Sunday, October 2, 2011

POSTSCRIPT: PSU 16, Indiana 10 (posted 10.2.11)

Penn State (4-1) 16, Indiana (1-4) 10

There has been a paradigm shift in the world of PSU football fandom. Please adjust accordingly to the new reality:
  • Any offensive point productivity is a bonus.
  • A possession that does not end in a loss of yards or a turnover is successful
  • A possession that does not completely lose all hope because of one penalty is successful
  • A punt that isn't blasted into the end zone is a successful conclusion to a successful possession
  • It doesn't matter who is at quarterback, the play calling will be bafflingly predictable and the quarterback will make several bad throws
And now things aren't so bad, right? From this new perspective, heck, Saturday's 16-10 win at Indiana - PSU is now 15-0 vs. the Hoosiers - was aw-shucks pretty good, a nice grind-it-out conference road win. 

Back to the real world, sugar-coating removed. The PSU offense is a wretched, downward-spiraling disgrace. The quarterbacks are regressing (as hard as that is to believe), and the play-calling shows no confidence (how many times can a team run the ball on second-and-long?!?). And now it's almost costing the team wins against bad teams. Even by Indiana's standards, this is not a good Indiana team

This game proved, if nothing else, the 2011 Penn State offense can grind itself to a halt against any defense in the country. Seven years after the offensive apocalypse of 2004, PSU appears headed back there again.

IT'S THE QUARTERBACKS, STUPID: Yes the offensive line is average and RB Silas Redd fumbled away a likely TD opportunity at the 1-yard line and the Lions had several other ill-timed gaffes. But there is nothing more important in college football than quarterback play. And the biggest mistake for PSU this season is the QB situation - it's the 800-lbs gorilla in the room. And that mistake is on the coaches. Perhaps some players could thrive in a two-headed rotating QB competition such as PSU has immersed Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. But clearly Bolden and McGloin are not such players. They both are playing worse than last season, when they had no experience. And the trickle down effect is tangible, as the play-calling and decision-making scream "we have no confidence in our QBs,'' who then in turn play with even less confidence, until the whole thing collapses on itself. PSU needs to pick a QB and move on. This is of course pretty much the same thing as has been said in this blog (RFBS) and elsewhere for awhile (wash, rinse, repeat next week). It is killing the offense and killing the team and will kill the season.

BAD, BAD, BAD: There is no solace in the 464 yards PSU gained. The Lions scored just 16 points. Against Indiana. The same Indiana team that yielded 24 points last week to North Texas - in the first half. PSU had three in the first half yesterday. IU has surrendered 34 points to Virginia and 20 to FCS South Carolina State. Did anyone notice Ball State lost 62-3 to Oklahoma yesterday? Well, Ball State beat Indiana 27-20. And PSU mustered sixteen measly points against this team.

SAME GUYS, DIFFERENT RESULT: PSU had a truly great offense in 2008, a good one in 2005, a decent one in 2007 and 2009, and not bad in 2006. All with the same offensive coaching staff the Lions have today. Go figure.

OLD RELIABLE: Spearheaded by the continued superlative play of DTs Devon Still (2 TFL, 1 FR) and Jordan Hill (3 TFL, 1 sack), the PSU defense yielded 79 yards combined in the second and third quarters and saved the Lions from the humiliation of a loss to Indiana. 

BEGINNING OF THE TORMENT: Bolden made his fifth straight start, and though he was shaky on the opening possession, he zinged two completions on third downs to keep the drive moving, and Redd's nifty 8-yard TD run put PSU ahead 7-0 ... wait. A very questionable holding call nullified the TD run. On the next play Bolden made a bad pass to TE Andrew Szczerba, which Szczerba tipped and was intercepted. It signaled the beginning of an excruciating day for the offense, which shows no ability to recover from any setbacks.

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: Gifted the ball at the IU 13-yard line by an early second-half turnover, the Lions gained three yards on three plays and kicked a 27-yard field goal. That sequence was the ballgame in a nutshell.

BUTTERFINGERS: On IU's final drive of the game with PSU clinging to the 16-10 lead, more PSU defenders - at least five - got their hands on passes from IU quarterback Dusty Kiel than did Hoosiers receivers. Unfortunately, none could hold onto the ball. And following a few fortunate fourth-down conversions, IU actually had a legitimate chance at a Hail Mary pass for the win. Fortunately, Kiel didn't reach the end zone, because two PSU defenders collided while trying to catch it - instead of simply knocking it down - and it deflected off of them to an Indiana receiver who nearly made the catch but would have been several yards shy of the goal line. 

WHY BOTHER PUNTING: With 2:12 to go in the game and PSU protecting the 16-10 lead, the Lions had a 4th-and-2 at the Indiana 39. It was a little bit too far out to try a clinching FG. With little confidence in the offense (no confidence?), PSU opted to punt. Anthony Fera blasted it straight into the end zone for a net 18-yard punt. He did the same thing from the IU 38 earlier in the game. If Fera can't do better than that, somewhere on the University Park campus amongst the 40,000-plus students with athletic eligibility there has to be someone who can punt a football 30 yards out of bounds. 

ON THE OTHER HAND: Without Fera's steady leg on his three short field goals (20, 27 and 33), PSU would have had even fewer points. Fera missed a 52-yard try just before the half.

IN AND OUT AND IN: Defensive backs Nick Sukay and Stephon Morris both briefly left the game with injuries before returning. However Morris later left the game again in the third quarter and didn't return, possibly with an ankle injury. Morris had been playing very well in  his first start of the season in place of injured starting CB D'Anton Lynn.

NOT THIS FRESHMAN: True freshman Adrian Amos replaced Morris and surely the IU offensive coaches figured he could be a weak link to attack. But Amos was up to the challenge and was not to blame for IU's late success moving the ball, when it frantically was trying to come back.

GOOD, NOT GREAT: PSU will miss the dynamic play of OLB Michael Mauti, who is out for the season after sustaining a knee injury last week. His replacement, Nate Stupar, is good. But Mauti was borderline great and an emerging force. The defense won't quite be the same without him.

BRIGHT LIGHTS: Redd had 129 tough yards on 29 carries. WR Derek Moye had 6 receptions for 158 yards, including a 74-yard TD pass from McGloin. Sadly, both players' stellar performances this season appear destined to be overshadowed by the overall ineptitude of the offense.

DIM LIGHTS: The 6-foot-5 Moye is a superb target near the goal line. Yet yesterday, PSU inexplicably opted for 5-foot-7 Devon Smith more often. Twice near the goal line, PSU tried to connect on variations of slant passes to Smith. Not surprisingly, neither one came close to connecting, as getting a pass to such a small target so close to the ground just a few feet behind the defensive line proved impossible, especially without the threat of the speedy Smith going deep. A lob to a double-teamed Moye would be a much better option.

COMING ON: Junior OLB Gerald Hodges (team-high 11 tackles) and junior DE Sean Stanley (5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF, 1 pass defensed) are emerging as top-flight players and quality pass rushers. Hodges needs to be turned loose on the quarterback more often.

FINAL WORD: How did the PSU offense manage to get this bad? The players and the coaches both must bear responsibility. RFBS will take a closer look at the problems and possible resolutions during the week.

The Lions host Iowa this Saturday. Memories of the 6-4 PSU-Iowa "classic" in 2004 will be fresh in the air the way things are going.

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