Despite a slew of self-inflicted wounds, Nittany Lions survive
|Matt McGloin finally got a handle on Penn State's|
offense in the final three minutes Saturday vs. Illinois.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
+ A historically bad performance on a snowy Saturday by Penn State's offense and coaching staff somehow turned into a historically significant win. Despite turnovers, dropped passes, insane timeouts and two quarterbacks who couldn't shoot straight, the Nittany Lions pulled it together in time to mount two fourth-quarter scoring drives and then were hospitable enough to hand Illinois a golden chance to tie the game, only to watch that last-second field goal attempt end with a doink. The surreal turn of events left PSU doubted, disrespected, disheveled -- and unbeaten in the Big Ten. It also left Joe Paterno standing alone at the top of the all-time Division win list.
It was over when:
+...Illinois kicker Derek Dimke pushed his last-second field goal attempt into a sea of Penn State students and it faded, faded, faded into the right upright. Doink! Dimke only got an opportunity because of some absolutely incomprehensible clock management by Penn State's coaching staff (detailed below).
Play of the game:
+ We hate to make the play of the game a penalty but sometimes the play of the game is a penalty. This time, it was the fourth-down pass interference call drawn by Derek Moye, who unexpectedly came off the bench to spark the game-winning drive.One play after Moye dropped a sure first down, the Lions went back to him for all the marbles on a 9 route. Illinois DB Justin Green panicked when Moye separated at the goal line and got a second hand on him just before the ball arrived. The 15-yard markoff set PSU up for the game-winning score at the Illini 17.
Player of the game:
+ Man/Mountain Devon Still just might end up as a Top 10 NFL pick if he keeps this up. Still was unblockable Saturday, splitting double teams with ease to record 10 tackles, 3.5 of them behind the line, one of them a sack.
+ Wow. Just when it looked like this thing was working itself out, Matt McGloin looked absolutely clueless throwing into coverage on his first four series. Then, Rob Bolden entered the game and was WORSE, displaying again the most amazing and frightening lack of pocket awareness and inaccuracy we've ever seen -- and that was just on his first series! Somehow, the PSU coaches decided to leave Bolden in the game for three more series during which he did not complete a pass and the lone first down came via a 14-yard run by Silas Redd. McGloin was terrible again for 26 minutes of the second half but pulled it together to lead the Lions on the game-winning drive, thanks in large part to the return of Moye, which seemed to immediately boost the quaterback's confidence. This thing is obviously over, not so much because McGloin has won the job but because Bolden has imploded to the point that he can't be put back on the field for his own good. Will the Penn State coaches see it that way? Probably not.
+ When Silas Redd rushed for 3 yards to set Penn State up with a 1st-and-goal at the 5 the Lions held all the cards as far as controlling the clock over the final 1:20 of the game. Illinois would have to use hits first timeout now and then another after each of the next two plays, provided the Lions didn't score before then. The absolute worst-case scenario for Penn State would be a 3rd-and-goal play with about :29 left and then perhaps an all or nothing final play of the game. But before Ron Zook could even ponder his options, Penn State inexplicably stopped the clock. Even if the Nits coaches felt like they NEEDED a timeout at the juncture, they still should have let the play clock run down to :01 before calling it. Of course, it never would have gotten that far because Illinois would have called the timeout first. The Lions then used that stupid timeout to call a dive by Redd to get to the 3. Now, Illinois would call its first timeout and ... Penn State called timeout AGAIN!!!!! At this point, the Lions coaches had saved Zook, one of the most clueless game management coaches in the business, not one but two timeouts and at least :30 seconds on the clock. Illinois should have gotten the back with 1:00 and left and one timeout or :20 left and three timeouts but never, ever should they have gotten it back with 1:00 and three timeouts. PSU deserved to lose that game strictly based on such asinine strategy, but like the headlines says up there: Bulletproof.
In the booth:
+ To say Carter Blackburn and Brock Huard were underwhelming would be an overstatement. There's not much chemistry there (they actually seems to be quarreling a couple of times) and Huard is full of hot air, never moreso than when he pontificated about the "missed call" against Penn State's Nick Sukay for what he termed "illegal helmet to helmet contact" on Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who fumbled on the key play. Blackburn even recited the NCAA rule to provide dramatic effect. One problem, though. Both Huard and Blackburn were incorrectly interpreting the "helmet to helmet" rule, which applies only to "defenseless" players. Players running with the football (even quarterbacks) are, by rule, not considered defenseless.
+ Toward the end of the first quarter, sideline reporter and PSU grad Lisa Salter reported that it did not appear as if Rob Bolden would be entering the game in the second quarter. At nearly the exact second, Mirror ME and PSU grad Neil Rudel tweeted that Mike McQueary had summoned Bolden and it appeared he would be entering the game. Advantage Rudel -- and Twitter.
+ Illinois' scoring drive was aided by an incorrect call and incorrect review (the famed Big Ten Double Whammy of Incompetence) of a 12-yard pass play where the receiver clearly left his feet along the sideline BEFORE establishing possession of the football.
+ Penn State's field goal drive was aided by an incorrect spot and incorrect review (hmmm, where have we heard that before) of a Devon Smith reception that the linesman missed by a full yard.
And now, a word from our sponsors...
+ Hey AT&T, it's time to retire that Taco Party spot. You're promoting lightning-quick communication with a 3-year-old commercial.
+ @happyhourvalley: PSU raises your Riley O'Toole with Rob Bolden.
+ @15MinutesBlog: The "You are watching college football on ABC" screen tag has never been more necessary.
+ @f8journalist: Someone grab one of those kids throwing snowballs and get him/her under center.
We were right:
+ We said in our prediction that this team seemed to be impervious to its own mistakes. If there ever were an example of that, we saw it Saturday.
We were wrong:
+In that same prediction, we said we thought Rob Bolden might make a big play in this game. Um, uh....not quite.
+ The Nittany Lions are off next week. After 30 carries, Silas Redd can use the rest.