Penn State

Penn State vs. Alabama: Coming Up Short on a Big Night

You have to credit Alabama.  Beaver Stadium was a tough place to play on Saturday. 'Bama had never played in front of a crowd that large, 107,846 people.  The crowd noise was "over the top" from the beginning of the game until late in the third quarter, when chances for a Penn State comeback became slimmer and slimmer.

 This was THE most coveted game of the season at Beaver Stadium.  It was a classic Big Ten - SEC match-up between two coaching geniuses:  Joe Paterno and Nick Saban.  

 And, it was declared to be a "White House", where every Penn State fan wears white, making for an impressive sight and memory, and a very boisterous crowd, especially the student section.

 In short, a big night for Penn State and Beaver Stadium.  Alabama was in town!  For the first time since 1989.  This would be fun.

 The Penn State Pride would Bleach the Crimson Tide. (Oh my.  I just made that one up.  Where are the button people?)

 Not only that, the polls be damned.  With all that white, and that huge crowd, we actually believed that the #23 Nittany Lions had a chance to beat the #3 Crimson Tide.

 Word to the wise:  when you mix crimson with white, you get pink.  There was definitely a pink hue to Beaver Stadium all night long, as Tide fans were interspersed among the Penn State faithful throughout the stadium.   There were a LOT of Tide fans who bought tickets from Penn State season ticket holders who were given access to extra tickets when season tickets did not sell out. 

 But still, white dominated.  Some of the roads that were closed due to flooding had reopened just in time to prevent a complete roadblock from eastern PA. to Beaver Stadium.  

 Then, an unstable weather system turned into sunshine just in time for everyone to enjoy a fantastic tailgating atmosphere.  It's called Paterno weather, and Happy Valley is famous for that.

 As for the game, in a somewhat unusual move, Penn State won the toss and took the ball.  Sixteen plays and seven and a half minutes later, quarterback Rob Bolden had led the team down the field 54 yards for Evan Lewis's first career field goal. 

 At this point I felt pretty encouraged.  First, we were able to move the ball against Alabama's defense. 

 Second, we had a running game, with Silas Redd steadily making forward progress.  Granted they were often small gains, but gains they were. 

 Third, on 4th and 1 at the Alabama 30-yard line, Rob Bolden was able to run out of bounds for a first down. 

 Finally, it was a relief to see kicker Evan Lewis make his first career field goal, especially after last week, when his kicking game left a lot to be desired.

 We were on the board first.  We controlled the ball.  We ate up a lot of clock.  Nice. 

 Penn State wasn't going to roll over and play dead to the #3 team in the country.  It was going to be a battle.

 Then, Alabama got the ball for the first time and went three-and-out. 

 That's when I got really excited.  Our defense looked good, and I thought that maybe we could muster enough offense to win this game in a classic tight one like we had in 1988 (3-8), 1989 (16-17) or 1990 (9-0).

 Unfortunately, that feeling didn't last long. 

 Alabama recovered from whatever nervous jitters the "White House" crowd noise was creating (and trust me - it was VERY noisy).   

 In an 11-play drive facilitated by a questionable 4th and 1 fake punt play where Alabama received a favorable spot for a first down, Alabama marched down the field for 69 yards and scored its first touchdown. 

 Momentum shifted.  It became all Alabama after that. 

 Alabama's defense tightened and was stingy especially against the run.  Neither quarterback could get anything going, and when they did achieve some yardage, turnovers - one interception and two fumbles - gave the ball back to 'Bama. 

 Sigh.  Not good.

 By the end of the third quarter the score was Alabama 20, Penn State 3. 

 That was enough to make the crowd turn pinker rather than whiter, as more and more people headed for the exits. 

 In my section of the stadium, people started referring to their programs to find out who third string quarterback Shane McGregor is.  And turning to each other to see if anyone had played quarterback in high school and could volunteer to help the team.

 Unlike the student section, which made #1 signals in favor of Rob Bolden, the people around me were happy with neither quarterback.

 Perhaps it was just hard, against the 'Bama defense, to see their strengths.  All we saw were weaknesses.

 Still I hadn't quite given up hope for a win.  I was thinking of past games where Penn State had come back to overcome a large deficit, and the specific game I was thinking about at that moment was the Fiesta Bowl where Penn State was down 17-7 with 4:55 left in the third quarter. 

 At that game, there was a miraculous eight-minute run where Penn State scored five touchdowns and came away with a 42-17 victory.  So my view was that with 15 minutes left, a miracle could indeed happen again.

 Unlikely.  But not impossible.

 All we needed were some big plays from the defense or special teams as happened at the Fiesta Bowl to help the offense turn it around and get the crowd into a frenzy again.

 Neither the defense nor the special teams were able to muster big plays.

 The offense, led by Rob Bolden, did manage to complete a 71 yard, 14-play drive for a touchdown with 1:53 left in the fourth quarter, making the score 27-9. 

 With that score, the mathematically correct move, of course, is to go for two points.  Rob Bolden's run succeeded, so now the score was 27-11, a very odd score. 

 Then (in theory) all Penn State had to do was to succeed with the on-side kick, score another touchdown, make another two points to make the score 27-19, and then do it all over again for another eight points to tie the game and send it into overtime.

 All in less than two minutes!

 Now that would have been an exciting finish,  but it was not to be.  Alabama recovered the on-side kick, ran out the clock, and that was that.

 And so Penn State fell short on a big night at Beaver Stadium. 

 The truth is, most of us expected Penn State to lose.  We just thought it would be phenomenal if they somehow pulled out a victory.  We knew 'Bama was better than Penn State, but we didn't know for sure how much better.  Nor did we know how good (or bad) our team was.

 It was a very solid game for 'Bama.  We may have just been defeated by the next BCS national champion, although it's a bit too early to know for sure.

 While losing is never pleasant, there was no better place to be in college football than Beaver Stadium on Saturday. 

 Outside of the stadium, it was a positive atmosphere for all fans at one of the best tailgating environments in college football. 

 Every 'Bama fan I talked to told me how well they were treated by Penn State fans.  They clearly felt welcomed. 

 Inside the stadium we witnessed an awesomely loud and energetic atmosphere where 'Bama executed well and beat us not because they were lucky, but because they were good. 

 As for Penn State, it's time for the coaches to be decisive about their quarterback and pick one, before it starts to affect team morale. 

 My preference is for Rob Bolden, primarily because he adds some dimensions such as running ability and a stronger arm that might be keys to success. 

 Coaching fundamentals need to be stressed to continue to work on mistakes that lead to turnovers.

 Our defense played looked pretty good, and they should get better if they stay healthy.  As they said themselves, they need to work on making some big plays.

 Now what Penn State has to do is to improve.   We need to take it one game at a time and stay focused.  The season is still young and there is a lot to play for, including a clear shot at the Big Ten Championship if the team gets better over the next few weeks.

 On to Philadelphia for our first away game against the Temple Owls, in an atmosphere where Penn State fans will help to sell out the stadium and perhaps even dominate.

This article is also posted at  View from the Stands - Penn State Football - where you can also view a slide show of photos from the Penn State - Bama tailgating atmosphere and game.