October 5, 2010

Review: Iowa 24, Penn State 3

(Photo: PennLive.com)
The Hawkeyes punched the Nittany Lions right in the gut, going up 10-0 in the first two drives of the game. Penn State was stunned, never recovered, and landed a few punches right back in its own face. This wasn't supposed to be Penn State's year. But the loss still hurt.

Penn State has had an uncanny ability this year to do all the work necessary to win, but somehow manage to screw everything up in just a few plays here and there. That was no more evident than against the Hawkeyes.

The defense played great after the first quarter, which should sound familiar enough on its own considering the Temple game two weeks ago. That initial 15 minutes of play was very frustrating, as I really thought Iowa was going to score 40 on Penn State. But looking back on it, maybe the Penn State offense should have generated more than ONE YARD OF TOTAL OFFENSE the entire first quarter.

Here are some things I liked from Saturday, and some things I wasn't crazy about...

Tip of the Hat

Rob Bolden -- The true freshman was actually having one good game for himself before the pick-six in what turned out to be garbage time. It's easy to pick on Bolden for not reaching for the end zone on fourth down. Hell, I was screaming "Bull-F*cking-Shit!" when they whistled him down. But take a look at these three stat lines:

Cmp-Att-Int Yds TD Long Sack
9-23-1 86 0 17 1
12-32-3 198 1 79 2
20-37-1 212 0 49 2

You probably know where I'm going with this, but humor me for a minute. The first two were from 2008 and 2009. Penn State was ranked No. 3 and No. 5 respectively those years, with a first-team All-Big Ten quarterback, elite defenses, and a fantastic offensive line in 2008. The third was from last Saturday night. Penn State was ranked No. 22, with a true freshman quarterback, a defense missing three linebackers drafted to the NFL and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and a very inexperienced offensive line that had lost its second best player the previous week to an ACL tear.

All those factors considered, I'd say Rob Bolden's statistics were pretty damn impressive, especially considering how much more Daryll Clark had to work with the previous two meetings with Iowa. So lay the hell off Bolden, please.

Nick Sukay -- Boy, has this guy become a leader by example the last two weeks, or what? Sukay has now picked off three passes in two weeks, while coming up big on more than a few tackles and in pass coverage. I wouldn't have really been as excited to mention Sukay in this section, until I saw that hit he put on Adam Robinson at the one yard line. Robinson went airborne for a dramatic touchdown toward the pylon, but Sukay laid the lumber on him, forcing Robinson out before scoring. That's the kind of intensity this defense needs right now.

The defense after the first quarter -- I'm getting sick and tired of writing about this, but there's no other way to put it. Penn State's defense doesn't wake up until 15 minutes (and usually about two scores against them) into the game; then waking up in the second quarter and look like a D full of All-Big Ten performers. We got a glimpse of it when the defense tightened up to hold Iowa to the early field goal. But after a brief lapse, the defense held Iowa to 17 total points on the Hawkeyes' home field, with a raucous crowd supporting them. Iowa came into the game averaging 36 points per game on offense, with two touchdowns coming on defensive returns. Take away those two defensive scores, and Iowa was still averaging 32 points per game going into Saturday's game. Penn State held Iowa to its lowest scoring output of the year; even lower if you take away the pick-six at the end.

Wag of the Finger

Stefen Wisniewski -- I'm really sorry, bud. But Wiz got mauled on Bolden's goal-line run. While Bolden should have stuck his arms out to break the plane, Wiz was being pushed backward into Bolden's running lane, forcing him to keep running towards the sideline. The offensive line needed a leader, and it's tough to put the jobs of four other players on Wiz's shoulders. We saw what happened when he tries to compensate too much: Mike Daniels came screaming in untouched through the line to pummel Bolden, as Wiz tried to lay a double-team with Quinn Barham on Adrian Clayborn. But it was the goal-line block--or, lack of--that is seared into my mind.

The defense in the first quarter -- I swear we'd done this before. Penn State's defense MUST start showing up from the first kickoff, not the second or third. Missed tackles, absolutely no pass rush, and a general look of timidity let Iowa march down the field twice for a 10-0 lead. When the offense is what it is this year, the defense has to take the lead.

Rob Bolden on the goal line -- REACH FOR THE DAMN GOAL LINE!

Graham Zug -- Another big game, another painful drop.

Officiating before halftime -- I'm going to give the coaches the benefit of the doubt, somewhat, in this situation. We all distinctly saw Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary signaling, and yelling for, a time out after Brett Brackett's long catch down to the goal line. But the refs didn't even so much as glance back to the sideline. If the team and coaches aren't allowed to leave the general designated areas, the officials have to look at them in those situations. But I'm not about to lay total blame on the officials. The players and coaches looked completely caught off guard by the long pass play, and were scrambling like chickens with their heads cut off.

Misc. Observations

-Penn State started just seven seniors--four on offense and three on defense. Iowa started 11 seniors, including six on defense.

-Penn State has outscored opponents 23-0 in the third quarter this season, but has allowed a whopping 37 points in the first quarter.

-Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino combined for 17 tackles. That's not good. You don't want your safeties leading the defense in tackles in any game.

-On first down, Penn State ran 20 pass plays, and only eight run plays. Conversely, Iowa passed only nine times on first down, running the ball the other 18 first down attempts.

-Pete Massaro again started for Eric Lattimore. I thought both guys did a decent job, but Massaro clearly has earned the starting spot. Without Sean Stanley making the trip to Iowa, Jack Crawford returned to the starting job, after Joe Paterno held him and Lattimore back against Temple.

-Evan Royster's 21-yard run in the third quarter was a thing of raging beauty. He simply wouldn't go down. Too bad the line can't allow him past the line of scrimmage every other running play.

-Glenn Carson came back to defense, after seeing time earlier this year at fullback. Carson stepped in at middle linebacker early in the game.

-Khairi Fortt also saw significant playing time early in the game. It seems like Penn State is actively trying to find out if permanent changes need to be made in the linebacker corps this season.

-DaQuan Jones was in the game at defensive tackle, as we sort of all expected before the game.

-Shawney Kersey is out of JoePa's Dog House sooner than we thought, as he saw time on offense and special teams.

-Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.


This is a young Nittany Lions team--a VERY young Nittany Lions team. For year, the Penn State fan base bitched and moaned for Joe Paterno to drop his stubborn loyalty to seniors and upperclassmen, and play the best personnel on the team, regardless of how young they may have been. Well, now the fans have gotten their collective wish, yet complain that this team makes too many mistakes. Why do you think Paterno never likes playing young guys? Because they make mistakes; they lose games.

I'm encouraged by this team. Not so much for the 2010 season, but for next year and the years after that. What Paterno is doing is setting up this program to be successful for the next 10 years. But with long-term rewards one must be willing to sacrifice in the short-term. That's what the Alabama and Iowa losses are--short-term failings in the name of long-term success.

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