So last weekend, I decided to go out of town and visit my family since I haven't done that in a while. There are pros (FREE MEALS) and cons (sleeping on a couch) to this, but the biggest downside is that, since I'm the only Penn State grad in my family, I was the only person who cared about Saturday's game against Northwestern.
Once the first half ended, we went out and did stuff all afternoon. It really was lovely, but it meant that I couldn't watch the game and I missed the context behind the meltdown that happened here and on Twitter dot com.
So, in the name of #content, I am going to go back and watch the game from where I had to turn it off. We figured "shit we could use an original article from a smart, handsome writer since it's the bye week," and since we have none of those, I'm just doing it out of hatred for myself. Here's a running diary, full of my thoughts of things that I'm seeing for the first time, via WatchESPN.
*cracks open a beer*
Let us begin.
Ok so before we get into the game, here were, in no particular order, the things I thought about during halftime:
- Northwestern's kicker isn't too good, ideally the game comes down to him having to make a kick.
- Zack Oliver is a gamer and I would like it if he did not have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
- This thing Penn State does where its safeties play a Cover 2-type thing and the middle of the field is wide open, I am not a fan.
- I really enjoyed that chicken parm sub I had for lunch.
- Justin Jackson picked one hell of a day to become really good again for the first time in a month.
- What the hell is a "Superback" and how can we turn Koa Farmer into one?
- Chris Godwin is good.
- Saquon Barkley is too and once he gets going look out.
- Passes that involve Christian Hackenberg throwing the ball anywhere near the central part of the Wildcats' line should be shot into the sun because they're swatting down everything.
- Punting: not horrible, so improvement!
- God I hope Penn State isn't calling squib kicks because these are driving me insane and that touchdown on a squib is going to come back to haunt the Nittany Lions.
- Carl Nassib getting a sack would be swell.
That's, uh, it.
14:54 - One thing that Northwestern's receivers do pretty well (and, coincidentally, it's one of the things I think Penn State's receivers do really well) is block on the perimeter. First play of the half: Oliver takes a snap, gives it to Jackson, who bounces it outside for six. The reason that play worked was because Cameron Dickerson did an outstanding job blocking John Reid on the perimeter and it gave Jackson the edge. I'm willing to bet there's a correlation between how long Jackson ran for on those sweep plays and how well his receivers on the edge blocked.
14:41 - The ESPN man said that NU wanted to make PSU's front four move sideline-to-sideline to try and negate their ability to impact a game. That's the big difference, in my opinion, between a team like Northwestern (changes the way it plays to adjust to a defense) and Penn State (changes its personnel to adjust to a defense). I don't know if one way is better than the other, just something I've noticed.
13:23 - Grant Haley nearly sacked Oliver. I know how the game ends with regards to Haley, but I really, really like him. Sure, his hands need to get better, but he's relentless as a tackler and a potentially really good slot corner.
12:00 - There's a call for a swing pass on 2nd-and-12 to the short side of the field. I get wanting to get the ball in Barkley's hands as much as possible. I don't get doing it and not putting him in a position to make a big play (while Christian Hackenberg's pass wasn't great, even if it was perfect, Barkley was smothered immediately). The next play is the 9-yard pass on 3rd-and-15 to Geno Lewis, which I don't think was on any Penn State person (in that moment) as much as it was NU saying "you need 15 yards, we'll give you seven, good luck getting the rest of them."
7:32 - Marcus Allen took down Jackson by grabbing his collar and, instead of pulling Jackson down, pulling himself forward and bringing him to the ground. It was like something you see out of a B-list football movie, only it worked. It was hilarious.
6:37 - NU's kicker just kicked a perfectly straight field goal. Unfortunately, he was on the right hash mark. I would enjoy it if he keeps missing field goals. /grabs another beer
6:32 - One thing bscaff mentioned in his film room was that Northwestern was going to bring a ton of pressure. On the play I just watched, they rushed three guys and dropped eight into coverage. No team will ever win if defenses can do that consistently unless their QB can run, and even then, it's a longshot.
5:27 - Northwestern's ultra-aggressive defense just gave up 30 yards in penalties. It's the way the old saying goes, "when you can't do anything on offense, pray to Jesus that Northwestern is dumb."
5:04 - The Geno Lewis touchdown pass made no sense, but the magic of college football is that it usually doesn't make sense. 20-14 Northwestern.
3:09 - If I didn't know how the game ended, I'd say the Cabinda pick would have changed everything. His focus and concentration were unreal, and if I wasn't driving the "Brandon Bell is outstanding" bandwagon, I'd be driving the "Cabinda is really, really good" bandwagon. Actually, can you drive two bandwagons? Because god dammit, I will.
14:50 - Nassib getting the sack record made me so happy. He just blew past the poor mortal assigned with blocking him and ruined Oliver. Congrats, big guy. I hope my beloved Patriots draft you.
13:14 - He just had a short carry, but Barkley followed up a long run with a long reception. Imagine being able to back him up with someone with as much (if not more) natural talent than he has and you have a backfield with him and Miles Sanders. HIT ME WITH THAT GOLDEN GIRLS GIF.
12:44 - Penn State kept seven guys in to block four, and Godwin managed to find a little space in the NU defense. I don't think I've ever seen Hackenberg put that much into a throw before and it connected. Seriously, he crow hopped into that like he was playing right field and Billy Hamilton was rounding third. Gain of 26, first down, rah rah, go State.
12:22 - Penn State takes the lead with Barkley running the Wildcat. I've only seen two Wildcat snaps, and they've both gone to basically the exact same place. Wonder if Pat Fitzgerald noticed, too. Anyway, 21-20 Nittany Lions. Saquon for President (seriously, how the hell did no one come close to bringing him down?).
11:33 - God the Northwestern offense has zero rhythm right now. It looks completely out of ideas against the Nittany Lion defense, which of course is college football for "don't let them have the ball with a chance to win going down the stretch."
11:25 - Nassib just went to the locker room and /breaks out the hard liquor.
10:00 - In a way, the Hackenberg check at the line that led to Barkley's big third down run is kind of maddening. I can't think of a time where Hackenberg has ever audibled into a bad play, yet he only just got to start doing that, like, a month and a half ago. Oh well.
9:00 - I was in a car accident when I was a child. I was in a minivan that flipped and spun on its top a few times. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me. Well, at least until Barkley took a second getting up after a run to the left out of the wildcat. He came to the sidelines and dropped to a knee. This is fear.
7:13 - Of course, since I wasn't around, I have no idea how people reacted to Nick VanHoose intercepting Hackenberg, but I really, really hope it wasn't "LOL HAX SUCKXS!!!!" and instead it was "man, that's an outstanding play by VanHoose." He's one of the best defensive backs in the conference and he's incredibly smart. He did what Richard Sherman does so well – he showed the QB what he wanted the quarterback to see, and when the quarterback bit, he made a play. If you want to do the Hackenblameometer thing, that's like 10 percent on him and 90 percent on a great defensive player making a great play.
5:43 - The bottom line just flashed "NOTRE DAME 42 - PITT 24" which reminds me: in an absence of joy, find joy in the absence of joy from others. Basically, lol Pitt.
4:54 - That Garrett Sickels sack was, quietly, one of the biggest plays of the game for Penn State. Shame it didn't happen in a win, but still, Sickels is starting to round himself into a nice football player.
2:28 - Guuuuuuuh the Northwestern defender who took Barkley down on second down made an amazing play. One yard away from making this game a lot more comfortable. My pulse is racing, even though I know what's about to happen.
2:24 - I want to preface this by saying I like the Wildcat, but I hate being predictable more than I like that formation. The second Northwestern saw Hackenberg go out wide, they knew Barkley was faking a hand off to Polk and running it towards the right, because he did that all game (save for one time where he ran left). The beauty of the Wildcat is that it is supposed to catch teams off guard. It didn't there. That's why it was an unpopular play call, not because it didn't work. Also, as an aside, I am of the belief that football teams – especially ones with 6'4 quarterbacks – should always let the QB sneak the ball on third-and-1. This is, formally, where I stand on this issue.
2:13 - Danny P deserves a lot of credit: he was put in a tough position with the punt that needed to pin NU as far back as possible, and he did his best. And realistically, did you have any faith in Northwestern getting into field goal range with one time out and 2:13 remaining? Especially considering Penn State's defense was lights out all half? And, considering that Northwestern's kicker missed two field goals and a PAT up to this point, did you think he'd make the kick if the opportunity presented itself? Of course not.
2:07 - Penn State's approximate defensive formation up front, from left to right: Sickels-Zettel-Brown, Bell-Cabinda-Allen. Lemme tell ya, if you told me that this formation would ever happen, I wouldn't believe you.
2:02 - Haley's almost interception was a tough play (had to jump and high point the ball while falling backwards), so while you can argue whatever you want, it's understandable that he dropped it. I don't, however, know what happened on the following play. Looked like he thought Austin Carr was going to keep streaking up the field, but Carr planted his foot and ran a flag. That one hurts, especially on 3rd-and-15.
1:40 - We have reached the part of the afternoon where I think people got upset about the lack of time outs being called. Considering James Franklin said during his postgame presser that he should have burned a time out after that run by NU (which was clearly in waste time mode), well, I think I see where everyone's coming from.
1:06 - Read above.
0:22 - A timeout occurs, read above.
0:09 - Welp. 23-21 Northwestern.
0:00 - In a way, it's fitting that Penn State's final play from scrimmage was a throw that went way, way shorter than where it needed to go, no? All kidding aside, the team is 7-3, but after a game like this, that almost feels...hollow. This had the chance to be the team's signature win and that didn't happen.
Really, I think that's the issue. Penn State has seemingly followed a general pattern during the Franklin era – beat teams that are worse than you, and with the teams that are as good or better than you, fight like hell and hope you win. The win hasn't happened yet. It's been a lot of "man, the team was close," but there hasn't been a signature win yet. This had the chance to be that, not just from a "finally beating a ranked team" perspective, but from a "Penn State legitimately could have been a top-25 squad and beat a team that was arguably better than it" perspective.
And you know what? Credit where it's due – the team that came out and played in the second half was much, much different from the team that came out in the first half. We all know that 11 a.m. central time kicks are the devil, and this team has spent the last two and a half months battling week in and week out, but some of the things that happened in this game were so...inexplicable.
Basically, after rewatching, I have come to a few conclusions: 1) Barkley is good, 2) so is Northwestern, 3) it is possible to say that there were positives in this game but also be really mad that Penn State didn't win. People are not incorrect for saying that some things in this game were indefensible. People are not incorrect for saying that patience is a good thing. Both of these lines of thinking are correct. You're not a bad fan for thinking there's a better tomorrow on the horizon, nor are you a bad fan for hating today. You're just a fan, and that's ok.
Anyway, those are the things that went through my head as I watched. I hope you enjoyed them. Go State.