Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where There's a WILLinois, There's a Way

It was a cold and snowy day.  Wet.  Raw.  There was a chillinois in the air.  My feet were numb.  The rest of me was in disbelief as the Fighting Illini lined up to kick a field goal that would send the game into overtime.  Did I mention it was cold?  We burned a timeout to ice the kicker.  Psychologically of course, because there was no need for any other ice.  It would be like telling a snowman to freeze.

But then a funny thing happened in those closing seconds that was perhaps more surreal and visceral than it was physical.  The stadium was loud--yes, but the sudden stream of students toward the south goal was one of those unrehearsed, spontaneous demonstrations that hallmarks this greatest student section in all of college sports.  Guido can only dream of things like that.  It was beautiful.  Fantastic.  Impromptu.  Wonderful.

Whether or not it had anything to do with the outcome, we will never know.

Quinn Barham said this when asked about it post-game:
Q: Did you see the student section on that field goal? Do you think it affected the kick?

A: We saw that they were moving over. We got so hyped on the sideline. It was a great feeling. I think it did affect the kick. When they came over together like that, I was thinking what is going on? They were all coming together and I thought they were leaving. But then they came together and started going crazy and I thought, `wow this is Penn State.' I really thank the fans for that.
Derek Dimke, who had not missed a field goal all season (he never got a chance to kick the first try earlier in the game) dinked one off the right upright.  Penn State won 10-7.  Joe Paterno passed Eddie Robinson like a ship in the night.  On this night, the iceberg missed and the Titanic sailed on.
And for those of us sitting on the cold icy deck of this ship, charting its course through this season, we were all deliriously happy to see that kick denied.
It is almost fitting that Joe Paterno win this way.  This is Joe Paterno's way.  Play it close to the vest.  Win with defense and special teams.  It's so maddeningly boring and excruciatingly painful to watch, and yet the result looks the same on paper as if we had won by 20.
But had we won by twenty, would it have been as sweet?  Would we have seen the student section spontaneously coming together as one body, united behind this team and screaming their lungs out for the kicker to M-I-S-S-I-T, miss it just for me?
In a way, this game was simply a reflection of this entire season.  One ugly yet somehow beautiful win.  One 8-1 record that is at the same time as impressive as it is unimpressive.
Even as I type this a day later, and in much warmer conditions, I teeter on the verge of indignant vehemence versus unadulterated adulation.  I am so happy that this team is 8-1.  I love these players and their sheer will and determination to win.
Yet, at the same, I hate the fact that we can't play one decent game without making mistakes.  SIX fumbles.  Granted, it was cold and wet.  Did I mention that?
I hate that Illinois is going to point their fingers at that pass interference call with righteous indignation and cry foul.  And do they have a case?  Well, your honor, it was technically pass interference.  It's not always called, but it's not like some teams haven't won national championships after a PI call gives them a second chance.  And in terms of justice, if the PI hadn't occurred, the ball probably would have been caught.  I really hate those penalties when you could be pretty sure that the receiver wouldn't have come up with the ball anyway, but it wasn't so obvious as to be deemed uncatchable.
If I were an Illini fan, I would be mad as hell.  That call cost them the game--no doubt.
But it is a call that is made from time to time, and has been said to me before by other folks, that's the breaks.  Good teams overcome the calls.  Illinois almost overcame the call, but came up a few inches wide.  I really believe that Illinois would have won had the game gone to over time.  I really love this team of ours, but I don't have any faith in our coaching staff to operate an overtime offense.
Which brings me to my final rant--and isn't it sad that you have to rant after a victory?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR OFFENSIVE COACHING STAFF????
I thought the Bolden experiment had been put away.  Back on the shelf where no one will get hurt, except maybe for Bolden.  But this is a team sport.
Yet, with the game tied at zero, and relatively poor field position, number 1 comes trotting into the game for no apparent reason whatsoever.  McGloin did not have an injury.  He didn't commit any heinous act of fumbling, throwing interceptions or spitting on the coaching staff.
And then, it happened again.  And again.  And again.  Four possessions and basically the whole second quarter were squandered FOR NO APPARENT REASON.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe Joe kept sending the kid back in just because the crowd was booing him.  The image of a stubborn old man who can't take criticism entered my mind numerous times in that quarter.
But let's get one thing perfectly straight here.  The crowd was not booing Bolden.  The crowd was booing the decision to put the kid into the game under these circumstances.  I am not criticizing Bolden here in this blog.  I am criticizing the decision to even put him in the game when McGloin was healthy and there was no obvious advantage to him being there.  It's not Bolden's fault.  But we fans all knew he is like a deer in the headlights with no pocket presence, and we were a bad snap away from being 3 points down thanks to that fact.
In FOUR possessions, he fumbled twice, losing it once.  He did not complete a pass.  The team had THREE first downs in the second quarter, and all were on Silas Redd runs of 11, 13 and 14 yards.  At least the hand offs were clean!

AND WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THE TIMEOUT CALL WITH 1:11 TO GO IN THE GAME????  Sorry to scream at you, but that almost cost us the game.  If we needed the timeout to get a play in, at least run some time off the clock.
And for Illinois, I was impressed with their defense.  They were statistically comparable to Penn State prior to this game, and they did not disappoint.  And but for a pass interference, they would have won the game for their team.
But how many teams yearn for that one play?
Are we any more frustrated than Clemson fans?  Kansas State fans?  Virginia Tech beat Duke by a mere 4 points.  (OK, we'd probably beat Duke by two and have to block a field goal, but you see where I am going with this.)  How would you like to be a Badger this morning?  Or a Spartan?  How about Iowa--they lost to Minnesota!  We might have lost a chance at a MNC due to a PI in Iowa in 2008.  How many one plays and extra seconds cost us an undefeated season in 2005?  Amazing how one play can make such a difference.
Each week, half the teams that play lose.  Some by more than one play.
We're 8-1 and playing vintage Penn State football.
And I'm happy with that as long as this team keeps fighting with the same will and determination to succeed.

From GoPSUsports:

Team Totals ILL PSU
Rushing 67
Passing 96
Penalty 11
Rushing Attempts 5041
Average Per Rush 3.82.7
Rushing Touchdowns 01
Yards Gained Rushing 226144
Yards Lost Rushing 3433
Completions-Attempts-Int 13-24-2 9-28-1
Average Per Attempt 3.93.5
Average Per Completion 7.210.9
Passing Touchdowns 10
Total offense plays 7469
Average Gain Per Play 3.93
Fumbles: Number-Lost 2-26-2
Penalties: Number-Yards 6-504-30
PUNTS-YARDS 9-342 8-287
Average Yards Per Punt 3835.9
Net Yards Per Punt 32.235.9
Inside 20 32
50+ Yards 00
Touchbacks 10
Fair catch 33
KICKOFFS-YARDS 2-127 3-197
Average Yards Per Kickoff 63.565.7
Net Yards Per Kickoff 3849.3
Touchbacks 01
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD 1-0-0 6-32-0
Average Per Return 05.3
Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD 2-29-02-51-0
Average Per Return 14.525.5
Interceptions: Number-Yds-TD 1-0-0 2-8-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0
Miscellaneous Yards 00
Possession Time 32:5127:09
1st Quarter 7:077:53
2nd Quarter 8:326:28
3rd Quarter 10:304:30
4th Quarter 6:428:18
Third-Down Conversions 7 of 18 3 of 15
Fourth-Down Conversions 0 of 1 0 of 1
Red-Zone Scores-Chances 1-22-2
Touchdowns 1-21-2
Field goals 0-2 1-2
Sacks By: Number-Yards 4-252-17
PAT Kicks 1-11-1
Field Goals 0-1 1-2

The key stat is the 0-2 on field goals by the Illini.  Illinois won time of possession and total yards, but lost the turn-over battle and failed to convert field goals.

What can't be seen in these stats is the performance of our defense on first down.  Illinois had 30 first down plays in the game.  On those plays, they made 72 yards for 2.4 yards per first down play.  But four of those first down plays went for 14, 18, 15 and 16 yards.  If you take those out of the equation, that leaves 9 yards among 26 first down plays in the game.  That's a third of a yard on most first down plays!


The Blue Band did not march.

Penn State won the toss and elected to receive.  Not sure about that call.

Attendance was an anemic 97,828--but there were not that many people in the stands.

Win #409 puts Joe in first place among all Division I coaches.  Gagliardi of St. Johns is Division III.

Penn State leads the Illini 15-4 all-time.


Penn State leads the conference after this 10-7 win over Illinois.
The Cheateyes beat the Badgers in a wild late game, 33-29.
THEM beat Purdue 36-14.
Iowa lost to the Gophers 22-21.  Wow.  Just.  Wow.
Nebraska dominated Michigan State 24-3.
Northwestern crushed Indiana 59-38.

Penn State is ranked 15th in the USA Today Poll.

Here are the standings for your enjoyment from the Big Ten site:


1.  Clemson--Tigers lost to Georgia Tech.  Thanks for playing.  We have some nice parting gifts for you.
2.  K-State--Oklahoma hands them their first loss.  A huge, lopsided 58-17 loss.
3.  Iowa--lost by a point to Minnesota.  Wow again.
4.  Texas Tech--swept up by the cyclones.  No Rank for you!
5.  Florida--lost to Georgia.  First 4 loss series since the eighties.
6.  Texas Aggies--finally knocked out of the rankings with third loss


Penn State has a bye week before hosting the Cornhuskers on November 12.  Time to be announced.  I'll post a preview next week.  The Huskers play at Northwestern this week.

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