It is still unclear which fact is more disappointing: that Wrestlemania 3 in the Pontiac Silverdome had a higher attendance number than Beaver Stadium this past Saturday or that Silas Redd was not born with a twin brother who starred as a strong safety in high school.
When the lower-tier program has no chance to compete in these inter-sub-divisional (there’s a mouthful) openers which have become the norm on Labor Day weekend throughout college football, the measuring stick becomes even shorter for the coaching staff in preparation for the start of the real season. With the 2011 season opener only days away, the overall sense of what Penn State showed in its scrimmage against the Sycamores was good, even very good at times.
One avenue that became abundantly clear against Indian State, unfortunately for Penn State fans, is that Evan Lewis is not Travis Forney. Or Craig Fayak. Or Robbie Gould. Or even Anthony Fera for that matter.
Alright, so the kicking game needs some work. And by “some” we mean new personnel.
Lewis’ performance was downright awful. You can’t miss both field goal attempts as well as an extra point and feel good about it; junior varsity football this is not. There is no margin for error. Being in Joe Paterno’s doghouse, outhouse, hen house, or whatever name this year’s version bears, it’s time to release Fera. Now.
Saturday’s matinee against Alabama is about more than just showing up. This program needs to win this game, and Fera simply must be the starting kicker. Lewis can perform kickoff duties until the cows across the street near the Agricultural Science Building go to pasture. But it is absolutely imperative that Fera is the one on the field for all field goal and conversion attempts for State to undo Nick Saban and Co.
If you break down the tape from last season’s game in Tuscaloosa, it was competitive in the first half. Mistakes and miscues by a quarterback who, at the time, had literally been a college student for a matter of weeks were not at all abnormal. There were several times when Rob Bolden played with poise, accuracy and did not look the part of wet behind the ears. He completed a 31-yard pass to Derek Moye on the second drive of the game and the duo later connected on a 20-yard slant in the second quarter as Bolden began to look comfortable.
This kid is capable of leading – he just needs the consistent (read: uninterrupted) chance to prove it.
Speaking of Pontiac, several miles down the road in Orchard Lake is where Bolden grew up. When Paterno made the Boldens drive from Michigan to State College only to tell them that he would not release the scholarship, the hope is that a moment of clarity hit home; it’s the top spot, kid.
For all the moxie that Matt McGloin has in his bones, Bolden is superior to him in talent. If Moye had caught that sure touchdown pass in the first quarter against Indiana State, those who judge by statistics would be singing a different tune. Save the tried and true fantasy baseball geek, stats do not tell the whole story.
Perhaps the biggest culprit of not only last season’s loss to the Tide but also an overall uninspiring campaign was the lack of a consistent pass rush, which has been Tom Bradley’s bread and butter for two decades. Getting pressure on the quarterback without using a blitz and allowing the back-seven position players to be athletic is what this scheme was founded upon.
However, that was before the speed gun consistently logged SEC skill players at sub-4.4 times. The base 4-3 scheme will not be good enough; Bradley must utilize the blitz package (preferably except from the corner) on a semi-regular basis to force pressure and confusion on A.J. McCarron.
Therefore, in mutual consideration of the above resolutions and covenants, and agreeing to be legally bound, all parties above agree as follows: it all leads back to the offensive line. Shocker. The starting unit looked good against an inferior team but the pass protection needed to withstand the Tide’s impressive – if not semi-pro – defensive pass rush must be in November form starting in the season’s fifth quarter. Not a minute later.
Embedded a bit deeper here is the intangible that most often goes along with these home-and-home series among major college football powers; a split usually occurs. Notwithstanding Boston College (2003-04) and Syracuse (2008-09), history points to the dice turning up “Field” for State on Saturday afternoon. Miami, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Virginia (although UVA is certainly not in the same category as the other three, of course) are four series over the recent past which Penn State has split, and if you look at non-conference series among top 20 programs overall, the same trend is clearly apparent.
Go back for a moment to the 2002 “scrimmage” opener against Central Florida. That game ended up much closer than Paterno would’ve liked. The Knights scored twice inside the final four minutes to make the final score closer than the game actually was, but the point was well taken by all. The program was fresh off of two of the worst seasons in the Paterno Era and any win at that point was a good one. Due to the attacks of September 11th nearly one year prior, the Lions had a week off to prepare for a visit to State College by Nebraska.
What’s the point? Think about the mindset of most people during the days leading up to that Saturday night. The general consensus was that State would be lucky to lose by less than two touchdowns. Then Jay Paterno unveiled the Michael Robinson package (stop, too easy), which surprised even some Nittany Lions. The preparation was so secretive that the younger Paterno kept Robinson, Zack Mills and only a select few others after practice to collectively learn those plays.
Alabama is darn good. But strange things happen in college football, particularly early in the season. Obviously not very much was shown against ISU, and the chances for a few surprises – especially with the group of raw speed that Paterno possesses this season – are strong. No, there will be no Paul Jones sightings. But if Justin Brown’s number was called to throw a pass last September on the road against this team, anything is possible on home turf.
Roll this into a ball: Bolden taking a majority of the snaps under center, strong play from the offensive line, consistent pressure by Bradley from the linebackers, the minimization of turnovers and a few tricks executed properly. The reinvention of the wheel? Of course not – most of that is Football 101. Quite simply, it equates to a more than decent chance to win this football game.
Forget the crowd, forget the White Out (it is so terribly annoying that the athletic office press releases always refer to it as a “White House”), forget the SEC chants and forget the dime spread that favors the Tide. Just inhale this game for that it should be: a matchup of two all-time elite programs who will stand toe-to-toe. Yes, the visitors have an edge in overall depth and talent; that’s not up for debate. Most SEC teams hold the same when they are opposed by Penn State in bowl games, too, but Paterno’s record against the same is favorable.
And if the home crowd walks out of Beaver Stadium happy near sunset, it might be a good idea to not become acquainted with the local police. Just a thought.