Sigh. What? Argh! Whew.
That is just a partial, PG-rated sampling of the four-letter utterances from the mouths of PSU supporters during yesterday's game at Temple, a 14-10 why-must-this-team-drag-me-through-the-wringer-at least-they-won squeaker in Philadelphia.
With Penn State unranked following the loss to Alabama and off the national radar for the time being, a trip to Temple for the Lions wasn't supposed to be a part of ESPN's "Road Test" weekend. Nonetheless, with the Noon kickoff airing on ESPN, it was the first down-to-the-wire finish of the day.
IT WASN'T ALL BAD!: (1) PSU won - somehow - and overcame the huge letdown from last week and a determined Temple effort. (2) The defense was good in the first half and great in the second, when it had to be, stifling Temple and forcing turnovers. This could be the Big Ten's best defense (who's better?). As is often the case with the PSU defense, junior LB Michael Mauti was the best player (and toughest: Mauti had his clock cleaned on a blind side block early in the second half and returned to make big plays). But the guy who took it to another level this week was junior DE Sean Stanley, who is the team's best pass rusher and now part of an effective three-man rotation at DE with seniors Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore.
NOT THIS TIME: Temple had been 15-0 in games in which standout junior RB Bernard Pierce had at least 15 carries. Make that 15-1, as PSU limited him to 50 yards on 17 carries.
INVERTED GOOD NEWS: How often does a team have a FG blocked and a punt blocked (when Johnnie Troutman declined to block the Temple defender dashing by him for the block), have two other missed FGs, and win the game? Sadly, the special teams woes continue in numerous facets.
MAN ON THE SPOT: It might not be much of an exaggeration to say the season hung in the balance as the fumbled snap lay amongst the masses at the line of scrimmage near the Temple goal line late in the fourth quarter. It appeared alert fullback Michael Zordich was The Savior, diving into the fray and wresting possession of the ball. Sure, PSU converted two fourth downs on the game-winning drive, and Zordich capped it with the short TD run. But the fumble recovery was as big as any play in the game. If Zordich doesn't get that football, all the big plays by the defense and the fourth-down conversions are for naught.
THIS IS NOT YOUR FATHER'S TEMPLE FOOTBALL: Or grandfather's. Or great-grandfather's. This is a solid, decent squad. It is probably the 45-50th best team in the nation, something like that, which compares favorably with some Big Ten teams on PSU's schedule such as Indiana and Purdue. The Lions had to scratch and claw to keep the 70-year unbeaten streak vs. the Owls intact.
TWENTY-EIGHT SECONDS: That's how much time Penn State lost at the end of the first half due to indecisiveness, or miscommunication, or whatever, before calling a timeout prior to a Temple FG attempt. It meant that PSU ultimately had 32 seconds, instead of one minute, to try to score before the half, which is a huge difference (PSU ended up with a 49-yard FG attempt, which was blocked.) Coupled with last week's opening-possession timeout debacle, and the general offensive ineptitude through three games, those lost 28 seconds symbolize the current frustrations with the offensive coaches. With Joe Paterno not on the sideline while recuperating from injury, Mike McQueary looks like the lone ranger among offensive coaches on the sideline. Understandably, he appears overwhelmed, trying to juggle his headset communications with interactions with the players. As long as JoePa is not on the sideline, then either Jay Paterno or Galen Hall needs to leave the coaches box and join the overburdened McQueary on the field, because the pathetic offensive situation needs to be rectified, pronto.
ALMOST FAMOUS: QB Rob Bolden played the first four series, into the second quarter. Was it an attempt by the coaches to give Bolden a little more time to seize the starting position and finally put an end to the Neverending Quarterback Saga of 2010, 2011 and Beyond? Who knows. Jay Paterno said after the game that the plan was for Bolden to play the first quarter and Matt McGloin the second, but when the second quarter started his father said to leave Bolden in because he was playing well. The offense put up zero points those first four series and Bolden rotated the rest of the way with his everlasting foil McGloin. They were both mediocre. But Bolden still should be the No. 1 QB. And though Bolden engineered the final drive, he nearly fumbled it away near the goal line, as was detailed earlier (though the snap might have been the culprit as much as Bolden). So it's hard to be laudatory of either QB after this one.
COLLISION COURSE: Bolden's biggest problem continues to be getting creamed while releasing the ball. He simply doesn't react properly in the final half-second when he realizes he's about to get hit. He thinks he can get the pass off in time, but he doesn't, and it will frequently result in a turnover or injury. Bolden appeared to have his arm nearly ripped in two when hit by a blitzer while throwing in the second quarter. The opening drive of the game was thwarted when Bolden twice was hit while throwing, nearly resulting in a turnover. Bolden needs to release it sooner, or duck and take the sack, or tuck it under and try to evade the tackler. Another thing Bolden doesn't do well is throw the screen pass, which is a staple of the PSU offense. He does not lob the ball over defenders well.
OPPORTUNITY DROPPED: Infrequently utilized WR Shawney Kersey was targeted twice by Bolden early on and despite getting his hands on the ball both times had no receptions. He should have caught the second one. He later had a holding penalty.
BEHIND THE GLARE: How many times did ESPN cameras pan to the coaches box up high above the stadium, presumably indicating that Joe Paterno and other PSU coaches were in there? Enough so that if it were a drinking game, we'd all be hungover. Memo to the ESPN producers: 16 is enough. Especially since we couldn't even see inside the coaches box - it was just an image of some windows with a lot of glare.
RED, AGAIN: For the second straight week, a surprising number of red shirts occupied stadium seats. Last week in Beaver Stadium it was the throng of Alabama infiltrators who made the trek up north and speckled Beaver Stadium in red. (If PSU hosted 'Bama in November, do you think as many Tide fans would come?) Yesterday, it appeared that not only did Temple have more fans than in past PSU-Temple matchups in Philadelphia, but PSU had fewer.
PENALTIES: Every game has its share of questionable calls and bad penalties and this game certainly was no exception. What was most irksome however was a no call in the first half on a blatantly obvious taunting act by a Temple DB. Runner-up, Most Irksome Penalty Call or Non-Call: Brandon Mosby-Felder's dumb retaliation swat to the facemask of a Temple player in the fourth quarter. The referee already had reached for his flag to penalize the Owls, and Mosby-Felder's inability to control himself led to off-setting penalties and a punt, instead of a first down at midfield when PSU still was losing. Second runner-up: PSU getting a procedure penalty on the first offensive play from scrimmage, demonstrating the Lions weren't focused to begin the game.
FINAL WORD: Many great seasons have been launched with a surprisingly tough early season win (see 2005, Northwestern), but unless the offensive (specifically QB and coaching) and special teams problems improve this will be a 4- or 5-loss season. Most of the problems are correctable or relatively easily improved, but do the players and coaches have the wherewithal to make it happen?