Not that anyone in the Nittany Nation has fully recovered from the loss to
Iowa, but the season has not been canceled, and there is this slight annoyance of another game today.
It's a perfect transparent opponent (Indiana), in as low profile of a setting
as possible (Big Ten Network) and in the dreaded noon time slot.
So it shouldn't take long to see if the Nittany Lions have any focus
When the 1999 season - so similar at 9-0 and seemingly headed for a berth in the national championship game - crashed and burned against Minnesota, the team threw itself on the smoldering logs, its leaders more eager to examine their draft stock.
This should be different in that the last two games of '99 were Michigan and
at Michigan State compared with home visits from Indiana, which has never
beaten the Lions, and a rising Spartan team that has not won in Beaver Stadium since PSU joined the Big Ten.
The '99 team's pro potential ultimately outweighed its collegiate spirit,
from which this coaching staff - virtually intact in the decade since - can draw.
However painful, you learn more in defeat than victory, and if there's a
silver lining at Iowa, perhaps it will benefit the Lions' mental focus and
preparation for the next three games - today, especially next week with a Michigan State team coming off a bye and ultimately in a bowl game.
Clearly, some cracks in the armor were exposed at Iowa, and had the Lions
gone to a BCS title game, what unfolded against the Hawkeyes could well have surfaced when the lights on the national stage were even brighter.
* If the three wide-open receptions dropped last week (two by Andrew
Quarless, one by Jordan Norwood) would have been caught, along with a tough over-the-middle post that Norwood has consistently come up with, Daryll Clark's 86-yard passing day would have been doubled. That said, the offense has not been sharp the last two games, and Clark will have to step it up over the next three games to have a tight grasp on the job heading into 2009.
* Either way, expect Pat Devlin to get significant time today.
* JoePa has been critical of the defense not getting off the field at Iowa
and even brought up the unit's breakdowns at Michigan State last year. In both cases, he's right. But he always seems to place more blame on the defense than the offense in part, presumably, because Penn State defenses are supposed to shut down the opponent and in part, I suspect, because not one but two men named Paterno are more involved with offense than defense.
* Whether it's because JoePa prefers to play conservatively on defense or
whether Tom Bradley prefers zone defenses and minimal blitzing is uncertain: But this much is clear: When Jerry Sandusky was the defensive coordinator, after the opponent got a big gain, he often blitzed on first down, sending a
cornerback or safety. It was an effective play that consistently produced positive results and changed momentum.
* Then again, Penn State's greatest win - over Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl
- was carved by dropping eight into coverage.
* Paterno's old-school toughness in not bringing sideline heaters to Iowa is
understandable in that such posture has served the Lions well over the years.
In this case, though, he found out his team wasn't as tough as past entries
and froze in the fourth quarter.
* While everyone raves about the offensive machines in the SEC, Big 12 and
Pac-10, consider those teams never find themselves playing in the cold weather of the Big Ten. That may be one reason why Penn State has had more than its share of success in the warm venues of bowl games.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will
respond to brief comments in Gameday.