Post-game analysis: When the Tide turned

Posted by Jeff Rice on September 10, 2011 

We're about to close the press box down here at the Beav, and there are a lot of disappointed people out there still heading back toward the turnpike. The Nittany Lions once again not only came up short in a big game but really never threatened -- unless you count the first quarter.

Which will basically be the entire point of this post.

Look, Alabama was just better than Penn State at this point in the season and showed little evidence it won't be better at any point this season. Trent Richardson was the best player on the field and it showed, but going against a defense with Josh Chapman, Mark Barron, Robert Lester, Don'ta Hightower ... the list goes on ... is no light task for any offense, especially one without an established quarterback and an offensive line that is now one injury away from real disaster.

But Penn State still could have made this a game if it had made a couple or even just one of those game-changing plays that you'll read about in tomorrow's stories or hear Joe Paterno talk about five years from now (the Tide's fake-punt conversion, the near-pick by Nick Sukay, the near-pick by Gerald Hodges, the fumble by Andrew Szczerba, the seemingly endless number of balls batted into the air by Penn State defensive ends that floated up there for agonizing moments before falling to the ground). Alabama would likely have won anyway, but it if the Nittany Lions and the crowd had been able to stay emotionally involved for at least one more quarter, it would have been a lot more fun.

That's been the main problem with these last few marquee matchups in Beaver Stadium. The fans turn out in droves, wear white, make noise, get fired up early -- and then the air just slowly goes out of the stadium like a balloon when Penn State fails to make those big plays.

And it doesn't look like these Nittany Lions, which have a lot of pieces (Moye, Mauti, Redd, Still, Hill, Beachum, Drake, Brown) in place, are that far away from making those plays, and it stands to reason they'll make a lot of them against the non-marquee opponents on the schedule. But until they start making them against the top-five or top-10 programs, this will continue to be a second-tier, good-but-not-great program. Does it have the potential to be great again? Yes, and soon. But great teams -- and even great teams lose to other great teams now and then -- don't spend post-game sessions rehashing the plays they almost made. And the Nittany Lions have done a lot of that during the last few years.

Just once, you want to see them make those plays, to see if they really can hang with the big boys if they bring their "A" game. We might have seen Penn State's "A" game for about one quarter today. When they can bring it for four quarters once again, this place will be really fun.

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