Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ugly Penn State Win Against Minnesota Gophers Better Than No Win

In his press conference last week, Coach Joe Paterno stated that the Penn State football team had to make plays. 

Penn State cornerback D'Anton Lynn responded to that challenge late in the second quarter when he intercepted an errant pass in the end zone by Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and then, rather than take a knee, ran it back 58 yards to midfield. 

One play later, on a 42-yard pass from 3rd string backup quarterback Matt McGloin to wide receiver Derek Moye, Penn State scored its 3rd touchdown to make the score 21-7.  Not bad for McGloin's first career pass completion as quarterback!

That series - the interception and the long pass - resulted in a 14 point swing.  We prevented Minnesota from scoring 7 points, and we scored a quick 7 points.  The difference in the 33-21 game was 12 points.

That interception was definitely the play of the game.  But it didn't necessarily define the game.  There was too much time left. After the half, Minnesota, on its first possession, executed an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a touchdown, making the score 21-14 and taking 6:18 off the clock.

And while Minnesota wouldn't score again, they were a constant threat.  Penn State, which finally achieved some success scoring 7 points in the red zone, settled for a field goal in the third quarter.  It wasn't until the fourth quarter, after another touchdown and a safety, when Penn State was up 33-14, that we could finally relax and realize we just might win this game.

This was a game where Minnesota won every place except the score board  Minnesota had 26 first downs to Penn State's 17. 

Minnesota accumulated 433 total yards to Penn State's 351 yards. 

Time of possession was heavily in Minnesota's favor:  33:40 for Minnesota versus 26:20 for Penn State. 

Minnesota conducted 84 offensive plays.  Penn State conducted 56 offensive plays.

Other than those two great back to back plays, the game was a slugfest that was often frustrating to watch as Penn State's offense was led by three different quarterbacks, and Penn State's defense missed tackle after tackle.

Often it was Minnesota's self-destructing tendencies that caused their drives to stall, rather than incredible plays by our defense.

So when I think of how we managed to win this game I think about D'Anton Lynn's interception, which created the opportunity for a quick strike - another big play - by McGloin.  Joe was right.  Big plays do make a difference.

Our offense seemed a bit better than against Illinois, but we still had trouble establishing the run. At the end of the second half, we had 14 rushing plays but gained only 35 yards on them! 

With Bolden injured and Newsome feeling a bit under the weather and not used much, it was McGloin who had to step up - and he did so, albeit inconsistently at times.    Overall, the offense did their job.  Rushing plays improved in the second half, with both Evan Royster and Silas Reed gaining significant yardage.

My husband Terry kept declaring that this is the worst defense he has ever seen - and as you know he has seen a lot of Penn State defenses.  What has upset him is poor tackling, especially on the defensive line. 

Surely injuries are a factor here, but still, it's been unusual, game after game, wondering when and if the defense will improve. 

Let's not forget that we were playing a team that was 1-6 and we couldn't tackle or control the line of scrimmage!  Although we were always ahead, it never felt comfortable.

But hey, a win's a win.  And it's much better than heading home with a loss against a team whose own students seem to have abandoned Minnesota football. 

I do hope that Minnesota is able to turn around its program in the future.  The TCF Bank Stadium is brand new and very exciting.   Physically, it may be the best stadium we have ever visited.  It's an infinite improvement over the old Hubert Humphrey dome.  A sheer delight to attend a game there.

But any sort of big-time game atmosphere is lacking when the stadium is half-empty and the student section never shows up.

Blame Minnesota's 1-6 record.  Or blame the weather forecast for rain, which turned out to be wrong.  Or perhaps blame President Barack Obama. 

President Obama had chosen this Saturday to speak at a Democratic Farmer Labor party rally at the University of Minnesota campus, an event that would occur within an hour of the end of the game, and only two blocks from the stadium in the field house.

It was the first time since 1911 that a sitting president has visited the University of Minnesota campus.  So needless to say, that generated more excitement than the game itself.

It was well-publicized before the event that parking and traffic would be a huge problem due to extra-added security. And while about 48,000 tickets were sold for a stadium that accommodates only 50,805 spectators, there were plenty of empty seats - with estimates of about 35,000 in attendance seeming a bit high to me.

In any case, the Minnesota fans who were there to support their team should be applauded.  They are an enthusiastic bunch, and this stadium, although small, will be an intimidating place when it establishes a winning program and it is filled up.  Seems that a new head coach is the right move to energize the football program, which has been lackluster for a while now.

As far as our experience this weekend, we couldn't have chosen a better place to stay for the Minnesota game, especially with the presidential visit.  The Radisson University Hotel in Minneapolis is right on the edge of the University of Minnesota campus.  It took all of 5 minutes to walk from the hotel to the stadium, and the Penn State Alumni Association tailgate was even closer, practically next to the hotel.

It was not inexpensive, but well worth the convenience.  We rented a car, but didn't need to.  We used it to go to the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley on Friday (a gorgeous day and a very nice zoo), and we planned a trip to Mall of America today before heading to the airport.   Yesterday the car remained parked in the garage all day, a hassle-free approach to Obama's visit.

Today we canceled the Mall of America excursion (been there, done that) in favor of a late checkout and writing this blog/grading papers.  Terry's not into shopping anyhow, and I'm not in the mood!  Unusual for me, but I'm feeling the pressure to get some papers back to students that I brought with me this weekend.

So, we go home to Happy Valley bearing our swords rather than on them.  Hopefully this win will give the team much needed confidence for a tough schedule ahead. 

Michigan next Saturday, then Northwestern on November 6.  Both at home.  Neither of them will be easy, and Penn State still needs to improve to have a chance to beat them.

Let's hope that the coaches and the team find a way to overcome their difficulties and surprise us over the next two weeks!  A winning season will depend on at least one win out of these two games!

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