Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Second Thought

As I reflect on the nightmare that was the Northwestern game this past Saturday, I realize that perhaps my recap was a bit harsh.  At one point I even said something like, "There are no bowls for that kind of effort, unless you count your own toilet bowl."  A bit melodramatic.  It's true . . . I haven't seen that much sucking since I toured the Hoover Vacuum Factory.

The game of football often comes down to a few inches or a couple of plays (or in some cases a couple of freaking seconds on the clock!)  Even as crappy as we played most of the day, we were only down 8 points before the Hackenberg's pick six, that was then followed by his fumble.  That was a nine point swing on basically two plays.  You change two plays against Rutgers or UCF and this team is 2-3.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we couldn't make those plays on Saturday.

But the end of the season it is not.  There are a lot of games left to be played, a lot of opponents who have their own issues and struggles, and an exciting group of players who will entertain us later, even if they failed to make us happy in Happy Valley last weekend.

But while it is not the end of the season, it is the end of a perfect season.

Granted, no one expected Penn State to go undefeated.  But be honest.  Didn't the thought cross your mind?  Didn't you start to think that this team could just find a way?  Even down 20-6, didn't you expect Hackenberg to suddenly ignite, do that thing he does with his arm and just start scoring?

Didn't you start to look ahead . . .oh, the wolverines are struggling . . . we could go into the Ohio State game undefeated.  Don't you look away from me.  Look me in the eyes and say you didn't start thinking about it!  Didn't you want it to happen so badly, that your brain started thinking it could happen?  Didn't you want to see Penn State crash the final four party in their first post-sanction season?  Can you imagine the look on Emmert's face when that happened?  Or even some members of our own BOT?

Damn it!  You wanted that to happen!  I know you wanted it.  We all did.  We all wanted to see James Franklin do a Terry Bowden at Auburn impersonation, but actually compete for the mythical national championship instead of a perfect season with an asterisk.

And when it didn't happen, not only were we disappointed that we didn't beat Northwestern, but we were disappointed that we didn't see our dreams come true.  It's only natural to over react and panic.

And then I wonder . . .

Did the players start thinking it?  Coaches talk a great talk about one game at a time.  James Franklin went out of his way to make that point.  Doth the coach protest too much?  Maybe the kids were trying too hard, instead of playing loose and free.  Lifting the sanctions freed this team in one way, but bound us to how important winning each game is now.  They knew they were 4-0.  They saw tape of Northwestern.  You have to live under a rock and have never heard of Geico not to know about the troubles Brady Hoke is having in Ann Arbor.  Those players knew the score!  Yet, they couldn't play hard enough to win.

Multiple people have discussed the game with me, and almost everyone asks why our players weren't playing with the intensity of the Northwestern players?  I can't answer that, but our team enthusiasm did seem to be muted.  We played tight, uncomfortable and tried too hard.  And how can that be with over 100,000 fans, beautiful weather, and the best atmosphere in college football to play a game?  It's almost unfathomable.

One player having a bad day?  Maybe he's catching the flu.  Maybe he had a rough week in classes.  Maybe his girlfriend is giving him crap about something.  Maybe his mom is sick.  Just a usual athletes slump.  Who knows?  But the whole team???  How is that possible?

We all know our offensive line is having troubles, but at what point do these guys get tired of getting pushed around and start pushing back?  Every time your quarterback is hurried, that's your fault.  Don't you want to get up the next play and just hammer the enemy back?   Franklin talks about getting off the bus and going after them.  He talks about determination and playing with a chip on their shoulders. The word swagger was thrown out there.

So where was the swagger last Saturday?  What happened to attacking them as soon as they got off the bus?

I don't know.  But whatever cosmic alignment of forces brought about the complete team failure we saw is unlikely to occur again in this season.  That is not to say they won't lose more games--there are teams that are playing better with full scholarship complements that are simply going to be better than we are, no matter how well we play.  But I still think that Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, and Temple are still winnable games, as well as the trip to Ann Arbor.

 It does seem that every team has their best game against us.  The wolverines were 7-5 in 2005 yet were the only team to beat PSU.  Iowa in 2008 couldn't beat Pitt, but managed to knock us out of #3 in the nation.  But if those same cosmic forces that aligned against us last week choose to align against the buckeyes or the Spartans, then watch out.

Silly me.  We have no chance of winning those games.  The bandwagon fans are already dusting off their 5-7 and 6-6 predictions they hid away after we started 4-0.  Smug they are, now.

But you know and I know that those little doomsday bastards were thinking undefeated season somewhere deep in their puny little gray matters.  They'll never admit it.  They never said it.  They staunchly stand by their dismal predictions.  But deep down, they were just as disappointed as the rest of us.  The difference is they will now revel in being so smart at predicting a bad season.  They are football gurus.  We should bow down and lick their shoes clean.

Personally, I'd rather be disappointed with high expectations, than satisfied with lower ones.  And I don't think I'd like the taste of shoes.

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