The intent of this post is usually to try and recap the big plays, turning points and other important moments from the previous day's game. Then, on some occasions, it becomes something of an emotional outlet for for an issue that arises during the game, requiring a few more characters than Twitter allows. Today is the latter.
As far as recaps go, it's really pretty easy. Penn State was gifted a number of short fields off of Army West Point fumbles, but only converted one of those into six points, and another into three. Those were the 10 points the Lions lead by at halftime, when the Blue Band took the field for perhaps the best performance by anyone in a blue and white uniform on the day.
The Black Knights pulled within six points at 13-7, keyed by their only official pass attempt on the day early in the second half. PSU responded with three play, 91-yard drive, set up by the only two downfield throws Christian Hackenberg was allowed to attempt on Saturday (more on that in a bit). The first went for 49 yards to Chris Godwin and the second for 33 yards to Mike Gesicki for six points. Army got the points right back on the following drive, and after a Penn State punt, was driving for what would be a game winning score, thanks to a curious decision not to go for two after the Gesicki score. Fortunately for the home team, Jason Cabinda came up with a big sack on fourth down, essentially ending the game.
With apologies to the fine young men from West Point, this is a game that should not have been in doubt until the final minute. Penn State is bigger, stronger, faster and downright better at every single position on the field. Yes, Army plays exceptionally hard, and runs an offense that makes prepping for them difficult. What continues to boggle the mind though, is an inability, or perhaps worse, a refusal, to make adjustments to an offense that seems to rely exclusively on the prowess of a true freshman running back, who sat this one out with an injury.
Consider for a moment that Penn State has added what many consider one of the best collections of talent at wide receiver in the country over the past few years, with the likes of Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, DaeSean Hamilton, Brandon Polk, and DeAndre Thompkins all playing this season. That does not even include Kyle Carter and Mike Gesicki at tight end.
Take Polk and Thompkins, for example. For the most part, the only touches either has this season are on designed (and somewhat telegraphed) running plays, or punt returns. Through five games, the two have combined for just 22 touches. Eleven of those are on Thompkins punt returns, 10 on designed runs, and just one reception (for no gain to Polk). Both players are burners, yet neither has been given a shot to show off that speed downfield in the passing game.
Gesicki and Carter are not traditional tight ends, yet PSU insists on utilizing them as blockers, rather than creating mismatches with either in the passing game. Through five games, I can remember just one attempt to run either down the seam, and not a single jump ball type scenario in the red zone to either.
Perhaps most concerning is the shell this offense goes in when Barkley is not on the field, or in today's case, out with injury. It was not until his entrance into the Buffalo game that PSU ran away from the Bulls, and after suffering an ankle injury last week against San Diego State, the offense suddenly reverted to its earlier form. Yes, he covers many issues with his natural ability, but the team plays with a certain confidence with him in the backfield. And, for reasons I cannot quite grasp, the play calling is more open with No. 26 on the field.
After yesterday, Penn State has played 18 games with this staff. They have gone through two spring practices, two training camps, 15 bowl game practices and 18 game weeks. You cannot tell me that we cannot keep Christian Hackenberg upright long enough to run a receiver downfield, and see if he can make a play. You cannot tell me that we can't find a way that isn't a gimmicky designed run to get the ball in the hands of playmakers like Thompkins and Polk, and see if they can't create a big play.
Most of all, you cannot tell me that through 19 months under this staff, the only offense we can run is one where a shifty freshman running back has to do it on his own. If that is the case, then we are way past the time where James Franklin needs to take a look at just what the hell his team is trying to do offensively.