A coach under fire. A program in crisis. And a bad, bad football team—perhaps one of the worst Michigan teams we’ve ever seen—playing a night game, at home, at a time when the vast majority of the fan base wanted not just the head coach fired, but the athletic director fired, too.
It was all set up so perfectly. And then it all went to hell.
This was a game that Penn State could not lose. But they lost it anyway.
The score was 18-13, and Penn State is now 4-2, and I am beginning to wonder if a team that started out 4-0 will finish 4-8.
I wish I were overreacting, but I’m really not, because the simple truth of the matter is that Penn State lost to a historically awful Michigan team on Saturday. Perhaps more impressively, Penn State lost to a historically awful Michigan team despite the fact that this historically awful Michigan football team was forced to play much of the game without a fully functioning quarterback. That last tidbit only added to the lunacy of it all.
Yes, it’s true: With Shane Morris out entirely because of that nasty
ankle injury concussion, and with Devin Gardner suffering some kind of damage to his left leg in the third quarter, the Wolverines at one point turned their historically awful offense over to somebody by the name of Russell Bellomy. He was, as we learned rather quickly, not very good. It didn’t take Brady Hoke very long to figure this out, too, but with Morris unavailable, Hoke had to play somebody, so he turned back to Gardner. Who literally could barely stand up. I mean, seriously. He couldn’t move.
But yeah, Penn State lost anyway. They lost to a historically awful Michigan team without a fully functioning quarterback.
They lost because they ran perhaps The Single Most Poorly Designed And Executed Fake Punt in football history. They lost because Christian Hackenberg, who again spent most of the evening running for his life (or, perhaps more accurately, just standing helpless as Michigan’s historically awful defenders collapsed the Penn State "pocket" within 0.8 seconds or so), threw an incredibly ill-advised interception that gave Michigan’s historically awful offense precisely the field position they needed to steal the game. They lost because they lack options at wide receiver, because their tight ends have devolved from "good" to "kinda-sorta serviceable," because the running game is a sad comedy of errors, because Ryan Keiser’s misread turned a sure interception for Penn State into six points for Michigan, and because Dave Witvoet shared with us all another Great Moment in Big Ten Officiating.
Mostly, though, Penn State lost to a historically awful Michigan team without a fully functioning quarterback because Penn State does not currently have an offensive line.
We do have linemen. I mean, I see them out there every week.
But a line?
No, we do not have a line.
And this, I think we can all agree, is a real problem.
But hey, it’s a beautiful autumn day. Count your blessings. Get out and enjoy the weather. Maybe watch some soccer. It’s a great sport. You don’t need an offensive line to play it.
Three Random, Probably Completely Useless Thoughts
One. The worst football game I have ever witnessed took place on October 23, 2004. I apologize in advance to those of you who have over the course of the past decade successfully scrubbed away any memories of that awful day, but I must for the context of this wider discussion very quickly remind you of the most fundamentally frustrating aspect of The Worst Penn State Loss Ever. Which, of course, was this: Every time the Penn State offense took the field that day, every single person in Beaver Stadium knew that they would not score. That they could not score. That they were utterly and completely incapable of not only scoring, but of even suggesting that they might somehow score by accident. Kirk Ferentz certainly knew Penn State couldn’t score that day, which is why he went ahead and scored on Penn State’s behalf. Which, of course, made it all worse. It was a maddening afternoon of football—completely bereft of joy. Because, again, when you know that your offense had absolutely zero chance of even advancing the ball, it kind of takes the fun out of it. It’s a terrible feeling, and one I hadn’t experienced in ten beautiful years. Until last night.
Two. And yeah, that’s why I can’t myself too worked up about the flag on the onside kick. Yes, we know that Dave Witvoet has a history of making bizarre and poorly timed calls against Penn State. And yes, that particular call was most certainly poorly timed and, at the very least, well, dicey. But l ask you: even if the call hadn’t been made, and even if we got the ball back, what on earth did you think was going to happen? That an offense that was 2004-level bad for the entirety of the second half was going to suddenly awaken? That those five guys toiling along the offensive front—and look, I know they’re trying, but it’s just not working—would suddenly coalesce into something resembling a "unit?" That Hackenberg would not only have time to throw, but to actually have somebody to throw to who could perhaps break a tackle or make a play? That Zach Zwinak would reappear? That Bill Belton would break one? No, of course not. None of that was ever going to happen. We amassed 214 total yards on the night. We ran for 54. It’s not getting better, folks. It’s getting worse. At this point I would throw in the towel and run the Wishbone or the triple option or something. Maybe put DaeSean Hamilton at quarterback. Or maybe Anthony Zettel. At least it would be interesting to watch. And it would save Hack from being sacked every other play.
Three. I suppose I should be more understanding of the situation Penn State finds itself. And so in closing, yeah, I will go ahead and remind you all that we are very much still hamstrung by those tricky sanctions, and point out once more that, yes, we probably would be much better across the board if we hadn’t had to make so many tough decisions on scholarships over the past three years. I don’t doubt that James Franklin and his staff are working around the clock to find some kind of answers, and I have no doubt that the players are doing everything they can to make the game plans work. But of course, on the field of play, none of that really matters. What matters is whether you have the players to execute the plays. Right now, Penn State doesn’t. They are certainly capable of getting two more wins and earning that bowl bid that everyone was all excited about a few weeks back, but they are also capable of not winning another game all season. Don’t believe me? Here’s the stretch run: vs. Ohio State, vs. Maryland, at Indiana, vs. Temple, at Illinois, vs. Michigan State. See two guaranteed wins in there? See any guaranteed wins in there? Yeah, me either. Onward.