There's A First Time For Everything

There's A First Time For Everything

For those Penn State fans still standing on the edge of a cliff, you need to be reminded that this is Year Two of a new regime and that the Nittany Lions are led by a true freshman quarterback. There will be bumps in the road, and although Saturday’s blowout loss to Indiana was more like a sinkhole, if you drowned your sorrows in the bottle late Saturday night, please leave room at the end of the bar for some optimism.

First, however, the ugliness wasn’t as disturbing as the means through which it came about.

“Joanne, you’re coming dangerously close to the textbook definition of interfering with a government investigation.”

At least for one Saturday, Bill O’Brien walked a dangerously close line to the textbook definition of Andy Reid. There was no reason to pass as much as State did during Saturday’s loss in Bloomington. Indiana’s rush defense was (and still is until further notice) below average. And although during the first half it appeared that the Hoosiers were able to slow down Zach Zwinak and Co., O’Brien should’ve stuck with a heavy dose of the ground game. He called too many passing plays and allowed Indiana’s offense to possess the ball for way too long.

The plan going into that game should’ve been that no matter what the averages were on paper as the game was happening, stick with the run because eventually State’s triumvirate backfield attack would’ve worn down the host’s defense. More importantly, as Bud Kilmer famously told Mox, it would’ve allowed Penn State to control the clock and drive the tempo of the game way down.

Tempo is what Kevin Wilson’s offense lives on. And O’Brien willingly spoon-fed him doses of it through his inopportune play-calling.

But try to remember how ridiculous it is to go too far to the other end. O’Brien didn’t just suddenly forget how to coach in one week. Good teams lose to inferior teams sometimes. It happens. And Indiana is one of those pesky bottom-feeders that can, albeit rarely, jump up and bite a big dog in the ass. In 2001, IU went into Madison and beat the Badgers 63-32. In ’06 conference action, the Hoosiers destroyed Michigan State 46-21. It happens.

indiana vs psuPeople who are ready to jump ship because of one bad loss should have their heads examined. This is a building process. It takes time. Relax. Sure, for fans of this program, this loss hurt and hurt badly. But keep it in perspective. Indiana was bound to beat PSU sooner or later and it happened to be this year.

The kid (those who love sports understand how great it is to have a young player who is so good and has so much potential that he can be referred to as “the kid” and everybody knows exactly to whom it refers) threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns and wasn’t intercepted – for the first conference game and the first conference road game of a 19-year-old quarterback’s collegiate career, that’s not too shabby.

Defensively, the bad news related to John Butler against Central Florida was relegated further down the bottom fold on Saturday. State yielded 336 yards passing and 3.7 yards per attempt on the ground. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re also not good enough. Yes, turnovers and strong starting field position at times helped the Hoosiers, but 44 points is 44 points. But again, some semblance of patience is required. Butler is (like O’Brien was last season) learning on the job. The main problem for this fan base is that it became so accustomed to annually-elite defenses that anything to the contrary was never considered a possibility. There’s a reason that this space has said here and in other places that Tom Bradley is one of the most important figures in this program’s history. Scrap produced the best of the best year after year, and did so – amazingly – during the poorest stretch of on-field success of the Joe Paterno regime.

On a player-for-player talent chart, this team is still at least equal to every team remaining on its schedule except for Ohio State. The mark of a good coach is the ability to put those talented players in the right positions and to call the right plays at the right times (do you see how the mere mention of that ugly “Reid” word/term/name rubs off so immediately?). O’Brien failed to do so against Indiana, but has seven remaining opportunities in the calendar year to show why his multiple coach of the year honors were not only because he took over a team which was in the climax of Freddy v. Jason and got everybody out alive.

All good football teams lose to teams they should’ve handled. All good football coaches have bad coaching days. All good football players have bad games. It is the way they all rebound – if they rebound (if they are in fact good, which this head coach is and these players are) – that will determine the near future.

O’Brien didn’t suddenly forget how to coach. And he’ll have a sold out, whiteout homecoming crowd to which he’ll prove the same over the weekend.

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