Statistics rule nearly every sport. They tell us a lot about the way a team plays and what it can do well. But why can’t they tell us anything about the Nittany Lions, and why does the Penn State fan base dislike this team so much?
Statistics tell us that Penn State’s offense almost doubled the amount of yards Indiana gained last Saturday -- how does that translate to a six point win? Was there an invisible moat around the end zone that the offense could not cross?
Moreover, did you know that Penn State QB Matt McGloin is one of only five quarterbacks in the NCAA who hasn’t thrown an interception yet this year? That list of five includes Ohio State QB Joe Bauserman, a player who isn’t exactly a favorite of the Buckeye faithful.
Statistically, most should be pretty happy about both McGloin’s and Bauserman’s performance this year; however, I’d bet a pretty pony that the majority of both Lion and Buckeye fans aren’t happy with either one. Similarly, this team is 4-1, and you're probably not very happy with them either. Why? That’s the inherent challenge of reading too much into the statistics: sometimes they can tell us a lot, and sometimes they can tell us nothing. That’s because statistics can only tell us what is, not what isn’t.
There’s no statistic for dropped interceptions or almost catches, no statistic for missed blocks and blown assignments. Statistics can’t tell us that McGloin should have had a pass intercepted or that Rob Bolden should’ve had a pass caught. I think that fact is what’s causing the inability of most Penn State fans to rationally state their frustrations with this year’s team. There’s only a couple statistics that tell us this team is bad, but most of them say they’re great. Because of this, fans tend to lash out at the coaching staff’s offensive or defensive game plan in an unspecific way, blaming all the problems on one of the Paternos or Galen Hall picking his nose or the offensive line coaches.
But even if they can’t explain it, are their frustrations warranted?
The team is 4-1, which is expected. No one expected Penn State to beat Alabama; but then again, no one expected Indiana to come within a tipped pass of beating the Nittany Lions. But even though they have won when they were expected to win, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around the team.
This uncertainty and waiting is why I believe this season has been frustrating for fans. In fact, it might as well be the preseason still. There’s still no starting quarterback. Moye and Redd are good, but we knew that before the season too. The defense is good, which was expected. We still don’t know whether the offensive line will gel or not. We still don’t know if the offense explode for a million points.
I think that aspect of this team has been very frustrating for the fan base, especially in a society that is becoming increasingly used to instant results. Statistics tell us that this team can move the ball well and that it has the potential to score bunches of points, but thus far, has not. How else do you explain 464 yards and only 16 points? Fans are waiting for this team to break out and live up to their potential. Many fans are tired of waiting on the team, and I get that. Last season was waiting enough for many. Some fans are tired of waiting on Joe Paterno to retire, and I get that too.
But both the team and Paterno deserve patience. They both deserve your support because of the amount of hard work they’ve put forth to represent the university in a positive way. Whether you like that fact or not is irrelevant. It’s true.
Maybe this team will break out and start being the world beaters they were expected to be, but maybe they won’t. As a fan that waited through Penn State’s “dark years” of sub-.500 seasons, I can tell you that supporting the team when they’re less than impressive is one-hundred times more rewarding when that faith pays off and they become great. That’s why I’ll remember the 2005 season forever.
For many, the 2005 season was when Penn State football came “back.” It was a great season. There was one game in that 2005 season that I’ll never forget: the Northwestern game. As you may know, Penn State was down 23-7 midway through the 2nd quarter. This caused me to have the fan equivalent of war flashbacks to the 2004 season. Images of fumbles, interceptions, and missed blocks danced in my head, but I still hoped for the best. Penn State steadily came back, coming to a point in the fourth quarter where success seemed impossible: 4th and 15, and the Lions were forced to go for it.
They converted on a miracle pass to the tight end and drove down the field steadily. Finally, QB Michael Robinson connected on a bomb to Derrick Williams for the game winning touchdown. It was only the beginning for the Nittany Lions, as they would go on to beat Ohio State and a couple other great teams. After the season was over and Penn State beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl, I felt incredibly vindicated as a fan. I had sat through and cheered hard for three or four terrible teams in a row, and seeing Joe Paterno happy and on top again was worth all of it.
Let this team be great. Give them the benefit of the doubt and root like hell for Penn State to beat Iowa on Saturday. Maybe they’ll give you a game, and a season, that you’ll never forget.