When the head coach can't even remember who all is injured on his football team, you know things are bad.
Such is the story of Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions during Penn State's bye week this week. Though Paterno spoke with the media on Tuesday as part of the Big Ten coaches' teleconference, he needed to ask Sports Information to provide the media with a full list of the team's injuries to this point in the 2010 season, and things aren't pretty for Penn State at all.
Safety Nick Sukay is the latest player to be lost for the season, as he'll miss the rest of 2010 after tearing a pectoral muscle against Illinois on Saturday. Sukay has been a bright spot for Penn State on defense, picking off three passes in the season's first six games. He's the third Penn State starter to go down for the season in as many weeks. Offensive tackle Lou Eliades was lost after tearing an ACL against Temple, and Garry Gilliam tore one himself against Iowa.
Additionally, the medical staff has ruled out three more players for at least next Saturday's game at Minnesota as defensive end Eric Latimore, out with a wrist injury, will join wide receiver Curtis Drake and tight end Andrew Szczerba on the sideline when the Lions head to Minneapolis.
But wait! There's more!
Penn State also gave a "possible" list for the Minnesota game, and it's pretty star studded. Linebackers Gerald Hodges (leg), Michael Mauti (ankle) and Bani Gbadyu (calf) join defensive end Jack Crawford (foot), safety Andrew Dailey (stinger) and defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle) as those who are injured, but might see time against the Gophers.
An honest look at that list reveals just how unsurprising Saturday's loss to Illinois should have been. Nothing bugs me quite like a fan who says "Well if___wasn't injured, we would have crushed you!" but at the same time, its pretty rational to say that with some of these guys in there against Illinois, things might not have gotten as out of hand in the second half, and with all of them, it probably would have at least been a closer game.
That's why it's probably time to put the hysteria of the loss in the past. Sure, it was ugly, and yes, it might be an indication of significant trouble to come for the Lions through 2010, but those making the loss to Illinois out to be a referendum on the coaching staff and the structure of the program at large are flat out foolish.
Here's the reality of it all. Injuries have left Penn State with a revolving door of inexperience at linebacker, the deterioration of much of its advantage on the defensive line, a lack of any viable option at tight end, and a pretty banged up secondary. All that, plus a freshman starting at quarterback behind a below average offensive line, and you have have the recipe for a terrible season whether your name is Joe Paterno, Nick Saban, Pat Fitzgerald or Vince Freaking Lombardi.
I'm sure the miserable "Joe Must Go" crowd that's now oozing it's way back onto it's suspiciously silent pulpit after five years of anxiously waiting for something to be insufferable about will have plenty to cut up in that statement, but that's fine. I don't care.
There's a lot you can bag the coaches for this season and Joe has said it himself plenty of times.
At some point, though, there's a line between fault and just plain bad luck that causes things to go down hill, and I'm fairly sure Penn State's crossed it. There are only so many obstacles a team can be expected to overcome before it regresses to the mean, and if Penn State's mean is 6-6 with all things from inexperience, to injuries, to the great years Penn State has had leading up to this considered, then I can hold my head high and be proud of this team so long as it gives me all it has the rest of the way.
Joe had this to say about the injuries in the teleconference today.
This is probably, in fact I was talking to our medical people that have been with us for a long time, said this is the worst situation in the 24 years since they've been here.
Is it really any surprise, then, that this might be one of the worst seasons in those 24 years? I don't think so.
Following 2007, Penn State had still only won 10 games once in the decade. Anthony Morelli had turned out to be much less than fans were hoping for, and losses to teams like Michigan State and Illinois had many concerned that, though the team was no longer terrible as it had been earlier in the aughts, it still wasn't very far beyond mediocre.
Folks that wanted a change in coaching staff then had much more of an argument than they do right now. While 2010 has had its share of coaching blunders, it's also seen a convergence of a lot of negatives beyond the staff's control. Ignoring that is like blaming hurricanes all on global warming. Mother Nature still has a big hand in them, just as she does when tendons pop in a human being's knee and keep him from playing sports.