Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bill O'Brien's bad day

The new Penn State coach has the worst game of his brief career, and the Lions drop The Big One to Ohio State, 35-23. 

Most of the time when a head coach falls on the sword after a game, he's being a little disingenuous.

Or, a lot disingenuous.

It's a psychological game the coach plays with his team and the media. Take the burden off the players, blame yourself, shift the focus where you want it, and let the media project your humility, false though it frequently is in college football.

The players, however, know the drill, too. When they get to practice on Monday (or sometimes sooner), they find out exactly what the coach really thought of the previous game. Often it's not remotely connected to the coach's post-game comments.

This little tango goes on all the time. Just listen to Nick Saban talk.

So, surely there was some of that disingenuousness in Bill O'Brien's post-game remarks after PSU's deflating 35-23 defeat to Ohio State on Saturday in front of a rocking, sellout Beaver Stadium whiteout.

O'Brien needs the team to gather itself, shed the disappointment and refocus quickly on Purdue. As the saying goes, he can't let the Buckeyes beat PSU again this week.

But when O'Brien declared afterward, "I need to improve on the gameplan to help our guys,'' and "I could have adjusted better," well, he wasn't just spouting coachspeak.

He was dead-on accurate, too.

O'Brien, in his first year as a head coach and 10 months into the job, finally had his first bad day Saturday.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The greatest play in Penn State-Ohio State football annals

In 1994, Penn State played a near-perfect first half in routing Ohio State 63-14, and in 2005 the Lions notched a program-altering 17-10 win over the Buckeyes thanks in part to a late-game sack-fumble by Tamba Hali, but our vote for best PSU-OSU play ever goes to The Fumble in 2008.

Penn State football history is chock full of fantastic moments, incredible plays and amazing achievements.

Four years ago, on Oct. 25, 2008 at Ohio State, "The Fumble" claimed a place alongside the very best moments in Nittany Lions folklore.

It's on the top shelf, it's that good, thanks to the spectacular effort of the three players most responsible for making it happen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ohio State vs. Penn State: It's time for the Lions to shine

Ohio State might be undefeated and have a lot going for it, but right now depleted, sanction-saddled Penn State is the better team, believe it or not

There is nothing magical or mystical going on with Penn State football these days.
The Lions' success - five straight wins after two losses to start the season and the most traumatic offseason ever - is not about a Mark Emmert-fueled quest, or some sort of karma, or Mike Mauti's rage.
Okay, maybe it's a little bit about those things.
But mostly, it's about this: Very good coaches and very good players committed to each other and to playing very good football.
And right now, those coaches and players have, improbably, forged Penn State into a better team than Ohio State - just in time to host the Buckeyes in Beaver Stadium this week in perhaps the Big Ten's best matchup of the season.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Penn State replaced the best coach ever with the best coach now

For decades, Penn State football fans knew their coach was the best in the business and much more than a coach. As much as things have changed at PSU, that one thing has stayed the same.

Following Penn State's obliteration of Iowa on Saturday, the accolades have been flowing over PSU coach Bill O'Brien.

The pundits in the sports media specialize in such overreactive smoke blowing. They simply can't help themselves.

New coach wins a few games, and he's hailed as the next Bear Bryant. Suddenly, new coach is cutting edge. Lauded as an innovator. The wave of the future!

This instance, however, is a little different in one way: O'Brien actually deserves the plaudits.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Time for the administration to do its part for Penn State football

Successfully navigating the sanction era will be easier for PSU football if the administration takes a bold, aggressive approach

You're a Penn State football fan. You want the program to succeed.

You want to make it through the post-Sandusky, NCAA sanction era as successfully as possible. You want to emerge from it stable and powerful.

Of course you do.

What will it take?

In order to remain relevant during the sanctions - no bowl games for four years, scholarship reductions, etc. -  the program must retain its vitality. It must be vibrant. It must project a positive image. It must create the right perception.

There are three keys stakeholders in making all of this happen - or not happen:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Penn State football 2012: The midseason report

Already halfway through the inaugural season of Bill O'Brien, how is his team doing?

Rarely has a 443-yard, 39-point outburst and clutch win felt like such a grind. Not a single Penn State play of more than 19 yards until the waning moments.

So it went in the Lions' fantastic 39-28 victory Saturday over Northwestern, which brought PSU to the season's midpoint - and bye week - with a 4-2 record, 2-0 in the Big Ten, and riding a 4-game win streak.

The Northwestern triumph - the Wildcats had been 5-0 and ranked No. 24 - had many of the elements of PSU's first five games:

  • A largely productive offense but few splash plays.
  • A largely stout defense but a few hiccups to allow touchdowns.
  • And wildly erratic special teams.

It also had one important new element - a genuine come-from-behind victory - which could boost the psyche when PSU trails in the second half of a future game.

Below are the grades for Penn State thus far, halfway through the 2012 season, the first since the 1940s without Joe Paterno on the sideline:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Glenn Carson's confidence bodes well for Penn State

Junior linebacker Glenn Carson will be a primary team leader next season, but Penn State fans hope his confidence right now is an indicator of things to come this season.

The last time Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said something moderately bold and arguably controversial right before a big early conference game against a team riding a long winning streak - something that was largely irrefutable truth and seemingly innocuous but cut a little too close to some people's sensitive spot and created a small dustbowl of manufactured media controversy - what happened?

Penn State won.

The Lions can only hope the same thing happens again on Saturday vs. mighty-mite Northwestern and its hybrid, two-QB super-offense, averaging 34 points and 467 yards a game.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The scholarship game for Penn State football: Making it work, sooner

(Ed. note: This story updated 11-4-12 to account for Fr. LB Gary Wooten, who previously mistakenly was thought to be a walk-on) 

USC and others have done reasonably well when saddled by NCAA scholarship restrictions, and Penn State can too despite much harsher sanctions. But the Lions need to get started on one aspect of the restrictions sooner.

Penn State's football deck will be missing cards soon.

PSU will be capped at 15 new scholarships a year (down from 25) from 2013-16.

The Lions will be limited to 65 scholarships total (down from 85) from 2014-2017. 

Note the extra year PSU is allowed to cut down to 65 scholarships. It seems like a "fair" gesture on the part of the gracious (cough, cough) NCAA, to allow PSU until the 2014 season to get down to the 65 cap.

However, it actually just delays PSU's recovery and is making things worse.