I am, to the extent that a writer for a mere blog like Black Shoe Diaries can have attained some level of notoriety, famous for my overreactions. I deemed the Bill O'Brien era a failure after the first two games of last season, and have called for so many coaches to be fired that I can't imagine there's one, save LJSR, who I haven't directed some level of vitriol at. I claim that it's a product of my New York-sports upbringing, or maybe my general impatience, but, point is, I'm no stranger to premature hysterics.
But at this point, 5 games in to the season, I wonder whether it's still an overreaction to demand some sort of change within this Penn State program. It's becoming clear that Bill O'Brien can't do it all by himself--recruiting, coaching up a young, inconsistent, talented quarterback, calling plays, and being the spiritual and vocal leader of a team. Not only has his prized protege Hackenberg failed to make much progress these past few weeks--he's regressed, if anything--and not only has the play-calling been as maddeningly predictable as it is completely atrocious, and not only does it seem eminently unlikely that every NFL team with a vacancy will come calling as they did just a few months ago, but, more palpably, his Penn State team has seemed rudderless. We knew that the losses of Mike Mauti, Mike Zordich, and Matt McGloin would leave this team devoid of leadership, but we didn't know it would be so defiantly apathetic. There's no sense of urgency, no us-against-the-world mentality that fueled last team through as much adversity as a college football team can face. We knew the loss of Ted Roof would hurt more than we ever let on. We knew this year would be a step back. But, as this loss and the UCF loss have proved, and as generally uninspiring performances even in the wins over some overmatched cupcakes evinced, this team is failing to learn from its mistakes, failing to take advantage of its opportunities, failing to seize the moment and the momentum and do any of those things that a successful team does.
There are some talented players, nobody ever doubted that, but this is not a very good team. It was nice of Allen Robinson to show up, but nobody else, from the backups to the starters to the coaching staff decided to join him. The worst part is: This loss wasn't even infuriating, because at some point, it seemed like the team stopped caring. So why should we? The offensive line decided not to block, the linebackers decided not to tackle, the secondary decided not to cover, and the coaching staff decided not to adjust. So maybe you'll forgive any of us if we decided to turn the TV off, go out and enjoy what might be the last beautiful Saturday afternoon of the year, and chalk up this game, and this season, as a loss.
Indiana is not a good football team. And yet, they manhandled Penn State in a way that nobody has since Houston in the TicketCity.com Bowl two years ago; like nobody in a game that wasn't so weird and worthless has since Illinois in 2010, and then maybe this one was worse. This is an Indiana team that ranks 115th in the country in rush defense; Penn State ran for barely 2 yards per carry and threw the ball twice as often as they rushed. This is an Indiana team that turned the ball over 9 times in their first four games; Penn State forced one, a fluky, tip-drill interception. This is an Indiana team that was 2-2 with losses to their only two half-decent opponents--if you can call Navy that; Penn State made them look like the Big Ten's best. Let's make it succinct: This is an Indiana team, and Penn State should not be losing, ever, to this caliber of opponent.
But oh, we said that three weeks ago when UCF came into Beaver Stadium and stomped the same defense, with what seemed like the same plays and the same strategy. John Butler might be an up-and-comer on the coaching circuit, but how stupid were we for not questioning his anointment as Penn State's defensive coordinator after just one year as a defensive coach, after a career working the special teams?
I won't call for his head, just yet--a bold personal change of tactics. Nor will I demand that Bill O'Brien hire an offensive coordinator to call the plays--though unless he can prove that he can keep all these balls in the air by the end of the year, it will be abundantly clear that he needs a second juggler on this staff. The proof is in the pudding. We'll have more players, soon--thanks, NCAA!--and maybe more depth will be the panacea to all that ills this team. A pair of corners who can cover down the field, and a coach who trusts them enough so as not to call for a ten-yard cushion would be enough. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Dayenu.
I don't feel like recalling the events of this one; we all know how it went. I'll put up the grades later just so you can laugh at how bad they are. But know that there's not much energy behind them. Until this team proves its worth it, there's no reason to invest much energy in anything beyond Christian Hackenberg's development.