver with 23 catches for 353 yards and 2 TDs.
    13. Khairi Fortt, LB, So. - Saw significant action as Carson's backup, and it will be hard to keep Fortt from getting more playing time in 2012. Shows good instincts and speed and should be in the Top 20 on this list the next two seasons, if not higher.
    14. Malcolm Willis, DB, So. - With the four senior DB starters departing, Willis will anchor the secondary next season, and like Fortt should be a defensive pillar the next two seasons. He should be up to the task after stepping in adequately for an injured Sukay in 2010, and playing effectively in some nickel and dime packages this season.
    15. Michael Zordich, FB, Jr. - If not for a late-season "hands of stone" display, Zordich would be much higher. The fiery blocker dropped a few passes and fumbled a kickoff, costly errors. With Suhey graduating, Zordich will need to improve his ball skills for next season.
    16. Adrian Amos, CB/KR, Fr. - The true freshman was a revelation in limited duty in the secondary and as a kickoff returner. When Lynn and Stephon Morris both were injured, Amos stepped in at CB like a veteran. Should start at CB or safety next season and vault up this list. He's a gamer.
    17. Stephon Morris, CB, Jr. - Small (5-foot-8) speed merchant played better this season in limited action than the past two seasons when he started 10 games. A prime contender to regain his starting CB role in 2012, Morris had five passes defensed.
    18. Curtis Dukes, RB, So. - A big back (237 pounds) with good speed, Dukes had a nice stretch as Silas Redd's backup then fell off the map, allowing Stephfon Green to shine in the final few games of his career. Dukes was second in rushing yards with 237 and a robust 5.8 avg.
    19. Galen Hall, Offensive Coordinator/RB Coach - Though the play-calling was poor much of the season and the offense was mediocre at best overall, Hall must be given some credit for the sterling performance this season by RB Silas Redd.
    20. Curtis Drake and Shawney Kersey, WRs, So. - Both are spectacularly underutilized, combining for just 10 catches for an eye-popping 21 yards per catch. In Drake's case his recuperated broken leg apparently had lingering issues, but he's a playmaker when healthy as demonstrated the final two games when he played some option QB. Kersey, for unknown reasons, receives scant playing time. 
    21. Jay Paterno and Mike McQueary, QB and WR Coach (respectively) - Had to be one of the toughest seasons ever for JayPa, with Rob Bolden's regression and the Jerry Sandusky scandal resulting in the firing of his father. McQueary's ascending career was derailed by his grand jury testimony and subsequent administrative leave, putting his future in the profession in doubt.
    22. Brandon Beachum, RB, Jr. - Never quite seemed fully recovered from an ACL injury, though at times he was the No. 2 RB and short-yardage specialist before a hamstring injury slowed him. Sadly, late in the final game at Wisconsin he broke his leg. Apparently he might not return for his final season of eligibility. Was fourth with 137 rushing yards.
    23. Rob Bolden, QB, So. - Whatever happened to the skinny kid with the textbook release who started at QB from Day 1 of his true freshman season in 2010 after just a few weeks on campus? Hopefully we see him again someday. Bolden 2.0 was a case study in lost confidence.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Must-Do List for Search Committee: Expeditiousness and Vetting

    Newly named PSU football coach search committee must be both swift and sure. Don't let the search drag on for weeks, and make sure the background checks are as thorough as possible

    The one thing that can cause the impending announcement of Penn State's new football coach to blow up in PSU's face is if something unsavory about the new coach comes out though the media.

    Vetting, that popular word come election time - it's frequently used to describe presidential candidates searching for a VP - is of the utmost importance. PSU is scrambling to its feet right now and can't afford another knockdown.

    After the concussive blows to the school's image absorbed during the Jerry Sandusky scandal - the staggering sexual abuse charges, the initially inept response from the school, the barrage of negative media coverage, etc. - PSU is beginning to get its footing again.

    To take the next step, Penn State has to find the right successor to Joe Paterno. And the six-member search committee, formed this week by PSU president Rodney Erickson and headed by acting athletic director Dave Joyner, has to make sure the committee knows more about the finalists than the candidates themselves.

    Anything less will make it seem like PSU didn't do its homework, didn't fully perform its duty. Anything less will leave PSU open to possible embarrassment it simply can't afford right now.

    For example, a few years back Notre Dame had to fire George O'Leary just a few days after he had been named head football coach because it was discovered he had embellished his resume.

    If a PSU coach candidate got a DUI in college, the committee needs to know about it. If he was tossed out of study hall in high school, the committee needs to know. If he kissed Suzie McGillicuddy behind the bleachers in middle school ...

    You get the point. Which is why Tom Bradley, deserving as though he may be, can't be the next coach. It's not necessarily because he is so connected to Paterno or Sandusky. Because Bradley was immersed in PSU football for the past three-plus decades, as the investigation moves forward Bradley's name might turn up in some context. For example, completely hypothetically speaking, maybe video surveillance will reveal Bradley was the last person to leave the Lasch Building on that fateful night in 2002 when Mike McQueary stumbled upon Sandusky assaulting a boy.

    Regardless of whether Bradley is absolved of any wrongdoing whatsoever, it's too late: the damage will have been done by simply having his name mentioned in any way in relation to the scandal.

    So the vetting process is paramount, as important as finding the right guy.

    It's also important to be expeditious. It shouldn't take more than 15-20 days to identify a few excellent candidates, evaluate and background check each of them, choose one, and make an announcement.

    If this drags on past Christmas, something is wrong. It will look like Penn State doesn't know what it is doing. The PSU community, media, public and those associated with the football team - such as the players and recruits who need to know who the next coach will be - all are eager to get the new head coach on board.

    This isn't to suggest that the committee should rush through such an important task. But this is their task, and they need to be working on it all day, every day. And as such, it simply shouldn't take more than three weeks.

    Hopefully PSU is ready to make the financial commitment necessary. Urban Meyer just cost Ohio State $4 million annually. Penn State should be willing to part with at least half that.

    Who is that best candidate? As has been written here before, the new coach must have a lot of positive characteristics:

    The equanimity to gracefully cope with everything that comes his way. The perspective to always do the right thing. The patience to deal with the perpetual scandal lurking in the background, possibly for years. The focus to not let it impede success. The energy to make a full commitment and to recruit relentlessly. The connections and pull to compile a stellar coaching staff. The confidence and clout to follow a legend (albeit a suddenly greatly diminished one). The experience to be at his peak professionally. The persona to deal with the media, boosters, public, former players and student body in an engaging manner. The skill to produce a team that consistently contends for the Big Ten title and puts 100,000-plus in the stands week after week.

    Someone like the Joe Paterno we knew for 46 years.

    The long-awaited next era in Penn State football begins now.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    It's open season on Joe Paterno. Take aim. (posted 11.28.11)

    It's open season on JoePa, and the media is encouraging anyone/everyone to fire away
    The former icon with an incredibly long track record of high character is now the target of widespread attempts to demean him in the wake of the horrific Jerry Sandusky scandal

    It's open season on Joe Paterno:
    • A graduate assistant for a season or two in the mid-late 1980s goes on a prominent New York radio show and says Joe Paterno knew everything about everything at PSU and thus had to know about Sandusky. And JoePa was racist and didn't want a black quarterback (despite having no fewer than five black starting QBs at PSU). And Paterno got upset when his players' class schedules conflicted with practice (as does every coach; student-athlete class schedules always are arranged around practices as much as is possible). And on and on. And Sports Illustrated now is using this ex-graduate assistant as a primary source of insight into the "true" Joe Paterno. (A modest estimate: about 20,000 people know Paterno better than this guy - were none of them available?)
    • A former Penn State VP says she and JoePa clashed in matters relating to discipline/punishment for football players in the mid-2000s (as does every major college football coach with student discipline administrators), and that ultimately she lost her job a few years ago because of it (this story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal!). She characterized Paterno as desiring to be extra lenient on players (despite 46 years of much-documented evidence primarily to the contrary).
    • A former Daily Collegian writer says Paterno was not accommodating to the media when he was at PSU and basically doesn't like Paterno because of that, and for a few other reasons, and you shouldn't either. Oh, and the former student writer is not sure if Penn State did anything special to help a troubled ex-PSU football player who committed a murder in State College in 2005. (But he doesn't seem to know that they didn't help, either. Or that they had any indication of the depths of his troubles when he no longer was with the program.)
    Yes, this is what the scandal has wrought for Paterno: Decades of mostly excellent deeds flushed down the toilet seemingly overnight. And anyone who didn't like him for whatever reason is now, through the eager media, providing the new narrative of the "real" Paterno.

    Who could have imagined before this month someone such as longtime Syracuse basketball coach Jim Freakin' Boeheim high-roading Joe Paterno, and hardly anyone flinching? (At least not until a week later, when Boeheim started backpedaling at warp speed when the emerging scandal about Boeheim's longtime assistant Bernie Fine metastasized.)

    Never mind that the factual evidence against Paterno at this point, relating to the mind-numbing matter involving the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky, is mainly contained in one sentence. Specifically a few powerful words in that sentence, from the grand jury presentment, a presentment that brought 40 counts of child sex abuse charges against Sandusky, and perjury charges against PSU AD Tim Curley and PSU VP Gary Schultz.

    Paterno's total involvement is five sentences on pages 6-7 of the 23-page report. The most pertinent: "Paterno called Tim Curley, Penn State's Athletic Director and Paterno's immediate superior, to his home the very next day, a Sunday, and reported to him that the graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy."

    Anything else relating to Paterno's role, or possible role, in enabling Sandusky or covering up Sandusky's horrifying alleged acts is not based on known facts. It is conjecture, extrapolation, assumption, conspiracy and the like. It is based on what else everyone thinks he should have done with that information, even though no one knows what else he might have done, or might have known, or might have been told.

    It is based on one piece of information about a situation in which a staggering amount still is unknown.

    This isn't meant to be naive or defensive about Paterno: This looks really, really bad for JoePa. When the investigation is complete - and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later, and hopefully the true facts will emerge, and the guilty and not guilty and somewhat guilty will be discernible - there seems to be a good chance Paterno will have played a central role in, at the least, enabling Sandusky's acts of pedophilia. There's a heck of a lot of smoke here - in addition to the fact he knew at least something - to be in denial about that.

    As Paterno has said, obviously he should have done more. In time, we'll know how much more. Was Paterno orchestrating a cover-up? Or encouraging one behind the scenes? Or did he merely know enough that he clearly should have done much more? Or was he kept in the dark by others?

    Somewhere in there are the bigger truths, and other important facts. But we don't know. Not now, not yet.

    Nonetheless, a great many reasonable persons have, in their minds, 99.9 percent convicted Paterno of at least enabling Sandusky's acts, of moral culpability. Most have convicted him of far worse. Which is highly disappointing, considering the country in which we live, the small percentage of information we have, and the public scandals that have emerged in our lifetime that months or years years later turned out to have a very different truths than first thought (Exhibit A being the Duke lacrosse scandal).

    But that is how powerful the emotions are when it comes to crimes against humanity, crimes against children, like those alleged against Sandusky.

    And the media is feeding right into the whole thing. Because it's the way the wind blows right now. Instead of true examinations of how Sandusky could have perpetrated such repulsive acts for so long, we get random individuals with axes to grind against Paterno, as if what they say suddenly will make this entire situation all make sense. (So Paterno wanted control over punishment of his players? Well then, that perfectly explains how Sandusky's behavior could have happened.)

    Never mind that it all runs diametrically opposite of Paterno's reputation for six decades. Think about that: Paterno has lived in the public eye for 62 years, in the center of that eye for the last 46 - forty-six years as head coach of Penn State football! Yet his reputation was - while definitely not impeccable as he had some strong detractors - pretty exceptional, all things considered.

    One serial sicko (Sandusky) and one sentence with turbocharged words ("fondling" and "of a sexual nature to a young boy") and that's all been slaughtered. Like the tsunami that annihilated the Japanese coast earlier this year.

    Paterno has been fired (instead of placed on leave pending the investigation), publicly universally scorned, presumed guilty by extrapolation - by the power of being Joe Paterno - of enabling Sandusky's horrific crimes, and now is on the business end of a mass rewriting-of-Paterno-history campaign through the media.

    Based on what we know right now, that's all over the top. Too much, too soon. There will be plenty of time to do all of those things - and worse, if he is deserving of worse - to Paterno later, after the investigation, and/or after Sandusky's trial.

    Again, we're not reflexively defending of Almighty JoePa. When all the facts come out there is a good chance Paterno played some sort of a role. Did he think think he was protecting the school, or his legacy, or the football program, or Sandusky? Who knows. We'll see. Let's wait.

    Or perhaps he really didn't know much at all. Maybe others were leading a cover-up and keeping it away from Paterno. For all of his alleged dictatorial presiding over State College, Paterno has spent the past decade growing old, going from his mid-70s to his mid-80s. He has dialed back his activity severely. No booster tours, no off-campus recruiting, less time at work and in the office, etc. He's not the overlord of Happy Valley he might have been 20-30 years ago. He's no longer the guy who knows everything about everything. How could he be? He turns 85 in a few weeks.

    So why is this all happening? Many reasons.
    • First and foremost, everyone naturally is absolutely mortified by the allegations against Sandusky.
    • Second, people don't understand how it possibly could have happened, and happened so many times for so long, so they are looking to assess blame.
    • Third, Paterno, with his direct connection to Sandusky and longtime status as the King of State College, had to have known more and must be guilty of not doing anything about it.
    • Fourth, after such a lengthy career in such a powerful position, Paterno accumulated numerous detractors and some enemies. 
    • Fifth, he's the obvious target, as his enormous name recognition makes for an easy connection between the media and readers/viewers/listeners, and between people discussing the matter at the water cooler or barstool. Or at the Thanksgiving family gathering.
    For example, how much interest would you take in a news story with a headline "Schultz clashed with fellow administrator over student-athlete discipline?'' Or how engaged would you be in a discussion of Schultz's possible culpability in the Sandusky scandal - how long would that conversation last?

    But change the word "Schultz" to "Paterno," and you've multiplied interest a thousandfold.

    Maybe Schultz  - the only person at PSU known to have knowledge of both the 1998 and 2002 allegations against Sandusky at the time - and perhaps a small group of others conspired to keep it under wraps, thinking they were protecting the university at the expense of the lives of some children.

    It's a possibility.

    But the tsunami has engulfed Paterno because he is Paterno. And the media has declared open season on JoePa. Have a gripe? Air it here - we'll put you on the front page! People such as obscure, part-time, short-term coaches from 24 years ago are being propped up as insightful, true sources of information and character assessment (assassination?) about Paterno.

    Of course, it is perfectly fine to dislike Paterno for reasons entirely unrelated to the Sandusky scandal. Many anti-Paternoites surely have very valid reasons. As has been written in this space before, Paterno is a flawed person, like everyone. But it seems awfully sketchy for the media to be voicing these feelings now. Many of the comments they're trumping seem specious and misleading - stabs at Paterno that somehow are convoluted into reasons why the Sandusky scandal happened.

    Anything negative about Paterno is hot news, so JoePa's carcass keeps getting kicked around. Soon it will be unrecognizable. Eventually, almost everyone will move on.

    Then, at some point, the investigation will be completed, and/or the trial will commence, and this will all be big news again, at least for a time.

    By then, will it still matter to the masses, and the media, what conclusions are drawn about Paterno? And what if they're decidedly different than those that already have been made? Will anybody care then?

    Because that's when people should care the most. When we know all the facts. Right?

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    Penn State checklist for upset win at Wisconsin (posted 11.25.11)

    Penn State's checklist for an upset win at Wisconsin
    It'll take a complete effort from the Lions to win in Madison in the season finale and earn a berth in the Big Ten title game

    It's rare that two teams with the same record entering the final game of the season have a point spread of more than two touchdowns.

    But that's a testament to how awesome Wisconsin has been at home this season: Six games, six wins, closest win by 31 points (over Nebraska).

    Holy cow.

    The Badgers' QB, one-year rental Russell Wilson, leads the NCAA in pass efficiency. Their top RB, Montee Ball, less the NCAA in rushing touchdowns.

    So yes, the Wisconsin offense is amazing. Almost 53 points a game at home amazing.

    On defense, the Badgers have been stout at home, allowing 11 points a game. Their pass efficiency defense is among the best in the nation.

    So how can Penn State win? How can a team that has had consistently poor QB play and play-calling, and hasn't scored more than 23 points against anyone not named Indiana State, Eastern Michigan or Northwestern (and including Indiana - INDIANA!), defeat the Badgers tomorrow?

    Here's how -  the checklist of things PSU must do to win:

    • Keep Wilson in the pocket. He's an adept scrambler who makes big plays - many big plays - and stresses out the secondary when he escapes the pocket, which he does frequently. Defensive ends Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Sean Stanley, and OLBs Nate Stupar and Gerald Hodges, are charged with this critical task. 
    • Get the defense off the field/keep the offense on the field. The Wisconsin offensive line has bulldozed opponents in the second half, smeared them into the turf by pounding the running game play after play. The PSU defense must stay fresh.
    • Aggressive, confident play-calling. If you've paid any attention to this blog, you know all about this issue and the pleas to play-callers Galen Hall and Jay Paterno. For the first 20-25 minutes of the 20-14 win at Ohio State last week, they did it, they called plays with confidence in their players. They must do it for 60 minutes against Wisconsin.
    • And as a corollary to confident play-calling, improved red zone offense. Please-please-please-please-please, when in the red zone, use play-action rollouts to the TE or FB; high passes and/or lobs to tall receivers Derek Moye and Justin Brown; and quick-hit running plays up the middle. In that order. Please. NOTE: Better red zone defense wouldn't hurt either. As good as the PSU defense has been this season, it has been average in the red zone, against both the run and the pass.
    • Beware the gadget play. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, bristling at the two beatdowns Penn State has administered the last two meetings (by a combined 86-14 in 2007/2008), would love nothing more than to break PSU's back with a well-timed trick play on offense or special teams. The Lions must always be alert for it.
    • Big plays by big-time playmakers. Silas Redd, Derek Moye, Devon Still, Gerald Hodges - that quartet must be difference-makers on Saturday. The best players must come up big in the biggest games at the biggest moments.
    • Consistent little plays by everyone else. For the defensive line, stay in your lane, occupy blockers, create turnover opportunities and contain Wilson. Linebackers, get Ball (and the other RB James White) and Wilson on the ground and create turnover opportunities. Secondary, keep everything in front of you, look for turnover opportunities and tackle aggressively. O-line, keep grinding it out, pound-pound-pound, and pick up any stunts or blitzes. QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, make the plays that are there to be made, and protect the ball at all times.
    • PSU's special teams must outplay Wisconsin. That means no big plays allowed (no long returns, no blocked kicks, etc.), good directional punting and make all FGs inside 48 yards. This might be a relatively short bullet point on this long checklist, but it is as essential as any.
    • Stay the course, be who you are. Penn State has won this season with stellar defense and a good running game. Keep doing all of those things - and then do a little bit more, specifically with the play-calling and special teams.
    • Aggressively utilize, but don't force, the Wildcat/option offense. After unveiling it last week with much success, the sporadic use of Curtis Drake and Bill Belton at QB surely must be tried again by PSU. If it's not working (Wisconsin will be ready for it), don't continue to force it. But be sure to have a few new wrinkles to help it succeed. It should be effective again.
    • Do whatever it takes to keep it close. Michigan State and Ohio State kept it close vs. Wisconsin, and both won in the final minute (albeit both were road games for the Badgers). If it's less than a 7-point game entering the fourth quarter, advantage PSU. The Lions have played close games many times this season, and the only one they didn't win was Nebraska, which was the first post-Sandusky tsunami game when the team was in the midst of an extraordinarily emotionally draining experience.
    • Turnovers. Force them, and don't commit them. Simple as that. In PSU's two losses this season, Alabama and Nebraska played virtually flawless games, as close as possible to perfect execution. The only flub by either came when Still busted through the line to disrupt a Nebraska handoff and force a turnover. If Wisconsin happens to be having one of those nights when it is locked in on offense, then the big-play makers - Still, Hodges, or anyone who has the opportunity - must make it happen. Strip the ball from behind, tip a pass to a teammate - whatever it takes.  

    So there you have it. Follow that checklist, and Penn State will pull off the upset tomorrow at Wisconsin.

    Of course, it's not that simple. But everything on the checklist is attainable, and accomplishing most of the items could be enough to win.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    Penn State gives itself a puncher's chance (posted 11.20.11)

    Penn State gives itself a puncher's chance at Big Ten title with 20-14 win at Ohio State
    The Nittany Lions now have to win on the road against the league's best team, Wisconsin, to reach the inaugural Big Ten title game

    Jay Paterno had a clever response when asked what he thought of the Big Ten removing his father's name from the league championship trophy.

    We'll just have to put it back on there, JayPa said. Win the title, grab the trophy and affix a Post-it note with Joe Paterno's name on it.

    The Lions have a chance to do that.

    Technically, Penn State (9-2, 6-1) didn't need to win Saturday at Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) to achieve that goal. Because Wisconsin had defeated Illinois earlier in the day, it meant that win or lose in the Horseshoe, PSU still needed a win next week in Madison to capture the Leaders Division.

    But psychologically the Lions absolutely, positively had to win.

    Their world had spiraled into the deepest depths of despair: The emotional wringer of the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The confusion and shock of Joe Paterno's firing. The surreal Senior Day scene and wrenching narrow loss to Nebraska. And the news late last week that the 84-year-old Paterno has lung cancer. All while the Sandusky saga continues to be front-page news nationally.

    Another loss, to Ohio State, and the Lions would have caved. For good.

    Instead they summoned a steely resolve to salvage the season.

    Behind interim coach Tom Bradley, Penn State defeated the Buckeyes 20-14 with a combination of first-half offensive gumption (not second half, more on that later) and a typically awesome second-half defensive effort - a shutout - to give themselves the tempering necessary to have a chance at Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2).

    Feeling good about themselves again - though OSU had struggled the season, their lone home loss was 10-7 to Michigan State - a hardened Lions squad now has a puncher's chance against the Badgers, who have been absolutely spectacular at home this season.

    Wisconsin's closest home game thus far is a 31-point thrashing of Nebraska. Yikes. The line opened with PSU a 15-point underdog.


    There's also this huge booster shot: With the upset win - the Lions were a 7-point underdog and had won only once in nine Big Ten trips to Columbus - Penn State played its way out of the 8th and final Big Ten bowl affiliation, the bottom-of-the-barrel Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, and opened up much better possibilities.

    By getting their ninth win, the Lions ensured that all of the seven-win teams in the Big Ten won't be able to leapfrog them in the Big Ten's bowl selection process.

    (Due to PSU's post-Sandusky scandal stature, any bowl that can bypass selecting Penn State is likely to do so, because almighty sponsors want nothing to do with the toxic school.)

    As it stands right now, any conference teams with eight wins or more could be selected ahead of PSU for a bowl, and there will be only five such teams at most, and possibly four.

    So if PSU loses to Wisconsin, the Lions likely could end up playing a Big 12 team in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (Houston, Big Ten bowl No. 6), or an SEC team in the Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Big Ten No. 5)

    Beats the heck out of the pizza bowl in Detroit vs. a Mid-American Conference opponent.

    If PSU defeats Wisconsin (to get to 10 wins) but loses to Michigan State, then the Insight Bowl (Tempe, Big Ten No. 4) also is in play, vs. a Big 12 team. And if the Big Ten squeezes a second team into a BCS bowl - college football savant Phil Steele is projecting Michigan to get an at-large BCS bid -  then PSU moves up another notch.

    UPDATE: Oops, RFBS was relying on outdated information re: the aforementioned bowl scenarios. The rule about a team needing to be within one win of another eligible team in order to be selected for a given bowl only applies to the Capital One and Outback Bowls. The remaining Big Ten affiliated bowls - Insight, Gator, Meineke Care Care, Ticket City and Little Caesers Pizza Bowl - all can select any bowl-eligible Big Ten team. Which means that if Penn State doesn't reach the Big Ten title game, it very well could get shuffled well down the pecking order, below 7-5 and even 6-6 teams, despite a 9-3 record. Remember, it's not about who deserves what, it's about sponsors, revenue (ticket sales and TV ratings) and perception.

    Of course if the Lions defeat Wisconsin and Michigan State to win the Big Ten crown they would receive the coveted Rose Bowl bid.


    How did Penn State beat Ohio State?
    • Excellent special teams, specifically much-improved field-position punting, which had been atrocious this season. 
    • Typical stellar second-half defense. Senior DE Jack Crawford, who has gone from overrated to underrated in the past year-plus, was superb.
    • And by attacking on offense, calling plays with confidence in the skill players, unlike at any time this season, for almost the entire first half.
    Yes, they actually did it. As per an open-letter plea from RFBS before the game, Jay Paterno and Galen Hall attacked the Ohio State defense with confident play-calling, the first time against a BCS foe for an extended period that PSU has not played ultra-conservatively and predictably.

    They mixed up the play calls. They used quick-set passes and play-action rollouts to minimize QB Matt McGloin's weaknesses. They went up-tempo. They incorporated a new twist with the Wildcat/option featuring Curtis Drake and Bill Belton, and used it liberally throughout the game. They mixed up the running plays and the running backs.

    They actually tried to maximize their chances of moving the ball, which PSU hasn't done all season. And the results were stunning: A Penn State team that averaged less than 9 points in its previous nine trips to Columbus, and scored 16 or fewer points five times in 2011 (think about those factoids for a minute, let them simmer in the juices of ineptitude) rang up 20 points and 254 yards in the first half alone.

    At Ohio State. It was unprecedented.

    Then, pffft - the air came out of the ball. In the middle of the second quarter, McGloin threw a bad pass that ricocheted off a receiver and/or fast-closing defender and was picked off. Ohio State then scored a touchdown to cut it to 17-14.

    And that was it: JayPa and Hall packed up the offense and went home. They completely stopped attacking. And the results were stunning in the opposite direction - zero points and 73 yards after intermission.

    The classic OSU goal-line stand in the third quarter was a case study in lack of imagination and vintage 2011 PSU football. It kept the score at 20-14, and kept things hairy the rest of the game against a Buckeyes squad uplifted by star WR DeVier Posey playing for the first time this season.

    But as usual, the PSU defense came through.

    That won't happen next week. Wisconsin's offense is much, much better than Ohio State's. It won't falter if given so many opportunities.

    QB Russell Wilson leads the nation in pass efficiency. RB Montee Ball leads the nation in touchdowns. That's an incredible 1-2 offensive punch. Enough said.


    Let your hands go.

    That's what boxing trainer's say when their fighter is being too cautious, not punching enough. Or when things are getting desperate, when their fighter needs to get his opponent to back off, needs to make his opponent respect him.

    Let your hands go! Throw punches, throw combinations, take the offensive.

    Let your hands go. Let your hands go!

    It's exactly what PSU needs to do on offense against Wisconsin. And not for 25 minutes, as the Lions did so well against Ohio State. But for all 60 minutes.

    Wisconsin's offense is far too good, far too balanced, far too powerful late in the game, to ask the PSU defense to thwart them time and again in the second half, as the Lions D has done all season.

    The way to win is to make them respect what you can do on offense. Score some points, and keep your defense off the field.

    Make them uncertain. Put them on their heels. Make them reconsider their defensive calls. Their personnel, their formations.

    Give them pause.

    Wisconsin's defense is good, not great. On Senior Day in Madison with the Big Ten title game berth on the line, the Badgers defense will crank it up to very good. But it's not great, just good.

    If Penn State does exactly what it did against Ohio State, but does it for the entire game, the Lions can win.

    The onus is on JayPa and Hall. They must call plays with confidence. They can't sit on a lead, or feel comfortable if PSU is within seven. They can't take their foot off the throttle, or momentum will be lost, possibly for good.

    They need to let their hands go. And keep firing away, with lefts and rights, over and over.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    An Open Letter to the Penn State Play-Callers (posted 11.18.11)

    An Open Letter (Plea?) to Penn State Play-Callers Jay Paterno and Galen Hall
    Please give your players a chance to succeed, and win

    Jay, you were here in 2001 so of course you remember. Perhaps you can share this with Galen, who was busy earning XFL coach of the year honors that season.

    Early in that 2001 season, in the midst of Year 2 of the five-year Dark Era in Penn State football (2002 excepted), the Lions were playing terrible football.

    After decades of excellence, PSU suddenly looked soft on defense and discombobulated on offense. The Lions started 0-4 in 2001. And three of the four losses were beat downs.

    After one of the disastrous early 2001 games, an 18-6 home loss to a Wisconsin team that would finish 5-7, your father, Joe Paterno, declared the PSU offense had "played like a bunch of scared rabbits.''

    Fast forward a decade to 2011: This season, the Penn State offensive play-calling has felt like the product of a bunch of scared rabbits.

    The play-calling - the shared domain of you two - shows no confidence in the quarterback(s), who in turn play with even less confidence, and in turn cause the play-calling to have even less confidence ... and before you know it, it looks like PSU is playing 11-on-15, and all 15 defenders are either Darrelle Revis or Ray Lewis.

    Fear and confidence. Call plays with confidence. It's the key to success.

    The opposite is the key to failure. And Penn State ranks ahead of only putrid Minnesota in scoring in the Big Ten.

    Against Illinois before the bye week, and last week for 2.5 quarters against Nebraska, PSU reached new lows. The offense was staggeringly inept. This despite the individual brilliance of RB Silas Redd (before apparently injuring his shoulder vs. Nebraska) and an improved offensive line.

    Why? Play-calling. Specifically, no confidence play-calling.

    Fortunately for Penn State, the inept offense still has been good enough to win 8 of 10 games because PSU has committed few turnovers and has a superlative defense.

    But the Lions will lose at Ohio State on Saturday and at Wisconsin next week if the offensive mindset and play-calling approach doesn't change.

    Change to what?
    • First and foremost, more play-action passes and more moving pockets.
    • Which means fewer straight dropbacks - QB Matt McGloin is too small and feeble-armed to regularly succeed on straight dropback passes. Work around McGloin's limitations.
    • More even distribution of passes to all four levels - behind the line, short, medium and long.
    • More aggressive and varied calls on 2nd-and-long. Routine running plays on 2nd-and-10 have become so routine that everyone knows they are coming. EVERYONE. How about play-action with short (FB), medium (TE) and long (WR) options?
    • More variety in the running game and running plays. Bring back barreling Curtis Dukes and again use Stephfon Green for a few carries each, to provide a change of pace and rest for the nicked-up Redd. More of FB Joe Suhey's pass catching and running, and FB Mike Zordich's blocking and short-yardage.
    • Utilize WRs Shawney Kersey and Curtis Drake more, in addition to big targets Derek Moye and Justin Brown.
    • Try two or three open-field plays a game for miniature blur Devon Smith (crossing routes, deep routes) - and no more.
    • Use at least one well-rehearsed, well-timed gadget play, such as the pass from Drake to McGloin against Nebraska, which led to a touchdown. Maybe a hook-and-lateral to Smith or Kersey. Maybe a RB pass to a TE. Time it right, execute it right, and it will succeed.
    • Perhaps runs a few plays with Drake, a high school QB, in the Wildcat formation. And if you run such plays at least three times, be sure to throw a pass at least once.
    • Lobs to Moye and Brown, play-action to TEs and runs up the middle in the red zone. Please.
    • We repeat: In the red zone, high passes to Moye and Brown, play-action to TEs (or FBs, or anyone), and runs between the tackles with a FB blocking. Please.
    • Screens only after the offense has had success in other areas. Defenses are sniffing them out.

    Remember the rhythm, balance and energy the offense had after it fell behind 17-0 to Nebraska? That it had on the final drive vs. Illinois? That's the mindset that must be captured and maintained from the outset.

    Why wait until you must score points to try to score points?

    This isn't suggesting PSU get reckless, or not play relatively conservatively. An offense can incorporate all of the aforementioned suggestions and improve significantly while not appreciably improving its turnover rate.

    It starts with the play-calling. Give the players a chance. Show them your confidence. Because the status quo will fail.

    It's amazing what Penn State's play-callers have done for the offense when acting with confidence, when playing like poker pro raising pre-flop from the big blind.
    • In 2005, when they developed confidence in Michael Robinson, PSU was consistently good all season.
    • In 2008, with Darryl Clark at the helm, PSU was sensational almost all season.
    Which came first, the confidence in Robinson, or Robinson's confidence? Clark's confidence, or confidence in Clark?

    Words only do so much. Action resonates, and play-calling is the action of the offensive coaches.

    Back to 2001 for a moment, to the awful 0-4 start, the offensive misery. (Not to mention the nation was reeling from the tragic events of 9/11.)

    What happened? Penn State won five of its next six games. Why? Zack Mills took over full-time at QB, and the play-calling dramatically improved. It suddenly had confidence.

    PSU had averaged 8 points in its first four games; it averaged 34 in its next six.

    Jay and Galen, in the spirit of 2001, please give your players a chance.