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Alabama 27, Penn State 11: Dysfunction Junction

Justin Brown drops a 3rd down pass during Penn State's 27-11 loss to Alabama. (Photo: BSD)
Justin Brown drops a 3rd down pass during Penn State's 27-11 loss to Alabama. (Photo: BSD)

After watching each play of the Alabama game, some many more than others, the proper reaction to the entire body of work remains a personal mystery.  Perhaps a LOVE tattoo on the fingers of my left hand in honor of Silas Redd and Devon Still and a GRRRR OH MY GOD YOU'RE STILL IN THE HUDDLE WITH ONE SECOND LEFT ON THE PLAY CLOCK from my right armpit to my right ankle, for practically everything else that transpired at Beaver Stadium.

As It Must Be Addressed. The solution at quarterback is readily apparent to the students, the Scranton media, and every single Alabama fan who has stopped by a Penn State blog or message board since the final play on Saturday.  If the coaching staff doesn't see it at this point, not much more can be said.  Some are improperly getting bent about Joe Paterno's unwillingness to name Rob Bolden the full-time starter immediately after the game (why would he, at that moment?), but the proof will be on display at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly next weekend, if not printed in black and white on a mid-week depth chart. 

There's no sense harping on McGloin or his performance, only the questionable judgment of a coaching staff that continues to stunt Bolden's potential in favor of a player who is physically incapable of beating quality defenses.  The good news, presumably, is that the charade concluded at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday.  This is most assuredly not to say that Bolden getting all the first-team snaps is an express ticket to 11-1.  He remains a very young quarterback with essentially a half-season of starts under his belt, still prone to both tunnel vision and assorted mental errors. 

Still, enough is enough.  Even the other players on the offense can't stand it any longer.  The offense can certainly be mediocre in perpetuity, if that's the goal, with the current arrangement.  They'll continue to move the ball on the Indianas and Northwesterns of the world, and fail against Ohio State and Nebraska.  Bolden needs a chance to develop without the prospect of losing his job on a series-by-series basis.  In other words, if he's going to suck, allow him to suck without fear or reprisal.

In Praise Of.  Silas Redd never stopped running hard.  Evan Lewis hit a 43 yard field goal.  Bolden dragged the offense down the field for a late touchdown.  It seems like a garbage touchdown in the context of a dry box score, but there was a certain level of maturation evident on the drive.  Jordan Hill and Devon Still were disruptive throughout the afternoon.  Still created havoc in the backfield, Hill showed constant hustle while chasing plays downfield.  No real complaints about the linebackers, although they were swallowed up (and held, it must be noted) on Trent Richardson's long first half run toward the end zone.

The Disaster That Never Came.  No sacks for either team in the game, but how many times did you see A.J. McCarron picking himself off the field throughout the afternoon?  Penn State predictably tried to get at McCarron with four defensive linemen and occasional, looping linebacker blitzes which practically never, ever work.  Despite the quarterback knockdowns and occasional stuffed running plays, Penn State's offensive line did a relatively decent job, given that this is likely the best defense they'll face all year.  Much like the threat of a marauding Susquehanna River late last week, I expected an unmitigated disaster and received a prolonged nuisance.  Win?

So, These Receivers.  Devon Smith is a woefully inadequate downfield target and I cannot reasonably explain or discern why he is used in this fashion.  He has bad hands.  He's too small to fight for jump balls in traffic.  Essentially, the only way he is useful on a deep route is if he can get two or three steps on defender.  He's so short that one step isn't enough.  These facts alone would seem to preclude sending him on endless corner routes.  There's a place for a guy like him in the offense, but it's with short passes, pitches, and handoffs, not 25 yard throws between cornerbacks and closing safeties.  Also, rest of receivers: you're really not helping either, and especially not at the biggest moments.  This is currently not a strength of the team, and most certainly not a group living up to the pre-season billing as the conference's best collection of receivers.  They are currently a bunch of guys, average and interchangeable.

The Timeout Fiasco.  Todd Blackledge was immensely cordial about this on-air because he's Todd Blackledge.  I am not Todd Blackledge, as we share only a voracious appetite for unhealthy breakfast food. Let's take the timeouts one by one:

  • 1st-10 at PSU 37 13:42 Q1.  Penn State comes out with an unbalanced look -- Pannell, Okoli, and Barham all to the right side of the center, Troutman and Haplea on the left.  Freshman Allen Robinson is lined up in the backfield as the right split end, and there's your mistake -- he needs to be on the line.  Bolden knows that something is amiss, but doesn't forcefully tell Robinson to nudge forward.  Way too timid.  With Derek Moye in motion toward the formation on the left side, that's five men in the backfield, and Penn State has to burn a timeout. Robinson has to know better, yes, but his need to know better is also a coaching issue.
  • 3rd-6 at ALA 47 11:59 Q1.  Total clusterfrick.  Chima Okoli, clearly injured, is lying in bounds about three feet from the PSU sideline.  John Urschel starts to come onto the field but he is waved off by a few PSU players as Adam Gress lumbers toward the huddle.  Gress arrives with about 18 seconds on the play clock, Bolden is looking toward his forearm cheat sheet, and Okoli is STILL ON THE FIELD OF PLAY.  Bolden starts reading the play with 13 seconds left, the other players are obviously getting antsy and telling him to hurry up.  By the time Okoli is scraped off the field, time is almost out.  Penn State never even broke the huddle.  Utterly dysfunctional.
  • 4th-1 at ALA 30 9:23 Q1.  Forget the actual play clock for a moment -- there are 15 seconds between the time that the referees spot the ball following the third down play (clearly one yard short of the first down) and the point at which 25 seconds were remaining on the fourth-down play clock.  Blackledge is feverishly trying to explain the Penn State playcalling hierarchy while the ABC cameras flash between Paterno, Galen Hall, Tom Bradley, Mike McQueary, and the respective tombstones of Hugo Bezdek, Bob Higgins, and Pop Golden.  With eight seconds left, Penn State is still in the huddle.  They never even get into an actual formation before the clock is at double-zeros, but this is totally cool because Joe Paterno has won 402 games and those who dare criticize this unbelievably moronic playcalling and communication system are haters who don't sufficiently appreciate greatness.  Blackledge can no longer hide his disbelief: "This is unbelievable..."



Needless to say, any of these timeouts would have been quite useful to challenge the spot on Alabama's fake punt.

But The Defense Was Great, Right?  Well, they're better than last year.  That's a safe enough statement.  However, their ability to create turnovers against good teams is still lacking, especially given that Alabama threw four interceptions and fumbled four times against Kent State seven days earlier.  Penn State also conceded a ton of 3rd-and-shorts to Alabama, and consequently couldn't get off the field at some key points in the game.  Alabama's five scoring drives were 69, 52, 50, 50, and 65 yards. The defense was okay, not much more.  They'll be good against most of the remaining teams on the schedule, but let's not get carried away with them quite yet.

Punting Is Quitting.  Thirteen minutes left in the game, down 17 points, 4th-and-6 on the Alabama 40 yard line.  Penn State hasn't been past this point on the field since the opening drive of the game.  They needed three scores, so exactly why the hell were they punting?  A mind-blowing, cowardly decision.  This exact decision has been a feature of the Penn State coaching philosophy, not a bug.  Why are you giving up on your team?  It was a neutering, faithless insult to players who put in countless hours and years of hard work, and to fans who are paying top dollar for a decaying product ambitiously labeled as "The Great Show"