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Making Big Plays?

We just couldn't make some big plays. -Joe Paterno

When I heard Joe Paterno mutter those words in his post game press conference, I just shook my head. What kind of big play were you hoping for, Joe? Were you hoping Evan Royster could run over right guard for four yards instead of two? Were you hoping tight end Mickey Shuler was going to turn that five yard pass into a seventy yard touchdown? Please don't tell me you were hoping the special teams were going to bail you out sooner or later. You can't return fair catches for touchdowns, you know.

It's not hard to figure out what went wrong on Saturday. Ohio State kept pinning the Penn State offense deep. The special teams couldn't buy them any room. Joe didn't want to take chances, so he played it safe by running right into the teeth of the Buckeye defensive line. Then they kept giving Ohio State the ball at midfield which allowed them to take some chances on offense. Once the Buckeyes got the lead, they shoved the dagger home. Or arm-punted it home. Whatever. Joe Paterno got suckered into playing Tressel Ball, and he lost again.

I felt bad for the players as the boos rained down in the fourth quarter. It's important that they know those boos were not intended for them. Though the players made their share of mistakes, they just ran the plays that were called. It's not their fault that the play calling did not put them in a position to succeed.

Nobody should pin this loss on Daryll Clark. He played well considering his offensive line stood about as stiff as a house of cards in a hurricane. He made some ill-advised throws late in the game, but you could tell he was pressing and trying to make something happen. You can't blame him for that.

Truthfully, the interception was the fault of Andrew Quarless for not paying attention and having his hands up. The ball went right past him to the defender. Quarless had an absolutely terrible game. His blocking was as bad as I've ever seen it. In his defense, there were times he was asked to block a defensive lineman all by himself. That's a mismatch, but truth be told, if you want to play in the NFL, you need to make those blocks, son. And maybe if you catch the ball once in a while that would be good too.

The offensive line is what it is: A decent left tackle, a center that is probably better suited to play guard, and three inexperienced guys out there hoping they don't screw up.  I'm sure Ako Poti was a very fine junior college player, but he's clearly not Big Ten material. The right tackle position has been a disappointment all season no matter who plays there. At left guard, Johnnie Troutman was so bad he got pulled in the second half. In fairness to him, he obviously injured his leg somehow in the first half. Matt Stankiewitch wasn't much better, but he's just a redshirt sophomore so I'm not writing him off yet. Next year everyone returns except Poti, McCormack, and Landolt. I have confidence they'll get better, and if not there are some pretty good freshman who should push them. This was just a year where rebuilding the offensive line hurt us, and I think we knew it would going into the season.

The defense played pretty well considering the offense went three-and-out seven times and gave Ohio State a short field to work with all night. But they were far from perfect.

Based on the last two games, Navorro Bowman is nowhere near ready for the NFL. Maybe his leg is bothering him or something and we don't know about it, but all night long he looked slow and his tackling form was terrible. Terrelle Pryor made him look ridiculous on his touchdown run. And I noticed it looked like Bowman was struggling to catch his breath just midway through the first quarter. Remember his 90 yard fumble return against Eastern Illinois where he ran out of gas with 30 yards to go? And remember how Paterno called him out a few weeks ago for lousy conditioning? It showed on Saturday night. Bowman better start getting his butt out of bed at 5 AM and running steps if he wants to play in the league.

It's been pretty obvious to me all year that the weakness of this defense is the safeties. Ohio State was the first team capable of making them pay for it. It was obvious they were picking on Astorino all afternoon. It's been known for some time that Astorino has been nursing a shoulder injury of some kind. He's not his aggressive self and it's obvious he's avoiding contact. Nick Sukay is doing an okay job at the other safety spot, but he doesn't have the athletic ability to make up for a cornerback that blows his coverage. I'm completely disappointed that Gerald Hodges hasn't seen more playing time this year. All we heard about all spring and summer long was how great he looked in practice. Well, why couldn't he see a few series when a game actually meant something? Instead they moved him to linebacker as a knee jerk reaction to Sean Lee getting injured. Way to waste his redshirt.

It sounds like I'm pretty down on the team right now, but really I'm not. I predicted 10-2 with an outside chance at 11-1 or 12-0. We all knew it was going to be a tough year to go undefeated when you have no experience in the offensive line, wide receiver, and secondary. This was a rebuilding year, so to win ten games and go to a New Years Day bowl game should make us feel pretty good about the direction of the program. It sure beats the four loss seasons of 2006 and 2007. And it sure as Hell beats the unmitigated disasters we saw in the early part of this decade. So this loss hurts right now, but we will rise again. Look out for this team down the road.

I'm not going to break down the offense and defense this week as I usually do. I've said everything I want to say right here. And besides, it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to.