Sunday, September 4, 2011

Penn State vs. Indiana State: A Lukewarm Opener on a Hot Hot Day

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Whew.  Glad that one is over!  Beaver Stadium was steaming hot, about 90 degrees.  It was 100.2 in the sun according to Darryl, the National Guardsman who sits in front of us who has a thermometer on his watch. Watch thermometers were useful, Darryl said, for measuring the temperature during Operation Iraqi Freedom when it could get as high as 128 in the shade.

Darryl knows.  He has been in Afghanistan and Iraq at least twice in the last few years defending our freedom.  I always breathe a sigh of relief when I see him in his seat for the first time each fall.

We had the sun behind us, but still it was muggy and down right uncomfortable.  During the game, I drank 40 ounces of water just to stay hydrated, and did not hit the ladies' room until the end.   My neighbors were pouring water over their bodies to try to stay cool.
My husband Terry and I were not expecting sun.  In fact, all week and as late as Saturday morning the Weather Channel was announcing that Happy Valley would be subject to isolated or scattered thunderstorms (I am not quite sure what the difference is). 

So we dutifully brought our rain gear into the stadium as clouds hovered over us.  I left the sunglasses at home.  Once settled in our seats, the sun burnt off the clouds and then became relentless.

Of course, sun is much better than thunderstorms.  At least the game can be played.  Notre Dame and Michigan suffered two rain delays due to thunderstorms at their stadiums. Being a devout coward, I would certainly leave after the first clap of thunder, as many fans did at those games. 

All too soon there will be days of bad weather or nasty coldness at Beaver Stadium.  Given the alternatives, I will take sun anytime.

Boring, Boring, Boring

The problem was that not only was it a hot game, it was also a tedious game. It seemed like the game would never end. 

Of course, for most Penn State fans, that is not a problem.

As soon as people know that the Nittany Lions have secured a win against a team like Indiana State, they head out of the stadium and back to their tailgates for an afternoon of eating and drinking.

By half-time, with the score 28-0, the stands were emptying out. 

Who can blame them?  On a hot day like that a beer tastes even better than water.

Not so us.  We are there until the bitter end, regardless of the score. It is just what we do. There is definitely something wrong with us.

Penn State won 41-7 today. That should be exciting, but it is not.  It is just too difficult for an FCS team to beat an FBS team, as witnessed by similar scores around the country. 

Indiana State was under the leadership of Quarterback Ronnie Fouch, a transfer from the University of Washington.  He played well, but Penn State's defense was too much for him and the rest of ISU's pass-oriented offense.

Still, you have to applaud Indiana State for playing with a great deal of poise, and earning less penalties than Penn State did.  They did not quit.  They performed better against Penn State in the second half, holding the Lions to just 13 points and scoring 7 towards the end of the game.

Game Thoughts

As usual for a season opener, there are some promising facets of the team that came to light as well as some disturbing moments leading to questions.

It was sheer fun watching wide receiver Chaz Powell run back the opening kickoff 95-yards for a touchdown.  We need to make more big plays like that this year, so that was an encouraging start that pumped up the crowd.

Running back Silas Redd is quick and makes defenders miss. He was able to get a few extra yards every time he carried the ball.  He netted 104 yards for the day on 12 carries.  He seems to have earned his place as a starter.  Backups Brandon Beachum and Curtis Dukes also impressed.  It appears that Penn State has a solid running game, bolstered by an offensive line that was able to open up some holes against Indiana State's defense.

As for the quarterbacks, it was inevitable, regardless of who was chosen as the starter, that we see all three quarterbacks play against Indiana State.  Matt McGloin had the better statistics, having completed 6 of 8 passes for 75%.  Rob Bolden, with 50% completion, threw some long passes right into the hands of wide receivers that should have been caught but were not.  Shane McGregor did mop-up duty at the end of the 4th quarter as we all turned to each other in the stands and said, "Who is Shane McGregor??" A walk-on with Senior/Junior status.

Just a year ago, it seemed that Penn State had a great quarterback situation.  But Kevin Newsome has now left Penn State.  Paul Jones is in academic trouble.  And thankfully Rob Bolden decided to stay rather than leave in a huff last January when he was pulled in November in favor of McGloin.

Bolden was sacked twice, and McGloin was sacked once.  McGloin should have also taken two sacks.  Instead he threw an errant pass right into the arms of an Indiana State defender, and we were fortunate that the defender dropped it. 

That impressed us as a very poor decision under pressure that made us wonder if McGloin would ever overcome some of his instincts to try too hard.

On the other hand, there were a couple of Bolden runs where he took hard hits that made us wonder how quickly Bolden would get injured if he continues to take off like that and not get out of bounds.

Hmmm…we can see why there is a controversy.  We are undecided ourselves as to who should start next week. 

The offensive line appears to be a mixed bag:  they opened up holes for the running game but could not prevent three sacks. 

As far as the defense is concerned, they were able to hold Indiana State to eight first downs, produce a few turnovers, and keep Indiana State from scoring until the very end of the game. 

A solid day for the defense, but Indiana State is a far cry from what we will see against Alabama, Temple, or any Big Ten team.  We will know more about how far the defense has improved over last year after next week. 

As for the kicking game, we are in trouble, serious trouble. Punter Anthony Fera is in Joe Paterno's doghouse reportedly due to off-field troubles with alcohol.  He is listed behind Evan Lewis, kicker, and Alex Butterworth, punter.  Neither Lewis nor Butterworth were up to the task against Indiana State.  We gave Indiana State too much starting field position due to short kicks and short punts. 

A win is a win.  We didn't need the kicking game against Indiana State.  But we will have a terrible season - possibly worse than last year's 7-5 season - if we give away field position or can not nail relatively short kicks between the goal posts.  The kicking game needs a major fix.

STEPping Into the Future with New Stadium Seating

There was plenty of talk about the Seat Transfer and Equity Plan (STEP) in the parking lot and how it has wreaked havoc on attendance this year at Beaver Stadium.  The most noticeable change, however, was the move of the student section from the East side lines to the South end zone and a bit of the East and West stands.

In fact, we now share the aisle with this new student section.  Our tickets are WBU-even seats.  The students are in WBU-odd seats.  When we headed to our seats I was told by an usher that the WBU-odd seats would be used as overflow once other student seating sections were filled. 

So when we climbed to our seats that section was completely empty.  Before the game began, though, the section started filling up.  By the end of the 1st quarter it was very full.  At the end of the game, it was empty again.

Overall, I liked the new look of the student section, because it seemed to get full much more quickly than last year.  Maybe the first come-first serve system for student seating will work to get the students to the game earlier.  If so, that's a very positive development.  We need the students to be loud and enthusiastic at the beginning of every game, not by the third quarter.

However, replacing the students in the East stands, were supposed to be new season ticket holders.  Instead, there were glaring sections of empty seats.  The crowd was announced at about 96,000.  That's 14,000 less than capacity.  As we observed all the empty seats around the stadium, we estimated the crowd at about 80-85,000.  A lot of ticket-holders decided to stay home, we surmise, and they couldn't resell their tickets to others due to the poor quality of competition for this game. 

It's not a good situation for Penn State Athletics when they have to start advertising to sell season tickets.  It has been a long time since they did that.

Facing Bama.  A Dramatic Upturn in Competition
After starting with a non-competitive opener against an FCS team, Penn State will face AP#2 Alabama's Crimson Tide on September 10.  The Crimson Tide also started non-competitively, winning 48-7 against Kent State.

This 3:30 p.m. "White House" game will be a complete change in atmosphere, and we can expect Beaver Stadium to be packed.    Every Penn State fan will wear white.  The Crimson Tide fans will stand out in their red. 

I will write more about our rivalry with Bama in a couple of days.  For now, I will just share one story with you that happened this summer.

Terry and I vacation near Acadia National Park in Maine each summer and we always book a boat trip to Little Cranberry Island to have dinner at the Islesford Dock Restaurant, a favorite place with the best clam chowdah in Maine.

On this particular night, there was heavy rain, and we considered canceling the trip.  But when we called the boat they convinced us to go.  Nobody else was canceling due to weather.

Turns out the other folks on board were:  six baby-boomer Harley-Davidson motorcyclists from Alabama, an elderly couple from Iowa, another elderly couple from Florida, and four twenty-somethings from Nebraska. 

People were very friendly, sharing their bottles of wine on the way to dinner and talking about the upcoming football rivalries:  Alabama vs. Penn State, Iowa vs. Nebraska, Iowa vs. Penn State, Nebraska vs. Penn State.  It was an odd coincidence that all these football fans on this tiny little boat had teams that are coming to Beaver Stadium this fall. 

The Nebraska fans were especially excited about joining the Big Ten and the upcoming "Corn Bowl" rivalry with Iowa.   The Alabama fans were excited about the renewal of the Penn State-Bama rivalry.

On the boat trip back to shore after dinner, Debbie from Alabama came to sit next to me, and asked, "Did our Alabama fans treat you well last year? I certainly hope so!" 

I assured her we were treated very well, and that Bryant-Denny Stadium is our #2 favorite college football venue due to our fantastic experience with Tide fans.

Debbie went on to tell me how before last year's game, Bama's coach Nick Saban had appealed to the student section to treat Joe Paterno and the Penn State team with respect. 

We remembered how impressed we were when JoePa and thePenn State team ran onto the field and the student section cheered.  I loved the t-shirts that Bama fans wore welcoming us back to Tuscaloosa.  Students who were there tell me that Bama fans begged them to join their tailgates.

So how will Penn State fans greet Bama next week? 

There is an effort by The Family Clothesline in downtown State College to raise money for Tuscaloosa tornado relief by selling t-shirts.  You can buy one downtown or online by clicking here.

I am pleased also to hear that some of my students are organizing a sportsmanship initiative to greet Bama fans and welcome them to Beaver Stadium. 

I hope all Penn State fans will think about treating Bama fans decently and welcome them to their tailgates if for no other reason than to return the favor on how Penn Staters were treated last year.

Please do your part to make this classic game a classy atmosphere for everyone involved!


  1. Hello again!! I hope all is well. Dealing with the heat was not fun but overall i was impressed with the team's performance. Defense looked very good. Our back seven will be outstanding this year. Our depth at linebacker will serve us well in the long run. Silas Redd is the best RB in the big ten in my opinion (yes even better than Ball from WIsc and Baker from MSU). Solid WR corps (despite some key drops...i dont expect that to continue).

    Two concerns..line play on both sides of the ball. Pass protection was atrocious..shouldn't happen against a team like ISU. D-line was ok but didn't get as much pressure as i would have liked. ALthough with our depth at the LB position we may be able to run a few 3-4 schemes and blitz LBs to get pressure (just a thought).

    And i will put the QB situation to rest. Bolden is CLEARLY the better QB. WIth some help from his WRs he would have been 8-12 for over 100 yards and 2tds. He is more accurate, has a better arm, better scrambler, and doesn't throw should-be INTS into the arms of D-linemen. WHat they need to do is roll him out more and do options..make defenses defend EVERYTHING...stop rotating puts so much pressure on them. The coaches are draining the confidence out of both of them. Make Bolden the starter and leave him there for the rest of the year. TRust me, there will be no regrets. Can McGloin play well against terrible defenses (i.e. 2010 Minnesota, NW, and Mich)? Yes, but a pee-wee QB could shred those defenses. Can Mcgloin play well against good defenses (2010 OSU) and average defenses (2010 FLA)? Well if 7 picks is good for a two-game span then i guess the answer is yes. I rest my case.

    ALabama has QB questions as well, as both QBs threw 2 picks against a much lesser opponent. I think we have a chance this week........with BOLDEN..line has to play better though..initial thought is 20-10 Alabama..but I hope I'm wrong!! GO STATE!!

  2. Hi Nathan, glad to hear from you. Thanks for your thoughts about the game. I think you make some good arguments for Bolden. Terry and I are both leaning in his direction as well for the reasons you state.

    How was the new student section? Was getting into the stands easier/quicker?

  3. And I think Bolden would be so much better if he wasn't worried about getting benched if he makes a mistake. Name him the starter and move on.

    I like how the new student section is set up. In the past, the quality of your seats didn't really depend on how early you got there. Often times I would get better seats when I showed up closer to game time. Students who get there very early (which I often do) should be rewarded with the best seats--regardless of class.

  4. Agree. Glad the student section is working out for you. I think it's a good system to reward those who arrive early. It was embarrassing seeing the empty seats especially in the senior section before even a 3:30 game.