This year’s team can use some old-school methods
I feel like this is a loaded question, but I’ll take an old school argument — surprise, surprise — for the good of the order.
Do I long for the days of Woody and Joe locked in a battle of 17-9 or 12-7 (both Ohio State victories, 1975-76) or even a Penn State offensive breakout of 19-0 (four field goals in Columbus in 1978)?
That said, there are definitely — repeat, definitely — some traits those teams had that are absent from the post-Paterno era and so-called modern day football that need fixed as soon as this Saturday.
Because Penn State is going against a coach in Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz who is more old school than new school and who can beat you many different ways.
Rewind the tape to 2004 when Ferentz, leading 6-2, took a safety because he knew Penn State’s offense couldn’t inch its way into field-goal range. He was right, and Iowa won the game, 6-4 – easily near the top of the list of maddening and at the same time intriguing losses in Penn State history.
Last year Penn State needed the miracle fourth-down touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson on the game’s final play to win 21-19.
So the Nittany Lions will need some old-school tactics to cope against a coach very comfortable in a low-scoring game — and especially if the weather turns ugly, as Joe Murgo and Christy Shields are cautioning.
But back to this week’s question:
Teams today can throw the ball all over the place and build leads like 35-20 in Columbus last year or 26-14 against the Buckeyes this year, but eventually to be great — let alone elite — you have to be tough enough to finish a game with defense and grind out a couple first downs — in some cases, just one — to be a champion.
And more than anything, for all the great recruiting he’s done and the enthusiasm he’s built, James Franklin’s teams have generally not been tough enough when it’s mattered most.
Or they would have tackled the Ohio State receivers who tiptoed through their secondary with the game on the line and, behind what is now a veteran offensive line, they would have churned the first down needed to beat the Buckeyes and Spartans and be standing at 7-0 today.
When you rely on a passing game, frills and a quick-strike offense, you usually don’t overpower people.
At the height of the Paterno Era, Penn State was cloning offensive linemen who were high-round NFL draft picks. The last six drafts, though, have produced just two (John Urschel and Donovan Smith).
Penn State football — football in the Big Ten — was built by being the better team in the trenches, and until the Nittany Lions get back to that, they’ll have trouble making late leads stand up.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org