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The Video Room: Penn State Receivers Drop the Ball

When you sit down to characterize a Penn state football loss, you've got a lot of choices. It's not a blank canvas really, because you're already operating from a base attitude and probably some flavor of preexisting expectation (not that there's any required contiguity between pre-game expectation and post-game outrage/meltdown apparently), but we'll leave that exploration to the armchair psychologist commentaries (hint: theories welcomed).

Back to choices. You could note the stupidity of playing with your own game plan when a perfectly successful one is already on tape. You could stretch the negativity into the waaay back machine and assert that the defense is traditionally not effective. You could go all anal sunshine on the victor and heap additional praises on the dudes who could be playing on Sundays this year.  (Thankfully, one upside of Iowa's great run last year and continued emergence this year is that Iowa fans now know that others know they're good and, as such, they're less likely to insist you give their team credit for every PSU miscue.  But we'll have opportunity to explore that later in the post). You could also go somewhere in between, and remind folks how inexperienced and likely less talented we are than in recent years at certain positions.  For this post, we're going to follow up on reader Golfinn 3's chart route, and look more closely at that most glaring of poor execution manifestations: the dropped pass.

We'll take a look at six plays, and while a few of them would have been tough catches to make, we're gonna have to agree with Jack Ham here and note that they are all plays that have to be made if you want to walk away with a win against a team this good.  Caveat Disclaimor: contains ample hypotheticals and heavy use of subjunctives.

Play 1: Iowa 10, PSU 0, Early 2nd Quarter

Penn State's 3rd possession of the game, 3rd and 15 (just after a 7-yard Christian Ballard sack of Robert Bolden), on the PSU 21.

Jeremiha Hunter may have caused tight end Garry Gilliam a little distraction as he flashed into the play a fraction behind Bolden's darted pass, but Gilliam ran the route four yards shy of the first down and we would have punted anyway.  A few plays later he tore his ACL and is out for the season.

Play 2: Iowa 10, PSU 0, Early 2nd Quarter

Penn State's 4th possession of the game, 1st and 10 at the PSU 48. 

Graham Zug ran a beautiful slant route inside of Brett Greenwood and over the top of Hunter.  Had he caught it, it would have been a gain of 10 yards and a first down.  Does it look like he was about to get hit, or could he have fallen painlessly for the first down?  Whatever.  Bolden hit him in the numbers and he has got to make that play.

Play 3: Iowa 10, PSU 0, Mid 2nd Quarter

Penn State's 5th possession of the game, 1st and 10 at the Iowa 42 (just after the 26-yard Devon Smith catch over Tyler Sash).

This was a big one, and makeable for a player of his athleticism.  Chaz Powell ran a decent, not great, route down the right sideline, but he was mismatched against linebacker Tyler Nielsen and was open enough to make a play.  Bolden hit him high enough to go over the defender, the ball hit him in the right hand and fell to the floor.  What he was doing with his other hand is anybody's guess--premature defensive posturing?  Already protecting himself for the big fall to the ground?  General lack of focus?  Had he reeled it in, it would have been a 25-yard gain and Penn State would have been in Colin Wagner's territory instead of Anthony Fera's.

Play 4: Same Drive, 3rd and 12 at the Iowa 44. 

This pass was possibly tipped by Nielsen, but it appears to have still hit Zug in both hands, in heavy traffic.  If he had pulled it in, Penn State would have had the ball inside the 30 for a 17-yard 1st down.  And again, how important is the difference between Wagner and Fera in a 10-0 game?

Play 5: Iowa 17, PSU 0, 3rd Quarter

Penn State's first possession of the second half, 1st and 10 at the PSU 48.

Brandon Moseby-Felder ran another nice slant route and Bolden hit him in the numbers.  It would have been a 6-yard gain and put us at 2nd and 4.  As it was, we continued to drive anyway, famously getting stoned for zero points at the goal line, and Moseby-Felder saw zero action the rest of the night.  Notably, the next few middle-of-the-field underneath targets were Justin Brown (successful) and Derek Moye (see Play 6).

Play 6: Iowa 17, PSU 0, 6:11 Left in the Game

Penn State's 5th possession of the second half, 1st and 10 at the PSU 42.

Moye ran a small little curl route, was about to get decked by Nielsen, and Bolden put it low where only Moye could get it.  Had he held on, it would have been a 5 or 6 yard gain (or a possible loss of skull or limb) and 2nd and 5 or 4.  We might have even avoided the embarrassing punt on 4th & 6.

Now, about 4 of those were gimmes and two or so would have been tough, but great, plays.  Had all 6 passes been caught (MAKE PLAYS!), Bolden's completion percentage would have been 70% instead of 54%, and his passing yardage might have been around 287 (rough estimate)  As it was, Bolden passed for 20 completions on 37 attempts for 212 yards against a great defense in a tough Big Ten night road game.  A game where points and first downs were extremely tough to come by.  While the offensive coaches unveiled seldom-or-not-seen-to-date plays, including plenty of rollouts, tight slants and even a few shovel passes (?!!) designed to give the freshman the best possible chance against an unleashed pack of monsters, the Penn State receivers let him down by failing to seize these opportunities to help the team's cause.  While it's nice to witness youngsters (musbooger'd) Devon Smith and Justin Brown continue to step up and make plays, it's downright heartbreaking to see the formerly-reliable elder statesmen drop the ball.