Penn State Style Points

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Feit Can Write

Watching the Penn State – Nebraska game, an odd comparison jumped out at me.  During the game, BTN would occasionally show score updates from the Ohio State – Indiana game.  Ohio State is desperately trying to play their way into the BCS Championship Game, but the low perception of the Big Ten means the Buckeyes may need to rely on style points to get the job done.  After the game, many were wondering if the Buckeyes’ 42-14 win over the lowly Hoosier was enough – even with undefeated Baylor losing Saturday night.

Meanwhile, over in Pennsylvania, a similar story was playing out.  Bo Pelini is, by most accounts, on the hot seat as Nebraska’s head coach.  It is becoming evident that Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst will make a critical, program defining decision at some point.  It could be Friday, this weekend, or after the bowl game, but make not mistake – it is coming.

Since very few people truly know what Shawn Eichorst is thinking, we’re left with speculation on what Bo “has to do” to keep his job.  There are those who believe that Bo can keep his job for another year by winning out against Penn State, Iowa, and the to-be-named bowl opponent.  If that is true, then you must wonder the same thing those Buckeye fans are thinking today:  Is it enough?  Is an overtime win against a middle of the pack PSU team (I had the Nittany Lions 6th in my Power Rankings last week) enough to help Bo?  Or does it actually hurt him?

Personally, I think that if Alabama and Florida State win out, they will play for the BCS title, which Ohio State sulks in the Rose Bowl.  As for Buckeye alumnus Bo Pelini?  I believe that Eichorst has already made his decision, and barring something incredibly dramatic (i.e. another blow out loss or a headline making scandal) these last three games won’t be enough to move the needle one way or the other.

So what did we learn?

Andy Janovich may be the best punt return option on the team.  With his one yard return of the blocked Penn State punt, Andy Janovich exponentially surpassed the negative three yards accumulated by Jordan Westerkamp.  I know, I know, we’re all sick and tired of hearing about Nebraska’s abysmally pathetic punt return game, but until we see some answers on why this staff has chosen to forfeit yards, field position, and momentum I think it is fair game.  The Kenny Bell TD on a kickoff return proves that Nebraska is certainly capable of success in the return game, yet I feel like we’re more likely to see the return of Callahan and Cosgrove before we see a punt returned for a touchdown.

Tim Beck continues to be hit or miss with his play calling.  A quick list of things I question:  Off the cuff, I would guess this was the fourth or fifth straight game where Beck has a called a quick pass to Kenny Bell on the first series of the game.  That level of predictability begs for defenses to take advantage.  The horizontal passing game has really stalled over the last month.

I also question the sanity of running the zone read with Ron Kellogg III.  Unless he’s sprinting to the opposite end zone after a TD pass, RKIII isn’t much of a run threat.  Penn State knew this, and decided they were not going to let Ameer Abdullah beat them.  But yet, Beck kept going back to the zone read – maybe in the hopes had Kellogg would be able to suddenly get the foot speed of Taylor Martinez.

On the other side of the coin, there are things that are creative, courageous, or just plain crazy.  The QB draw on 2nd and Goal from the six was creative – and if Abdullah doesn’t whiff on his block, it is a touchdown.  I appreciated the courage of calling a deep ball on 3rd and 14 from your own one yard line.  Calling an option on 3rd and 10 without Abdullah in the game?  That’s crazy, but Imani Cross took it for 13 yards and a first down.

Nebraska got bailed out in their decision to not have the wind for the fourth quarter.  This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine:  It’s a windy day with strong, gusty, swirling winds.  Team A wins the coin toss and defers.  Team B opts to get the ball to start the first half.  Team A pick the goal to defend.  At halftime, Team A chooses to get the ball, and Team B picks the goal to defend.  Invariably, Team B will choose to have the wind at their back for the third quarter – meaning they must go into the wind for the fourth.

I think that is a horribly stupid piece of coaching malpractice.  When are you likely to attempt a long field goal – at the end of a quarter with another 15 minutes to play – no matter the score; or at the end of a game when you are down by three or less?  Exactly.  And yet, week after week you see coaches (some more highly regarded than Bo Pelini) make this mistake.  Sure you’d like to start strong after halftime, and not get into a hole, but wouldn’t you rather know that your kicker’s max range is 55 instead of 40, because that gusty north wind is at your back instead of in your face?

I’m not saying that Nebraska wins this game in regulation if they picked the wind correctly.  But I’d wager that during Nebraska’s final drive there were many folks on the NU sideline wishing those 24 mph winds were behind Pat Smith.

So what don’t we know?

Does a Penn State – Nebraska matchup guarantee a controversial call?  The notched field in 1982.  The goal line fumble in 2012.  Now, you can add the Sam Burtch “late hit” penalty to the collection of curious (if not blatantly incorrect) calls in this storied series.  That call was – depending on your perspective – either the epitome of everything that is wrong with football today, or simply a horribly missed call.  For the sake of those Nebraska fans who remember every injustice, and have finally accepted the Matt Lehman fumble as karmic payback for 1982, I’m sure glad Nebraska was able to win this game.

Regarding the penalty itself – I think the call stinks.  Period.  Burtch clearly got in front of the PSU player’s pad (i.e. not a clip) and while they were a good five yards behind the action, it wasn’t like he blindsided a guy 40 yards away from the play.  The lesson here is that in 2013 (or 2012, as Michigan State would like to point out) is that if you are trailing a play, you should do little more than put a hand or arm on a guy to keep him away from the play.

One final note on the officiating:  the pass interference call against Penn State when Kellogg threw it down field from his own end zone was not a make up call.  That was a legitimate pass interference penalty, correctly called by the officials.

Will guys have to play offense and defense against Iowa?  On the game winning field goal, the line contained a defensive player (Vincent Valentine) and a fifth year senior, who did not see his first playing time until two big blowouts during his junior year.  Yikes.

Students (and fans with eligibility remaining) are encouraged to bring medical clearance papers from their doctor in case Nebraska needs your help at guard on Friday.

Would an ineffective (and apparently injured) Taylor Martinez have been pulled the same way Tommy Armstrong was?  Before I learned that Tommy Armstrong’s ankle injury led to him being replaced by Ron Kellogg III, I assumed Armstrong was pulled because he wasn’t getting anything done offensively.  This made me ask if an ineffective Taylor Martinez would have gotten the same treatment at this stage in the season?  Even with the disclosure of Armstrong’s injury, I still think the question is valid:  Would Taylor have played where Tommy gets yanked?

Now, before you accuse me of trolling Martinez and the coaching staff – especially because history has already answered that question – I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to Bo, Beck, and the coaching staff.  I think they know now that Martinez should have come out of the Minnesota game, and when a similar opportunity presented itself (conference road game, ineffective and injured QB), they made the right call to get a healthy body in the game.

How Full Is Your Glass?

Given the divide I’m seeing between the “Pelini Apologists” and the “Bo Bashers”, I’d like to provide a stat, quote, observation, or factoid that best illustrates the position of these two diverse groups.

Glass Half Full:  Nebraska is 10-1 in Big 10 games decided by less than 10 points. (h/t to Sam McKewon for the stat).

Glass Half Empty:  Nebraska is 7-6 in Big 10 games decided by more than 10 points.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Pat Smith.  I knew Nebraska had the game won well before Smith kicked his penalty nullified 37 yard field goal, or the 42 yarder that actually counted.  I knew NU would win when I saw his face after Penn State’s Bill O’Brien called timeout to try an ice him.  Smith had a look of total confidence which told me this kick was merely a formality.  That confidence is probably why Gabrielle Union tweeted her love for him after the game.
  2. Ameer Abdullah.  For a while, I was getting nervous that he might not get to 100 yards.  With many of the offensive threats injured or limited, Penn State was free to key on Abdullah.  Regardless, Abdullah picked up tough yards, fought for every inch, and for his efforts was jobbed out of nice long touchdown run.  Number 8 is putting together an all-time season for a Nebraska running back.  Take a minute and consider how impressive that is.
  3. David Santos.  Remember when David Santos was a bum and the worst linebacker to play for Nebraska since ?  What we’re seeing now is what happens when you put players in position to make plays.  Clearly, Santos did not thrive as a middle LB, but as the weakside guy, he has been playing at a very high level.  Kudos to the coaching staff for making the change and to Santos to embracing it without ego.
  4. Vincent Valentine.  Big Vince was a disruptive force in the middle of the line, blowing up PSU blockers and disrupting their offense.  This kid has a bright future as he gets stronger, better conditioned, and continues to gain experience.
  5. Kenny Bell.  While I think it is clear that Bell is not at 100%, he still managed to have a big impact on the game.  Five catches, several of which went for first downs.  And, of course, there is the kickoff return.  Ninety-nine beautiful momentum shifting yards.  I was thrilled to see Bell break one after being so close a couple of other times this year.  But I’m even more thrilled that he didn’t get tackled by the kicker.  That would have been tough to live down.

Honorable Mention:  Sam Foltz, Gabriel Miller, Ciante Evans, Avery Moss, Andy Janovich, Mauro Bondi, catches by both tight ends

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Takeaways.  Ciante’s interception was a thing of beauty, but there were several missed opportunities for turnovers (interceptions, balls on the turf, etc.) that Nebraska did not capitalize on.
  2. Corey Cooper.  Dude, what happened on that Jesse James touchdown catch?  I realize James is a very large man, but as a safety – aka the last line of defense – you absolutely must get him down or out of bounds.  A lot of folks questioned your effort and desire, which is never where a player wants to be.
  3. Randy Gregory.  Yes, Iowa, there is a way you can reduce the threat of Gregory destroying your offense:  run the ball at him.  Run defense is the weakest part of Gregory’s game right now, so running the ball right at him does a good job of neutralizing his amazing talents.  Minnesota introduced the concept in their win over Nebraska, and Penn State had success with it too.  But I’d caution against trying this technique in 2014, as I believe Gregory will get stronger and more skilled in his run defense.
  4. Beaver Stadium Trash Receptacles.  I get that it was windy, and that wind was swirling all around PSU’s Beaver Stadium.  What I don’t get was why it looked like the game was being played on top of an active landfill.  I kept expecting the BTN cameras to show Geno from State College emptying the trash cans from his apartment on top of a big pile behind the north end zone.  Seriously, Penn State fans, dispose of your garbage (or recyclables) in an appropriate container.
  5. Chuck Long.  Dude, you are absolutely brutal to listen to.  A perfect storm of redundancy, inane comments, and non sequiturs all delivered with a historically monotone voice.  The former Iowa QB is the only color commentator in the nation who works in black and white.

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