Another Year Wasted

Where did it go? It seemed like last month we were dusting off the lawn chairs and buying new propane bottles for the grill. The overbearing heat of August gave way to the blustery brisk of October which quickly turned into the wet cold of November. Seasons come and go, but some things never change. Penn State is once again 8-4.

We started this season with such high hopes. Our senior quarterback and running back were going to be unstoppable. Our secondary was going to blanket the field like snow in Antarctica. But our senior quarterback played like a freshman. Our senior running back got kicked off the team. The only thing our secondary covered was our eyes as we couldn't bare to watch them get torched.

I'm sitting here on the cusp of the long eight month layover feeling completely unsatisfied. We're supposed to be getting ready for a BCS bowl right now. We're supposed to be booking flights to Pasadena. Or even New Orleans. Not San Antonio or Orlando. The optimism I had for next year is now filled with doubts and concerns.

I feel like my car has been smashed. I'm standing on the corner looking at the wreckage asking myself "What happened?" Where did we go wrong? Looking back in hindsight it's obvious the warning signs were there.

I guess we should have known this was going to be a disappointing year back in April. The apartment fight was an early warning that this team lacked leadership and discipline. The problems carried on and the troubles with the law continued. Andrew Quarless and Willie Harriot were caught underage drinking at 3 AM in the middle of preseason practice. Joe Suhey and Ryan Breen were also caught drinking underage during the season. The players were involved in a second fight on campus at the HUB. Many of the same players were involved in the April incident as well. And of course Austin Scott's trouble are well documented.

In hindsight, we should have been concerned that Paterno couldn't make up his mind about singling out team captains until a week or two before the season. Looking at the players he chose it's easy to understand his dilemma. Dan Connor looked like an obvious choice to everyone, but was he? We all know about his problems in 2005 when he made prank phone calls to an elderly former assistant coach. Sure it was two years ago, but it gives an insight into the individual and it suggests a lack of maturity. Can anyone ever remember Connor calling out his teammates and rallying them at any time? All season long all I heard were soundbites from him saying they just have to keep working. Hardly inspiring.

Little was known of Terrelle Golden before this season. He was buried on the depth chart and constantly fighting injuries. He was more famous for his showboating as a freshman than anything else. But as the only one of three seniors on the offense he was made a captain and suddenly there were stories all over the place about him being a strong leader and really pushing guys in practice. I call bullshit.

And of course there's Anthony Morelli. We were told he had turned the corner and really matured at the Outback Bowl last year. Every player that could get within 100 yards of a microphone was telling us he was dripping with confidence. We quickly saw it was more of the same. A kid that couldn't read defenses and only made safe throws to the sideline. He didn't take care of the ball. He couldn't come through in the clutch. I could forgive all of this if he held his head up high and showed class through it all.

But Morelli showed a propensity to mentally break down under pressure. People reported seeing him arguing with fans behind the bench in the middle of the Michigan game. He was even motioning for people to come down and fight him. This is unacceptable. After the game he didn't talk to the media all week. The following week he threw three picks and fumbled the ball and the game away to Illinois. Another week went by where he didn't talk to the media instead leaving his coaches and teammates to answer the tough questions.

After the Ohio State game he threw his coaches under the bus publicly questioning the play calling saying "It's all on (Paterno), not us." When your team captain points fingers after some losses and refuses to talk about his own mistakes, you have a leadership problem.

Leaders pick up their team when it's down. Not the other way around.

But I don't want to pin this entire disappointing season on the quarterback. The coaches share much of the blame themselves. It started the day before the Michigan game when they instituted a game plan doomed to fail. They played it safe and limited the play book to running straight ahead and dumping off the ball on short passes. On defense they sat back in a soft zone that let a freshman quarterback pick them apart on third downs. This was a disturbing trend that started with the Notre Dame game and continued all season long. Ohio State, Illinois, and Indiana exploited it easily. But the coaches refused to adjust and ultimately payed for it against Michigan State, a team with five losses to which we never should have lost.

So yeah, I'm angry. I'm disappointed. I have to live through the next three quarters of a year with this empty feeling in my chest. But mostly I'm bothered because I don't know if we can fix it. I honestly believe we have the talent to compete with anyone in the country. But I'm not sure we have the coaching staff to do it. The problems with this team suggest to me that Paterno doesn't know how to relate to 18 year old kids anymore. And that is something that isn't easily fixed.

So I'll cheer on Penn State in whatever bowl game they go to. I'm sure I'll go into next season with high hopes. But my expectations will be severly lowered. Such is life these days as a Penn State fan.

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