Preface for Alabama fans: Congratulations. I think yours is the best team in the country because I highly, highly doubt Oklahoma is capable of fielding a defense that good. Moreover, while McCarron has really girly, preppy hair (Sorry, have to say it) his offensive line gave him time to throw and, hey, his receivers are pretty good. So the Tide has a truly great defense with a good and improving offense. Sounds like 2009 to me.
Preface for all other SEC fans: Suck it.
Preface for Penn State fans: You know what? At least we're not Texas. Or Iowa.
It's funny how we so often miss the obvious. The fairly obvious difference between responding and reacting was best articulated for me by a pastor's sermon one weekend in the 717. Ever since I heard that articulation, I've tried - and often, often failed - to respond rather than react. That's what I'm going to do here. I'm not going to complain about our lack of elite status and I'm not going to rant. I've gotten vastly better at accepting losses. A cynic would say that's because Penn State loses so much. I say it's because I'm maturing as a fan and as a person. In any event, by the time Sczerba (I'll never spell that right) fumbled I was already, in the back of my mind, thinking of how I'd respond to a loss. I didn't expect a loss coming into this game, but I didn't expect a win either. I was very optimistic (Like Joe), but I was neutral - I don't remember ever feeling so neutral coming into a game.
Anyway, on with the show.
If I were to describe the difference between last year's Alabama game and this year's Alabama game, I would choose to use video of Trent Richardson playing against us last year and this year. Last year we would see a defensive line that couldn't get much penetration, linebackers who were embarrassingly timid, and defensive backs who were being forced to make clean-up tackles defensive backs should never have to make. This year we would see what we expect from the idea of a great tailback playing a typical Penn State defense; Richardson didn't break many tackles, did he? He ran effectively enough for Alabama to take advantage of all of the key plays that seemed to go their way (Such is football sometimes) but he did not dominate, or come even close to it. This team, and defense in particular, played poorly last year. They did not, as a whole, play poorly this year.
Quarterbacks - I know this sounds like crap, but they basically played how I thought they would play. I thought McGloin would be slightly more effective with the ball, but I'm not going to blame him too much because, seriously, folks, Alabama's defense is outstanding - their secondary especially - and, speaking for myself, I knew they weren't going to give us many chances after the first two or three possessions. I can't blame McGloin or Bolden; I think they played about to the level of reasonable expectations. I will say that Bolden definitely appears to be the better quarterback right now - a lead that he probably won't relinquish.
Tailbacks and fullbacks - All I've got to say is, gosh, I love Silas Redd. He's not going to get tons of praise in the aftermath, but that dude ran like a great Penn State tailback. His workout routine really must be awesome.
Offensive line - There is not a better defense in the country than Alabama's unit. They are unquestionably better than anyone in the Big Ten. And how many sacks did we give up today? If you had told me we would lose this game 27-11, I would have immediately thought of a game much like the one we saw with one big difference: tons of sacks against poor Bolden and McGloin. And we saw zero from a unit that gave up a couple of sacks to Indiana State!(!) These offensive linemen of ours aren't just good, they're well-coached too. The only downside here, of course, was the run game. But, when compared to the 2009 Iowa or Ohio State games, and, when the greatness (This verb is more than appropriate) of Alabama's defense is recalled, I think it's safe to say they did a job that was about neutral in terms of exceeding or falling short of expectations. I won't and can't heap too much praise because there were a lot of 2nd and longs today. Still, I expected them to get almost nothing on the ground today, so I am somewhat pleased and definitely optimistic. Again, we'll play nobody with the defensive toughness of Alabama this year. Nebraska will be in the neighborhood, but they won't be a real challenger for the title of best defense.
Wide receivers and tight ends - Blackledge said Joe told him that he was disappointed by the timidness of his receivers. If this is manifested in drops, then, well, yeah.
Hey, before we go on, can I just say that that Derek Moye one-handed grab was ludicrously awesome?
But back to the main point, Alabama's secondary shut down our wide receivers who are good, but not great, and slightly inexperienced. Brown is a good receiver, but he may never be a true go-to target.
And I know it's natural to trump our opponents after a loss, but we need to be realistic. Alabama's secondary is the best in the country. I believed what I heard about that defense in general, but I never gave much thought to the possibility that their secondary would give our quarterbacks limited options on so many plays. If you anticipated what we saw (Plenty of time but frequently few throwing options downfield), please say so in the comment section.
All in all, the receivers will almost undoubtedly be vastly more productive over the course of the year.
I didn't do a good job of analyzing the blocking of the tight ends (I never do). As for their pass receiving skills, I'd say they met the somewhat low expectations we have for them. Let's not even talk about that damn fumble.
Defensive ends - I didn't expect any of these guys to put tremendous amounts of pressure on opponents and we're probably not going to see that. They're solid against the run though, Crawford will probably be a decent to good threat against most Big Ten offensive lines, and, hey, where did all of that pass blocking come from?
Defensive tackles - Very, very good, but lacking in depth. What we expected is what we got.
Linebackers - Great.
Secondary - Somewhere in between very good and great. I don't want to hear any more criticism of our white safeties because they're both really, really good. The corners also performed fairly excellently against Maze. McCarron had a lot of time to throw today, something we need to keep in mind when talking about this group.
Special teams - Wait, Evan Lewis can make a field goal? Ok. Well, anyway, this group gave us only one play to truly complain about.
Summary - This game sucked. I wanted it in the worst way. I wanted to prove our strength against the best team in the GREATEST CONFERENCE EVAH. I wanted it to prove Paterno's still got it. But I have a new appreciation of things after reading Paterno: By the Book this summer. To paraphrase a Paterno quote in that book: "Losing is important in teaching life lessons. But, God, I hate losing."
Do you really think Paterno has changed? Do you really think this team didn't want this game like no other? Do you really think that wasn't our best effort today?
No, we're not as "elite" as Alabama. But we're also not as far apart as it looked or as far apart as we fans undoubtedly think we are. Programs are judged by their on-field results and today we saw a Penn State team that played very, very well against a potentially great football team. I don't quite know how to quantify the sort of key breaks that all went against Penn State in this game, but, by God, they were there and they were not the kind of things that are indicative of poor coaching or poor play (And, please, please, don't complain about that reverse - that was a good call).
My point is this: I see no reason to not be optimistic about this season. In pure terms of what happens on the field (That is, putting aside for a moment what Penn State football truly means), we are not going to see another team as good as Alabama this year. We are not going to face another challenge like this one and we are probably not going to see so many damn bad breaks go against our team.
Going forward, one vision I will remember from this game was the sight of Zordich and Suhey, during the 4th, kneeling together and passionately talking to each other, presumably about the game, about our team. None of these guys have given up. These are the same players who have shown so much intensity and excitement during the pre-season and they are still coached by a great coaching staff (Yes, they were out-coached today, and, yes, they're imperfect, but they're still some of the best) led by the greatest coach there is.
Why shouldn't I be optimistic about this year? I can debate the possibility that Penn State will never be able to beat another "elite" team or I can focus on the fact that this is a very good Penn State team, one with a definite chance to win the conference. I choose the latter. Although I might do both if I get bored.
Anyhow, respond, don't react.