Penn State

Penn State Football: An Ugly Win Over Indiana Doesn't Satisfy

It was an ugly game where Penn State seemed to self-destruct whenever it came close to a first down or any scoring opportunity.  Penn State eked out a 16-10 win, but in the last seconds of the game, it was possible for Indiana to beat the Lions 17-16.  Thank goodness that didn't happen.

This was the kind of game where it was too close for comfort.  Where you walk away just shaking your head and wondering how it was possible to be that bad.

About the only good things about that game was the fact that the tailgating was immediately across from the stadium in a pleasant tree shaded lot, the weather was decent, and the staff at the stadium were very helpful and bent over backwards when I asked them for some assistance.  It was a pleasant and friendly environment on a beautiful fall football Saturday.

And - lest I forget - the defense played well.

Actually, even with a close win my husband Terry was somewhat insufferable, declaring that it was one of THE worst games he has ever seen. I can't imagine what it would have been like if we had lost in the final seconds.

By the way, he said the same thing about the Temple game a few weeks ago.  One of the worst games he's ever seen.  In fact, Terry as of this weekend has seen 425 Penn State football games since 1970, the last 262 in a row!  So that's saying a lot.

I'm not sure I believe him.  There have been some other ugly losses in the past that were far worse.  But for ugly wins, perhaps he's right.

We just don't EXPECT a game against Temple or Indiana to be close.  Maybe that's arrogance, but it is what it is. We don't credit the other team for almost winning.  We blame our own team for almost losing.

It's the Penn State Way, in a sense.

The game was tense, and the discussion in the stands was almost as ugly as the plays on the field. "Joe must go - he's lost it".  "Jay (Paterno) is terrible.  Get rid of him." "Our offense is too predictable.  Hire a whole new staff". 

And in addition, with all the TV timeouts in a very long game, I had too many chances, sitting in the stands with my iPhone and plenty of network, to join the discussion on Facebook, where friends watching the game were adding their comments to the general angst.

Everyone was sympathetic towards me, because I was actually IN the stands, suffering this game in person.  They felt that I needed a drink.  And they were probably right.

Still, it's always better to watch a Penn State game in person, I think.

Unless you're my Facebook friend from California, who was going for the Bailey's in her coffee -- a bit early, I would say -- but it sounded like she needed it, and I was, I confess, a bit jealous.  BTW, she is an amazing fan.  She travels to Penn State from California for most home games.

In any case, I haven't seen such ugliness in the team AND in the fans since 2004.  But in 2004, Penn State had a losing record, and they were coming off a losing season in 2003.

In 2011, so far Penn State has a 4-1 record, and they played in a New Year's Day bowl in 2010.  As recently as 2008, Penn State won the Big Ten Championship and went to the Rose Bowl.

Somehow, it's hard to justify ugliness when you have a 4-1 record.  But I can sort of understand why people are upset.  Just look at my husband's comments.  And the season is still early!

Even before the game, at the Penn State Alumni Association gathering outside Memorial Stadium, Dr. Graham Spanier, president of Penn State University, acknowledged he was getting a lot of emailed "suggestions" by Penn State alums and fans on how to run Penn State's football program.

I can only imagine.

Dr. Spanier has learned something in his years at Penn State, and he has a sense of humor.    So he joked about the emails, and said he would forward them to Joe Paterno but he knows that Joe doesn't read his email, and besides, Joe wouldn't listen to him anyway.

That's probably a lesson from 2004. I remember talking with him at Ohio State before the game in 2004.  He was outside the Alumni Association tailgate at the OSU Fawcett Center waiting for a ride.  I asked him how he was dealing with the "Joe Must Go" crowd.

He told me that he had to hire extra staff to take their phone calls.

Then, he asked Terry and me what he should do.  He knew we attended all the games, even throughout those painful losing seasons, and respected our opinion.  He was very sincere.

I told him, "Dr. Spanier, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.  You are hearing now from the 'Joe Must Go' crowd.  If you choose not to renew his contract, you will hear from the 'Joe Has Earned the Right to Stay As Long As He Wants' crowd.  And trust me, that will be at least as many people, if not more."

Terry and I told him we were in the latter camp for now. 

The rest is history.  It has been reported that Dr. Spanier and Tim Curley, Penn State's Athletic Director, tried to convince Joe Paterno to resign at the end of the 2004 season.  Joe Paterno refused, believing that the 2005 team would be special, and they chose not to fire him.

In 2005, against all perceived odds in 2004, Penn State came within one second - ONE SECOND - of having an undefeated season, and the football program turned around dramatically.

The only team they lost to that season was Michigan, in the last second of the game.  The Lions went to the BSC Orange Bowl against ACC champion Florida State, and wound up with an 11-1 season.

Joe became not just a great football coach, but a legend.  A living legend that would be hard - if not impossible - to fire. 

In 2006, Penn State won 9, lost 4, and went to the Outback Bowl.

In 2007, Penn State won 9, lost 4, and went to the Alamo Bowl.

In 2008, Penn State won the Big Ten Championship, with an 11-2 record.  The Lions lost to USC in the Rose Bowl

In 2009, Penn State went to the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, and beat LSU.

LSU had also an 11-2 season.

In 2010, Penn State went to the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.  But the season was 7 wins, 5 losses. 

So...what the heck is the problem?  There are college football programs that would DIE to have such winning records.  In the last six years Penn State has been bowl-eligible each year.   2010 was a challenge, but the rest of the season records since 2005 have been pretty darn good.

But being bowl-eligible isn't good enough for Penn State fans.  They want a national championship and they want it badly.  Nothing short of a BCS bowl will satisfy them.

Penn State fans are irked that when it comes to the "big games", the Lions lose.  They are especially irked if they lose to Iowa!

Penn State fans believe that if they don't beat a top ten team in the country, a win doesn't mean anything.  Frankly, Penn State fans tend to be a bit arrogant.

I must confess, I'm getting a bit impatient myself.  While I know that a win is a win, it's also important that the Penn State team play well, win or lose. And in many of Penn State's wins lately, they are not playing well.

I'm not very optimistic for this season.  I wish I could say that this Penn State team is a scrappy team that finds a way to win against all odds.  But I'm just not sure yet.  Or at all.  Somehow this doesn't look like scrappy. 

We had awesome stats for the Indiana game and barely got a win.  We had 464 yards of offense.  Our time of possession was 37:27.  With those stats, the score should have been about 45-10.

We had only one interception and it was in the first quarter.  We had one fumble, but it was a key one on the Indiana two-yard line where we were about to make a touchdown.

There were, unfortunately, a lot of three-and-out possession changes.  Nothing bad happened, but nothing good happened either. We made a lot of yards, but most of the time we were stopped when it came to scoring.  Either by Indiana or by ourselves.

We had one incredible 74-yard pass play from Matt McGloin to Derek Moye for a touchdown that perhaps saved the win.  We had three field goals made by Anthony Fera, making up for one 52-yard miss at the end of the first half when we were running out of time.

If the Lions play like that for the next few games, they are doomed to a mediocre season. 

It will likely be a winning season, but a mediocre season nonetheless.  Another Outback Bowl trip or something close to that.

So who would want to stand in the shoes of Tim Curley or Dr. Spanier right now?

Seems to me that those shoes are an impossibly uncomfortable fit.

Perhaps by the end of the season, if the Lions can pull out some more hard-fought wins, we will have better perspective on the season and the past few games.

For now, well, it is what it is.