Saturday, October 15, 2011

POSTSCRIPT: PSU 23, Purdue 18 (posted 10.15.11)

Oct. 15 - Penn State 23, Purdue 18

There's a funny cartoon with three glasses, all filled halfway.
  • On the first glass is the word "pessimist," and the caption says "I'm half-empty.''
  • On the second glass is the word "optimist," and the caption says "I'm half-full.''
  • On the third glass is the word "realist," and the caption says "I think I'm half-filled with pee."
Penn State is 6-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten and in first place in the Leaders Division. That's very good stuff. Yet the overwhelming feeling after games such as PSU's lethargic 23-18 Homecoming win over hapless Purdue is that the Lions' glass might be half-full, but it's filled with something much less than premium liquid refreshment.

Penn State football 2011 is more like a cure for enthusiasm. The Lions are rewriting the book on:
  • How to win unimpressively - can you win and drop out of the Top 25?
  • How not to strike fear - Northwestern, with four straight losses, will be a popular pick to defeat the Lions next week.
  • How to keep lame opponents in the game - Purdue was the No. 76 in the nation in the composite Massey Ratings.
Does any of that matter as long as PSU keeps winning? No, it doesn't. But can Penn State possibly keep winning while its quarterbacks play so erratically? While defenses dare the Lions to execute a balanced offense?

Winning cures all, but it doesn't always foretell a promising future.

The two QB system now must be considered permanent. Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are who they are, and they're both going to play in every game, apparently.

Regardless, there's something confoundingly off-kilter between the quarterbacks and the play-calling. The quarterbacks play with little confidence, and frequently make bad decisions and bad throws.

And the play-calls show little confidence (repeated running calls on 2nd-and-long all season), and are very conservative (48 runs, 23 passes Saturday) and seize up in the red zone (ad nauseum).

However, there was one sequence Saturday, after Purdue cut it to 13-12 in the third quarter, where Penn State's offense looked totally awesome(!) For real. The Lions and McGloin used play-action rollout passes - imagine that! - to rip right down the field in four plays for a touchdown. A 22-yard pass, a 20-yard pass, a 9-yard pass and - with the defense softened and backpedaling - a 9-yard run. Touchdown.

Then things got more interesting: PSU did it again the next possession! McGloin hit three straight passes for 70 yards ... Alas, it was like the episode where Beavis suddenly, inexplicably, starts behaving like a genius (and freaks out Butt-head), only to revert back to form with no recollection of his spate of brilliance. On the next play McGloin threw into double coverage and was intercepted.

Bad play call? McGloin's fault? Whatever - PSU ran the ball almost every play the rest of the way.

They had suddenly started passing it all over Beaver Stadium, then a pass went awry and they reverted to the default mechanism and overcorrected back to running almost exclusively. All one way, then all the other way.

Yes, RB Silas Redd is PSU's best offensive option, and yes WR Derek Moye wasn't playing, and yes a 2-to-1 run-pass ratio actually can be a very good thing. But that's not the point. The point is the offense plays with little confidence. It doesn't have a balance, a rhythm, a theme. The opposing defense can feel it.

The PSU offense doesn't have an identity. Moments of brilliance notwithstanding.

And a potentially special season will be spoiled if that doesn't change in the next few weeks.

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