Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Penn State Vs Florida: Trying to Gain Perspective on a Disappointing Loss

Greetings from Centre County PA where the mood right now among the Penn State faithful is one of outright pessimism and dismay after Saturday's grim Penn State loss to the Florida Gators.

It wasn't the fact that Penn State lost the game.  It was HOW the team lost this game that is hard to shake off.   It was just a very ugly ending. 

To paraphrase a Penn State colleague with whom we commiserated over a drink at the hotel bar in Tampa on Saturday night, "We came, we stank, we left."  He used a more modern "s" word but I can't bring myself to use that word in writing. 

As for us, my husband Terry and I spent Saturday night and all day Sunday recovering from the disappointment and trying to enjoy our last day in Florida before returning to the frigid North.   The blog post would have to wait.

Besides, the only way I could access the Internet to post a blog was to pay another $14.95 to use an ethernet connection - remember those??? - in our hotel room.   I could check my email and Facebook using my iPhone so ethernet would only be needed for the blog because typing more than a few sentences on the iPhone is a bit of a difficult task. Not worth it.  

It always mystifies me, how a luxury hotel chain can charge a small fortune for Internet access when a chain like the Red Roof Inn or Holiday Inn Express will charge nothing.  But that's another story.  I digress...and I'm making excuses.

I just didn't want to think about the Outback Bowl game on Sunday.   That day we went to the Florida Aquarium and took a trolley ride to Ybor City, had dinner at Bennigan's at Channelside in Tampa.  It was an okay day, but it didn't help our mood much. On Monday we traveled home and I began the process of sorting out this game. 

So here I am still trying to make sense out of what happened on Saturday.  There are those who are furious at Joe Paterno, calling for him to go.  They feel that there was no excuse for keeping Quarterback Matt McGloin in the game when he clearly was unsettled and throwing rather wildly.

I had turned to Terry at one point when Matt made an errant pass - I think it was one of those "we're lucky to get that one back" throws  - and said, "Joe should pull Matt out and have him sit out a series.  He needs to settle down."

My friend Greg, sitting in Omaha Nebraska and bleeding blue and white with his son Tyler, sent a text to me and said the same thing. Terry wasn't so sure.   Terry thinks of a quarterback more as a kicker - you have to work through the failures and get to the brilliance.  He sees pulling the player as a vote of non-confidence and lack of faith.  Maybe Joe Paterno saw it that way as well during the game, although on Sunday morning he did express regrets.

But in my view it wouldn't have been lack of faith to pull Matt out for a series or two.  It might have sent him a message that he needs to think a bit before throwing.  And it might have also sent a message to Robert Bolden that he was still a valuable member of the team (more on that later). 

For whatever reason, sane or not, Joe stuck with Matt McGloin.  Perhaps he thought Matt would work through the rough spots and settle down by staying in.   After all, in Penn State's second possession -  the first touchdown drive -  Matt was 100%:  six passes and six completions.  Including a touchdown completion to Derek Moye.  Hard to argue with that!  We were ahead 7-0.

But then, after a 3-and-out by Florida, Penn State got the ball back, and on 3rd and 10 Matt McGloin threw an interception, which is returned 49 yards to the Penn State 15 yard line.  That was a bad throw.

That first interception should have resulted in a Florida score, but it didn't.  Florida drove to the Penn State 3 yard line, helped by a Penn State off-sides penalty.  But T. Burton fumbled the ball while rushing to the end zone, D'Anton Lynn recovered the fumble, and Penn State wound up having possession on the 20-yard line due to a touchback!

It was easy to forget that first interception.  We were thrilled with the great defensive play, and nobody was thinking it was time to pull McGloin from the game.  At this point in the game McGloin was 6 of 11 for 57 yards with one interception and one touchdown.  Not great, but not awful.  And we had 7 points on the board.  Florida didn't.

Also at this point in the game, the running game was non-existent.  We had gained a total of six yards on eight carries in the first quarter!  When a quarterback has to throw because the running backs can't make yards you know you're in trouble.  Terry and I were more concerned with the running game than the passing game at that point.  And so, likely, were the Penn State coaches.

So then the second quarter began, and Penn State started at the two-yard line.  Mike Zordich rushed for four yards.  Evan Royster rushed for three yards.  On 3rd and 3, Matt McGloin threw a pass, intercepted by C. Riggs for no gain at Penn State's 15-yard line.  Such a short field!   A few plays later, Florida scored, and the game was now tied at 7-7.

But this interception wasn't McGloin's fault.  He threw it right into the receiver's hands, and because the receiver didn't catch it, it popped up and the defender caught it.  A great defensive play.  Or maybe just luck.  Can't blame McGloin for that, but one has to wonder if he wasn't a bit frustrated.

Still, it's a tie game.  Not a disaster.  Plenty of time left on the clock.  12:48 left in the second quarter, to be exact.

Then, Penn State had the ball and wound up punting; Florida had the ball and wound up punting.  Penn State's rushing game was still inconsistent as was the passing game.  Florida was not performing any better than Penn State.  Our defense seemed to be holding.

On the next drive, on a Penn State 3- and-out, Anthony Fera's punt was blocked.  L. McGray ran the ball 27 yards for a Florida touchdown.  Florida 14, Penn State 7.  Breakdown on special teams.  Not good!

We knew we were in trouble then, but again, there was plenty of time.  The game was a bit ugly.  But ugly games can be fun sometimes, as long as you win.  After all, this was Florida, not some sort of patsy.  Any kind of win against an SEC team is always a good win!

With 6:48 left in the second quarter, Penn State started its drive at the Penn State 28 yard line.  Two key pass plays -  a 12-yarder to Brett Brackett and a 44-yarder to Derek Moye - were the highlights of this drive.  Mike Zordich rushes one yard for a touchdown.  Score was tied again, 14-14.  All is forgiven (again).  Matt McGloin has redeemed the first two interceptions.

One more drive for each team resulted in Penn State scoring three points on a Collin Wagner field goal.  Miraculously, Penn State went into the half ahead by three points.

At this point in the game, we were by no means comfortable, but we weren't unhappy.  We had expected a somewhat close and perhaps even ugly game.  It was a nice day, the Florida fans were friendly, and the Penn State fans were boisterous even if it was a relatively small group.

There was a group next to us called the "Bu Cru" that was especially fun to watch.  Six folks wearing number 85 game shirts, we assume in honor of Ollie Ogbu.  We wondered about the connection, and enjoyed their antics and enthusiasm in the stands.

Again, we weren't thinking we would lose.  At the half, Terry asked me what I thought about the game.  I speculated that the game would go to the team that made the fewest mistakes in the second half.

When the third quarter started we were not comfortable.  Neither team had played particularly well.  The one thing I was happy about was our defense.  They looked more solid than they had all season, perhaps because there had been time to heal all those injuries.  And they were making some big plays. 
Especially D'Anton Lynn, who in the first half had intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.

At the beginning of the third quarter, Florida and Penn State exchanged possessions.  Perhaps significant to a later play call, fullback Michael Zordich could not rush to a first down on 3-1 against Florida's defense.  Then on Florida's second drive, after a punt by Anthony Fera that gave them great field position on the Florida 49-yard line, Florida was held to a field goal.  The score was now tied again, 17-17.

Then Penn State had another 3-and-out possession.  Florida's next possession was unusual.  Penn State's defense held.   But on 4th and 5, on the Florida 32 yard line, Urban Meyer decided to do a fake punt.  C. Henry almost but not quite made it. He was a yard short.  Florida handed Penn State the ball on the Florida 36 yard line on downs!  Terry was beside himself, screaming that Urban Meyer must be crazy to do that.  It didn't make any sense to us.

And it cost Florida a touchdown.  Terry felt that they just gave it away.  If we had been Florida fans we would have been livid!

Penn State drove down the short field, behind rushes of Silas Reed and Devon Smith, and then on the 2-yard line, Matt McGloin succeeded in practically walking wide right into the end zone while everyone was expecting a down the middle rush or pass.  There was nobody there to stop him.  There was only one pass thrown, an incomplete 2-yarder to Joe Suhey.

So now the score was 24-17 in favor of Penn State.

Then, another special teams breakdown occurred.  Collin Wagner kicked off to the 8-yard line, and S. Patton returned the kickoff 48 yards to the Penn State 44 yard line.  Another short field for Florida.  And they took advantage of it.  However, our defense held them to a field goal.

Penn State 24, Florida 20.

Penn State's next drive started on the 20 yard line.  Evan Royster rushed for six yards then another three yards to bring the Lions to 3rd and 1.  Then, on a play call that confounded both reporters and fans, Matt McGloin passed the ball and was intercepted by Florida's B. Hicks.

Was that the right play call?  At the time Terry was furious. Royster had just rushed for 9 yards, how difficult would it have been for him to make one more?

But in this wild and crazy game where both coaches seemed determined to give points away to the other team, maybe it wasn't a bad decision.  After all, just a little while ago, Michael Zordich had not been able to make first down on 3rd and 1.  But Royster had some momentum that Zordich didn't have at the time.

Of course, had the pass play been successful, and Penn State able to gain significant yards as Joe Paterno tried to explain in his post-game press conference, we would have thought the play call brilliant.  Just as the Florida fans might have thought Urban Meyer's 4th and 5 fake punt brilliant if it had succeeded!  This was McGloin's third interception.  And we were all thinking that Bolden needed to be given a chance.

That interception set up a touchdown early in the 4th quarter for Florida, and Florida led, 27-24, for the first time in the game.  We weren't happy, but we weren't that far behind. 

McGloin stays.  Another Penn State 3-and-out possession.  Royster lost one yard rushing, McGloin threw two incomplete passes.  A punt by Butterworth results again in favorable field position for Florida, starting on the Florida 43-yard line even after a penalty.

Then, Florida puts together a solid 13-play, 54 yard drive that takes four minutes off the clock.  The Lions defense starts to look a bit weary.  They can't seem to defend against the rushing plays.  But they do stiffen in the red zone and Florida again has to settle for a field goal.

The score was now 30-24.  Penn State had a chance with 7:32 left in the game.  Matt McGloin could salvage an awful day if he can pull this one out and make it a 31-30 win. 

The Lions did move the ball but wound up punting.  Florida then took over at their own ten-yard line and with a series of rushing plays, runs the clock down.  Penn State's defense, however, stops them and gives its offense one last chance with 3:04 remaining on the clock.

The next series started out well.  McGloin completed an 18-yard pass to Derek Moye and then a 5-yard pass to Justin Brown.  Evan Royster rushed for 23 yards then another seven yards.  The Lions completed seven plays and advanced 54 yards in 2:09 minutes.  We were on the Florida 25-yard line. 

Wow.  After all the mistakes that the offense and special teams made, including three interceptions, the Lions still had a chance to win this game!  There was plenty of time.  There were 55 seconds left on the clock and we were in scoring position.  One good series of pass plays or long brilliant Evan Royster or Silas Redd run would win this game.  But with so little time on the clock, pass plays were the safest bet. 

Unfortunately McGloin threw his fourth interception, which was returned 80 yards by A. Block for another Florida touchdown.  37-24.  The game was over.

Matt McGloin's fifth and final interception did not affect the outcome of the game.  At that point there was no choice but to pass and there wasn't enough time to score two touchdowns regardless.

And this is perhaps what hurts most about this game. We came that close to winning.  Instead of a memorable and fun win it became an ignominious loss.  We could have been shaking our heads and proclaiming "an ugly win's still a win".  We could have been praising McGloin's ability to overcome his difficulties and pull out a win.

Instead, Penn State fans are now screaming for Bolden to replace McGloin.  And screaming perhaps even louder for Joe Paterno's resignation.

I'm with Joe on this point: you can not blame the loss solely on Matt McGloin.  There were play calling problems, an inability to establish the run in the first half, numerous special teams problems, and many incompletions that were caused by receivers dropping perfectly thrown passes.  Two of the five interceptions were not caused by Matt McGloin, but rather by good defense on Florida's part.  One of the five interceptions was meaningless because it occurred in desperation at the end of the game.

No, I can't blame McGloin, even if he had a lousy game.  I blame the coaches for not pulling him out for a while so he could settle down.   And at the end of the game, when we were behind by one touchdown, I would have had McGloin back in there.  Because what I saw all season in McGloin was a fighter and a leader who had crawled out of tough situations in the past.  He just didn't have it on Saturday.

The brightest spot of the game on Saturday was the defense.  It was the first time we saw the defense play four quarters all season.  And that brings me to Tom Bradley, who is actively seeking a head coaching position outside of Penn State, possibly even Pittsburgh.  I hate to see him go.  But it's time for him to become a head coach, if that's his ambition.  He can't wait around forever for Joe to retire, and it's no longer clear to me that when Joe does retire, Tom Bradley will be the favored heir apparent.   The fact that Joe Paterno is vocally supportive of Tom Bradley as Pittsburgh's next head coach supports my belief that Penn State will do a wide-open search outside of Holuba Hall for Joe's replacement.

Back to the game for a moment.  We also have to credit Florida for the win, especially its defense for coming up with the big turnover plays, for reading our offense so well.  While it's hard to shake the feeling that Penn State gave this game away, Florida just took what our defense gave them, scored enough field goals and other touchdowns to get into winning range,  and took advantage of opportunities better than Penn State did.

As for Robert Bolden's rumored decision to leave Penn State, I can't say that I blame him for being upset about how this season evolved, although I don't know the full story there.  However, he should really have a long discussion with the coaches about his future before he makes his decision, and he should definitely tell his father to stop representing him with the media. That type of press maneuvering won't sit well with Penn State's coaches or with the fans for that matter.  Bolden is no longer a freshman and should be able to speak for himself.   

If he goes, I wish him well. We were impressed with him and thought Penn State had found itself an exceptionally talented quarterback that just needed experience and a more thorough understanding of the playbook.

But we also saw, when McGloin became our quarterback, how much better the offense was under McGloin's leadership, even if McGloin wasn't quite as talented and decidedly more inconsistent in his playing ability.

Well, now that we're back in Happy Valley, or Unhappy Valley as the case may be, it's time to get organized for school to start next week.  It's been a nice break, and now it's on to basketball to tide us over until the Blue-White game and the start of what should be an exciting 2011 football season with a more experienced team.

To all my readers, I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.  Thanks for your patience when I've been slow in posting.  I appreciate each and every one of you!


  1. Thank you Carolyn for your excellent insight and descriptive narratives all season long. Enjoyed reading your blog. Certainly agree the Lions Outback Bowl loss was disappointing especially when the defense played so well. Hope to read more on your efforts to secure next years season tickets. Gary Saeger Allentown PA.

  2. Thanks Gary and Happy New Year! Right now I'm optimistic that we will get the seats we want. We've been able to see what seats are available and as of today the ones we want are still available. So can't wait until 9:27 a.m. when we will have 3 minutes to choose our seats.

    Will provide an update probably that evening after a long day of the first day of classes.