Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Wreck of the Pat Fitzgerald

No one had Northwestern penciled in for Big Ten Champion.  No one was talking about them as a dark horse to win the conference.  Lindy's preseason magazine picked them 5th in the Legends Division, ahead of Minnesota but behind everyone else.  After seven games, guess what? Lindy's was wrong.  They are behind Minnesota who only has 3 conference losses. They are tied with Indiana.

Yet, the talking heads insisted on putting Penn State on upset alert.  It seemed as if everyone they interviewed or asked was picking Northwestern.  If given the chance, even Clucko the Chicken would have picked Northwestern.  Richard Nixon, if he were still alive, would have picked Northwestern.

Why?  Were the Wildcats suddenly going to find a defense?  Was this a case of mass dyslexia, and everyone thought they were really 4-2 instead of 2-4?

Granted, Penn State has been anything but consistent this year, but SERIOUSLY??!!  SERIOUSLY!!

Is this how far this program has fallen that a game against a team like Northwestern, who won't even sniff a top 25 ranking and will now not likely even sniff a bowl game, is the media favorite to beat a Penn State team that, despite all it's warts, is putting on its best face in this BCS beauty pageant with a 6-1, now a 7-1, showing?

Where was the karma?  Penn State beat Northwestern for Joe's 323rd win to tie Bear Bryant.  PSU came from behind last year to beat the Wildcats for Joe's 400th win.  Is it not fitting that the Lions should beat Northwestern for Joe's next milestone, win #408 that ties Eddie Robinson???

And with only a four point spread, against a team with one of the worst defenses in the conference, this was a game that screamed break-out for Penn State, not TRAP.

And while the final score, 34-24, does not scream break out either, consider this: Penn State was able to put 34 points on the board and not many of the so-called experts would have predicted that.  Even while Penn State was matching NU point for point in the first half, the dimwits on TV were talking about how Penn State could not win a shoot-out against the Wildcats.  What?  Huh?  Was that pre-recorded and they weren't even watching what was going on down on the field?

Silas Redd amassed 164 yards on 18 carries.  Penn State turned the ball over just once, on the opening kick-off, and Matt McGloin was not interecepted.  Holy McWow Batman!

Unfortunately, for Penn State, this really was just Northwestern.  The experts had it all wrong.  This wasn't an upset waiting to happen--that happened in East Lansing.  (Michigan State beat the badgers last season, like they couldn't see this one coming!  They were too busy alerting the nation that Penn State might lose.)  We'll gloat about that below.  In the end, the Wildcats are a pedestrian team that will be fortunate not to end up at the bottom of the Big Ten.  Thankfully, they will play both Indiana and Minnesota, so they probably will win a couple of conference games.

But I have come to the acceptance that this Penn State team is just a scrappy, reckless group of underachievers who just don't know how good they could be.  The play calling I thought was better this week, except for the ill-timed call on third and short when we decide to pass and McGloin gets sacked for about half the field behind the line of scrimmage.  Come on!  We were running the ball down their throats.  Clucko could have made a better play call on that one!  It was reminiscent of the almost-comeback in East Lansing where we ran the ball down the field, only to inexplicably throw four incomplete passes to lose the game.  You're not trying to score in this situation.  Run the damned ball.

We play pretty much to the level of our competition, Alabama notwithstanding.  Have you seen what Alabama is doing to opponents?  That loss is no shame.  I just wish we had gotten the right call on that fake field goal.  Might not have changed the outcome, but it certainly would have made things interesting.

And we are not the only team with problems, as evidenced by Northwestern's insistence to run a two quarterback system.  At least in their system, each QB brings a different style to the game, but the changing of quarterbacks seems so random.  Fitzgerald changed QB's more than Kristina Helfer changed partners.  And I don't think Pat had as much fun doing it!

All the talk about Penn State losing riled up Silas Redd:

Redd had tweeted earlier in the day that he was motivated by everyone on ESPN's "College GameDay" picking Northwestern to win the game.

"It hurt because we're ranked and we beat Northwestern the past four years," Redd said. "We wanted to shut those guys up, and we did that today."
Maybe we should get him riled up more often!

Earlier this week, Arizona dismantled UCLA.  One poster quipped that we could drop Neuheisal off the list of Paterno replacments.  Can we now cross off Pat Fitzgerald?  It's curious that a former QB, albeit from a different era of football, has built his coaching career on defense, while a former linebacker can't field a team with a good defense.  Northwestern is one defense away from being scary good.


From the GoPSUsports site:

Team Totals PSU NU
Rushing 128
Passing 814
Penalty 01
Rushing Attempts 3837
Average Per Rush 52.5
Rushing Touchdowns 22
Yards Gained Rushing 225161
Yards Lost Rushing 3667
Completions-Attempts-Int 17-27-0 28-39-1
Average Per Attempt 7.18
Average Per Completion 11.311.1
Passing Touchdowns 21
Total offense plays 6576
Average Gain Per Play 5.95.3
Fumbles: Number-Lost 3-10-0
Penalties: Number-Yards 4-383-20
PUNTS-YARDS 4-158 5-188
Average Yards Per Punt 39.537.6
Net Yards Per Punt 34.529.6
Inside 20 11
50+ Yards 10
Touchbacks 12
Fair catch 22
KICKOFFS-YARDS 7-470 5-322
Average Yards Per Kickoff 67.164.4
Net Yards Per Kickoff 48.436.4
Touchbacks 30
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD 1-0-0 0-0-0
Average Per Return 00
Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD 5-140-0 4-71-0
Average Per Return 2817.8
Interceptions: Number-Yds-TD 1-63-0 0-0-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0
Miscellaneous Yards 00
Possession Time 27:3632:24
1st Quarter 5:429:18
2nd Quarter 7:567:04
3rd Quarter 5:339:27
4th Quarter 8:256:35
Third-Down Conversions 5 of 137 of 15
Fourth-Down Conversions 1 of 1 1 of 2
Red-Zone Scores-Chances 5-64-5
Touchdowns 3-63-5
Field goals 2-61-5
Sacks By: Number-Yards 7-641-20
PAT Kicks 4-43-3
Field Goals 2-21-1

Time of possession is skewed this week, since two of Penn State's "drives" lasted six seconds (one pass McGloin to Devon Smith) and five seconds (one play run by Redd after the INT return by Hodges.)  Also, given that Northwestern is a dink and dunk ball control type of team, I think Penn State held their own in this category all things considered.

A more telling statistic is the ZERO points allowed by the defense in the second half.

Maybe I'm drinking way too much Kool Aid, and maybe I'm putting way too much faith back in the coaching staff, but I really get the sense that things are starting to come together.  The offensive line is doing it's job.  The running game is looking good, albeit against questionable defenses.  The kicking game is solid--we couldn't say that after the first few games.  And our future opponents are all looking mortal instead of invincible. 

Gotta love the seven sacks.  Twice in the game, the defense rose up with back-to-back sacks to end Northwestern drives.


Northwestern won the toss and deferred.  They still got the opening possession after the fumble by Powell.  Still didn't help them win, though.

JoePa sits at 408 wins, with a good chance to move past Eddie Robinson next week.

Northwestern passes Bowling Green on the list of JoePa milestones.  BG was the victim for wins 200 and 300, while Northwestern has now been part of win #323, win #400 and win #408.

The all-time series favors Penn State 12-3.

Attendance at the game was listed at 40,004.


Well, well, well.  What a difference a week makes.  Penn State now stands alone in the LEADERS division.  The Spartans are king of the LEGENDS.

Sparty beat the Badgers on the final play of the game.  MSU had a 14 point lead in the fourth, that the Badgers were able to overcome for a tie.  With 51 seconds left, Sparty took over but came up short of field goal range with 4 ticks left on the clock.  Cousins threw a Hail Mary pass that was batted around and then caught by a MSU receiver at the goal line.  The call on the field was no TD--time for OT.  But on further review, the ruling was overturned as the ball had broken the plane.  TD MSU.  Good bye Badgers.  Final Score:  37-31.

Purdue upset Illinois 21-14.  The Illini offense is struggling.  I don't see that changing next week.

Nebraska mirrored Minnesota 41-14.

Iowa took care of business against the Hoosiers, 45-24.


1.  Wisconsin--bet Bret Bielema wishes he had some of those points from the games he ran the score up.
2.  Notre Lame -- do they have enough losses to be eliminated from a BCS Bowl yet?
3.  West by God Virginia-- lost to Syracuse 49-23.  Will there be any Big Least teams ranked this week?
4.  Washington--crushed 65-21 by Stanford
5.  Georgia Tech--humbled by Miami (FL) 24-7
6.  Boise State--may lose style points after 33-26 win over Air Force
7.  Oklahoma--TECH that!  Lost to Texas Tech 41-38 in a lightning delayed game.  Don't you mess with Mother Nature!


The Illini come to Beaver Stadium next week. 

Illinois season to date looks like this:

W  Arknasas State 33-15
W  South Dakota State 56-3
W  Arizona State 17-14
W  Western Michigan 23-20
W  Northwestern 38-35
W  Indiana 41-20
L   Ohio State 7-17
L   Purdue 14-21

The only "quality win" is a 3 point victory over 5-2 Arizona State who was taken to OT by Missouri and was taken behind the woodshed by Oregon.

Illinois was the 7th most difficult game on our schedule on my pre-season countdown.
Basically, I don't see Illinois being a more formidable foe than Iowa, Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, or Wisconsin. The only other team to be ranked yet is Northwestern, and quite frankly, that game is on the road and I fear Pat Fitzgerald more than Ron Zook. And perhaps that, in the end, is the reason that Northwestern went higher in the draft than Illinois.

Prediction: I may be drinking the Kool Aid here, but I do think we will be improved from last season. I am not as optimistic for Illinois as their fans may be. I call this a close win by Penn State, maybe one of those where we kick a field goal late in the game and hope that Illinois doesn't pull a 1999 Minnesota or a 2005 THEM miracle out in the end.
I haven't posted a final season prediction, but I'm leaning towards 8-4. I could be talked into 10-2. Either way, I think Penn State needs to win this game to achieve that level of success.
 I think it will be a close game, but Penn State wins with defense at home.

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