If Wisconsin has shown one trait this year, it's the ability to capitalize off of turnovers, mistakes, and bad calls. They sank Illinois with that trait and they sank us with that trait.
I'm not particularly angry with that insufferably arrogant oversized little man from Madison who makes me hate a team I should respect for their fundamentally strong approach to the game of football. I'm not particularly annoyed with his team - they weren't thugs, they just followed orders and took advantage of opportunities. Tom Bradley is still an excellent football coach and I still love our team.
What's infuriating me right now is the Big Ten Conference.
It was one thing when they announced the silly name change on the trophy. Fine, whatever. PSU's done things vastly worse in the aftermath of the scandal.
But here, today, for this marquee match-up for the championship of their cutely named Leaders Division, they gave us that crew.
I don't believe this is sour grapes. That was the worst officiated Penn State game I've ever seen. Bad Penn State play and bad officials are not mutually exclusive.
The officials were consistent in some ways, inconsistent in others. Beyond this, I saw two main issues before I turned the game off late in the 3rd. Both of them utterly killed any chance Penn State had in this game.
1) They didn't call holding, period. I saw our offensive linemen mugging Wisconsin players on pass plays. Trouble is, this helps Wisconsin more than it helps us. Wisconsin is already tough enough in the trenches, why is it necessary to allow their guards to have one more advantage? I knew that Penn State would lose as soon as I saw a Wisconsin lineman drag Devon Still to the turf. Penn State was not going to be able to stop Wisconsin if that was not called. That was a horrible realization and I hate that I know it won't be the last time I see something like this.
2) Every single ticky tack call that could even theoretically go against Penn State went against Penn State. Blatant pass interferences by Wisconsin went uncalled. The block in the back on Brown was hardly a block. Above all, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on McGloin was staggeringly awful. I'm not sure there are words to describe how horrible that call was. No, only video of multiple NFL quarterbacks doing the exact same thing and not receiving penalties for the act could suffice to demonstrate the sheer stupidity of that call. Honestly, I don't even remember where these calls took place during the game. Memory's nice that way. I remember a tangled mess. Obviously the McGloin interception was entirely Penn State's fault, but I believe my memory is right: it can be argued that every other Penn State possession in the first half (excepting the last one) after McGloin's interception was ended by bad officiating. This was simply horrible for Penn State's defense.
That's why I don't see any reason to be terribly upset with our football team. Wisconsin is very hard to stop offensively. They have a good offensive line, a highly efficient quarterback, good tailbacks, and good receivers. My football articulation skills are too limited to properly describe just how difficult it is for a defensive staff to do anything about an offense that good. They're almost impossible to stop when your defense is left on the field, harder still to stop when the officials won't call holding. Jtothep correctly emphasized the importance of gaining first downs against Wisconsin's defense. Penn State never really had the chance to do that in the first half, and that was primarily due to the officials.
What infuriates me is that I still don't think I know how good the Lions are in comparison to Wisconsin. Don't kid yourself, Penn State did not receive a fair shot. The Big Ten did a horrible job tonight, through their employees.
I feared all of this coming into the game. I feared that the usual Madison Special (non-calls on holding) would hammer a Wisconsin opponent again and I feared that most of the other calls would go against Penn State. I did not expect anything so ridiculous as what I saw in the first half. The officials were the difference in this game. If the first half had been officiated well - or, heck, if it had been officiated in a mediocre manner, I firmly believe the most likely outcome would have been a Badger victory by a touchdown or so. It would not have been a blow out because our offense wouldn't have been, frankly, screwed out of any chance at consistency and Wisconsin would have had to face the results of two or three drive-killing holding penalties. It would have been the close game that it should have been.
Now, since I can't possibly argue that PSU would have won if only the Big Ten had had better officials out there, does any of this matter?
Well, moving forward, my greatest fear is that my uncertainty over the true quality of these two teams won't be the most devastating thing we take away from this embarrassing game. Chris and I agree that anyone who blames Bradley for this is foolish, but, well, after the past few weeks, and after those officials, I fear foolishness.