Looking Beyond Penn State's Win/Loss Record

Normally, I would use the "everyone come off the ledge" joke here, but it's been done quite a few times already, so I'll let it be.  Most of us tried to curb our expectations at the start of the season insisting we were going to lose three games (Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State) with the potential to lose one more (I assumed it would be Michigan) just for good measure.  Well Penn State currently sits at 3-3 (0-2 in the Big Ten) and Ohio State still left on the schedule.  So far, Illinois is the plus one, with some thinking it might be more like plus 3 or 4.  As a fan base, we aren't surprised at the loses (they happen), but we are surprised by the way the loses are happening.

Losses are always difficult to deal with, even more so when they appear to be blow outs.  To clarify, I know there are a few types of blow outs; big blow outs like Penn State's 2000 loss to Ohio State, 45-6 and smaller blow outs, this season's 24-3 loses to Alabama and Iowa.  We are six games into the season and we already have three loses of over 20 points.  You have to go back to the 2000 season to recall the last time this happened.  During that year, Penn State lost by 24 (USC), 39 (Ohio State), and 22 (Michigan).  Almost included in that number is the embarrassing 18 point home loss to Toledo, and i'm sure many of us remember that one.  The 2000 season was the start of what many dubbed "the dark years."  It just so happened that the on-field struggles coincided with the recruitting misses and failures that left the cupboard bare until 2005.

To show you what type of company the 2010 team currently keeps, check out this chart (hat tip to my father-in-law Pat McManus for not throwing out anything Penn State related and for providing me  the data):

Year # of Losses Lose Point Differential
2000 7 115
2001 6 75
2003 9 102
2004 7 63
2010 3 62

So what does it all mean?  Well this team is not as bad as the 2000, 2001, or 2003 teams.  The 2010 team has more talent and depth than those teams did, they are just very short on experience. 

As you can see, in 2004 (the year before Penn State experienced the Michael Robinson Renaissance) the team lost 7 games by a total of 63 points.  Included in those loses were the infamous 6-4 game against Iowa, at 16-3 loss to Wisconsin, and the biggest loss of the season, a 14 point loss at Boston College.  After only three loses this season, the 2010 loss differential is already at 62.  Here is the point differential for the 2004 season loses:

  • 14
  • 13
  • 9
  • 7
  • 2
  • 11
  • 7

And for 2010:

  • 21
  • 21
  • 20

Penn State's offense was pretty bad in 2004.  Hard to argue this when a team would prefer to take a safety and punt the ball back to you because they felt (correctly) that the offense wouldn't be able to move the ball enough to even get in field goal range.  The biggest difference was that the 2004 team had a defense to keep them in the game and mask a lot of the offense's deficiencies.

That 2004 team was lead by a young Paul Posluszny and a very young prank phone caller named Dan Connor(other players of note: Tim Shaw, Tambi Hali, Matt Rice, Derek (Cameron) Wake, Alan Zematis, and Ed Johnson).  2010 is not led by one clear cut player.  The hope was for Michael Mauti, Jack Crawford, Ollie Ogbu, or Bani Gbadyuto be that guy, but inconsistent play and injuries have destroyed that.  Nick Sukay, the goat for many fans, was actually playing very well before his season ending injury.  The lack of leadership on defense (and on offense) is one of the major issues hurting this team. 

Opponents scored 168 points all season against the 2004 Nittany Lions. After six games in 2010, opposing teams have already scored 108 points (with Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor still left to play).  The 2004 defense was able to do the things the now injury ravished 2010 defense can't seem to do: keep games against superior (or better in Illinois' case) teams competitive. 

Under Joe Paterno, Penn State has not be accustomed to losing multiple games in a season by 20 or more points.  One of the reasons Penn State runs the Cover 2 is to be fundamentally sound and not give up the big play, the bend but don't break defense.  Unfortunately this season the Cover 2 is bent and broken.That argument is, however, for another day.

This season continues to get longer as the injuries pile up, but the experience for the younger players will be vital for 2011 and 2012.  It's anyone's guess what the line up is going to look like against Minnesota, but I guarantee you there will be some changes on both sides of the ball.

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