It's 8:48 p.m., and I finally feel as though I can sit down and write this piece. Yesterday afternoon, I requested to write this piece. Amidst the bitter cold and the swearing students filing out of Gate A, I elected to write this piece. Mostly out of frustration.
Writing after winning can be fun, but there's something about writing after losing that is often more satisfying. The loss, of course, is not satisfying. Reliving the failed plays and the dropped passes and the blown assignments in your head isn't satisfying. It is, however, often cathartic. All of the words swirling inside your head placed on paper, and then from paper out into the internet morass. And that catharsis is what makes writing after losing particularly satisfying.
Unfortunately, I've had no such satisfaction today.
It would be easy to sit here and write tropes on an offensive line that looks repeatedly overmatched, or about an offensive coordinator who we are convinced is this year's John Butler. There are plenty of people who will wax poetic about those two subjects for thousands of words, but we've been doing that for weeks. There's very little new to be gleaned from that commentary at this point in the season. It's become far too easy to point fingers at a young offensive line and beg for the return of Miles Dieffenbach. It's far too easy to talk in condescending tones about the Wildcat. Frankly, I'm bored with the whole conversation. It's too easy, and not entirely accurate.
The truth is that Penn State's offensive issues are far more comprehensive than simply blaming the offensive line. Our receivers get little separation and occasionally drop passes. Our running backs can't pass protect either, and struggle to hit the few holes that they are given. But if we're being honest with ourselves, if we're assessing "blame" (insomuch as blame is assessed by fans on a team of college players) then we should at least assess it properly.
Christian Hackenberg, please stand up.
Christian Hackenberg had a very impressive freshman season under an NFL coach. He capped that season with a near perfect effort against the Wisconsin Badgers. And somewhere between that game and this one, Christian Hackenberg was crowned as the King of Penn State. Between the news clippings and fan hype and the talk of Heisman odds and the number one overall pick, criticizing Christian Hackenberg became the third rail of Penn State football review. And so we point fingers in all other directions because if only the rest of the team and the coaches did not fail Christian Hackenberg, then he would rightfully be the star that everyone has made him out to be.
That's all well and good, and I'm certainly rooting for him. But the offensive line didn't cause him to underthrow an open receiver in the end zone at the close of the first half, or to miss wide open receivers in the middle of the field. John Donovan did not fumble twice, or take sacks when he actually had time in the pocket. No, that's on Hack. Screaming at his teammates and coaches did nothing except make him look like a petulant child.
This is not advocating for a Hackenberg transfer or a quarterback competition. It is, however, time to look at our offensive issues realistically. The offensive line and the coaching deserve their fair share of blame. So does the quarterback. He's not untouchable, and he still had plenty to learn. The sooner he learns those lessons, the sooner we stop losing to teams like Maryland.
Three Random, Probably Completely Useless Thoughts
One. This isn't to say the coaching staff should be excused from all responsibility. The playcalling cost Penn State this game late in the 4th quarter. Playing hyper conservative with 3 minutes left and punting to midfield while only winning by 2 points essentially handed Maryland a victory. One big play by Maryland put the Terps in field goal territory immediately. Come on, John Donovan. You have to do better than that.