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Saturday column: O'Brien tries not to see yellow
November 3, 2012 - Neil Rudel
Editor's note: Neil Rudel's column was not posted in its customary place on our website and is here instead.
No hard storyline today so join me in some nitpicking:
*Bill O'Brien quickly made it clear at his Tuesday press conference that he and the Nittany Lions have moved on from Ohio State and are thinking Purdue. We aren't under those restrictions so let's revisit the rare holding call against Brad Bars that extended an Ohio State possession following a Buckeye punt late in the first half with Penn State leading 7-0.
ESPN analyst Chris Spielman, a former Buckeye standout no less, called the penalty bogus, and I'm hard pressed to think of a more devastating call against PSU over the years for a few reasons. You rarely see that call made; the Buckeyes capitalized on the gift to tie the game; it stole the Nits' momentum since they have been good in the two-minute drill; compounding the timing was the fact that Penn State was getting the ball back to start the second half (never mind that Matt McGloin's interception/pick-6 turned the game around.)
Throw in the opponent and the chance for O'Brien's first marquee win and the call is on a short, infamous list. This is not to suggest that the officiating cost Penn State the game. When you are outrushed by 200 yards (234-32), when you can't block the opponent, and when you are totally outschemed at halftime, the better team won.
But there are a half-dozen plays that shape a football game, and this penalty was definitely one of them. It obviously would have been included in the customary list of post-game video provided to the Big Ten office for review.
O'Brien said the Lions have put Ohio State behind them, but Penn State has been penalized 16 times in the last two weeks so keep an eye on his reaction to the yellow flags today.
*The next-worst key call I can remember going against Penn State was in 2002 when Tony Johnson was ruled out of bounds late in what turned out to be a loss at Michigan. Joe Paterno called for a complete re-evaluation of Big Ten officiating after that game, but an equally bad call went in the Lions' favor a couple of plays earlier.
* In fairness, no call against Penn State compares to the one in 1982 that Nebraska endured at Beaver Stadium when the Lions were gifted possession at the Cornhuskers' 2, even though Mike McCloskey was way, way out of bounds. The Nits turned that one into their first national title. * A reporter mentioned to O'Brien this week that the Lions have been outscored 42-3 in the third quarter of their three losses. The coach acknowledged the point and called it fair criticism. While it speaks to the lack of quality adjustments at halftime, the Lions are outscoring their opponents by an amazing 66-0 in the first quarter. Maybe that means the staff, at least so far, is better with a week's notice than 20 minutes.
*None other than Kirk Ferentz, once viewed as a potential successor to Paterno, finds his name on hot-seat rumors that are buzzing the Internet. Iowa is 4-4, has been unimpressive and even finds itself as an underdog at Indiana today. Maybe Ferentz, though under contract through 2020, stayed too long with the Hawkeyes.
*For as well as O'Brien and Charlie Fisher have developed McGloin, the use of backup Steven Bench has been curious. There have been at least two great opportunities -- in lopsided wins over Navy and Iowa. But in both cases, O'Brien said he wasn't comfortable and felt it was "Matt's game." Because he saw action for a few plays (and functioned OK) when McGloin was injured at Virginia, Bench is not eligible for a redshirt unless he's injured. The Lions have been chasing a decorated junior-college quarterback who may end up as the 2013 starter if Christian Hackenberg stays committed and then redshirts, which is the tentative plan.
* Count me among those who still believe Sam Ficken can overcome his difficulties and have a productive career as the Nits' placekicker. He's now 5-of-12 for the season in field goals after a 2-of-8 start. Plus unless the Lions are going to scholarship a kicker next year -- highly doubtful -- Ficken likely will be the best they have in '13, too. Until Ficken misses a couple more, I'd rather see O'Brien continue to develop him than go for it on fourth-and-13 from the opponent's 25.
*The Lions' longest rush this year is 25 yards -- by fullback Mike Zordich
*It was nice to see Penn State honor Jim Tarman last week with a plaque to be placed in the press box. This gesture was long overdue as there are many former sports information/athletic directors at Big Ten universities recognized in their home press boxes who did not impact their schools more than Tarman and Fran Fisher impacted Penn State.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow his in-game comments on Twitter@neilrudel.