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Probabilities and Possibilities: All Doors Remain Open For Penn State Football

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The scenarios and hopes of Penn State venturing into the post-season are as wide open as they were before the first game of the season.

Penn State v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After just one special teams play it appeared that Penn State spotted Rutgers points, maybe even a touchdown. On a windy and rainy night, the opening kickoff floated toward true-freshman Miles Sanders’ waiting hands. The future-star tailback misjudged the ball and was forced to reach over his shoulder pads to make the catch. He was unable, and added embarrassment to misfortune when he then literally booted the ball to the other team.

Just six seconds into the game the Scarlet Knights took its first snap from Penn State’s own 19 yard-line. The Penn State defense responded, forcing a three and out while taking back seven yards of field position. Rutgers missed a 45 yard field goal, the closest that it would come to scoring all day, and the slow-cooker blowout was underway.

The domination of Rutgers by Penn State came at a glacier’s pace. Inch by inch the team distanced itself on the scoreboard from its host in New Jersey. With slow progress, Penn State kicked three field goals by halftime to lead 9-0.

The second half began with a defensive hold by Penn State, and then a blocked punt by Juwan Johnson set the Lions up with a first down just ten yards from pay dirt. Three plays later Saquon Barkley willed his way into the end zone, reaching the ball out to cross the goal-line just as he was tackled, and PSU had a 16 point lead that had the feel of a much larger cushion.

Penn State scored ten points on the next two possessions while holding Rutgers scoreless to take the lead out to a 25-0 spread. Little by little, inch by inch, the lead, and demonstrable talent-gap between PSU and Rutgers, emerged to show that the tiny nine point halftime lead was just the tip of the iceberg. The Lions added two additional touchdowns while the second-team players were on the field. The final score of 39-0 was indicative of the competitive gap that those watching the game perceived.

By the end of the game, in a driving, cold rain, the stands were nearly empty. The final quarter of the game looked more like a spring game or full-dress scrimmage to the television audience.

Pardon My Expressions

Math Is Hard

Ever since the Penn State football team was revealed as the No. 12 team in the college football playoff rankings three weeks ago there has been joyful speculation of what could unfold for the remainder of the season. Over the past few weeks, some conversations became a mixture of one side talking about what is probable, while the other side spoke about what is possible for the Nittany Lions. That’s like comparing avocados and apricots, as they say. While the two ideas seem similar, they are different.

A month ago, prior to the Penn State win versus Ohio State, it was still possible for the Lions to factor into the Big Ten Championship, and even the NCAA Playoffs. It was not probable, but the possibility remained. Now with just one game remaining on the schedule the possibility is still there, resting on the outcome of the Michigan and Ohio State game that will unfold prior to the Lions’ final game of the season at home versus Michigan State. If the Buckeyes defeat Michigan at home, Penn State will have a chance to win its way to the Big Ten Championship, and beyond, prior to the kickoff with Michigan State.

All that matters now are two variables that will have clear results less than a week from today; the outcome of The Game in Columbus and the final game of the regular season for Penn State. All the talk concerning what may be possible or whether it is probable is like water under the dock.

The Feeling Of Safety

Marcus Allen and Malik Golden have played very solid at safety this season. Each finished with just one tackle versus Rutgers but the tandem have become a formidable obstacle for opponents. Golden entered his final year at PSU with his first chance to see the field as a starter. He has developed into a solid all-around safety and an above-average tackler. There were concerns that the safety position could be a weak spot for Penn State this year, instead it has become a strength.

Coming into the year, it wasn’t certain which Marcus Allen the team was going to get; the freshman who looked like a future star or the sophomore who had the cliche but sometimes unavoidable second-year slump. We’ve seen players do well in their first season but then have a rough go of it in the following season enough that you would think there would be a term to describe such a scenario. We can call it the ‘sophomore stagnation’ for lack of a better term.

Allen has responded with a phenomenal junior season, leading the team in tackles. He also has a reputation of dropping the hammer with serious hits coming from his spot in the back of the secondary. With the new rules and all the changes to college football, it is incredibly difficult to hit with tenacity, on a regular basis, and not get penalized once in a while. Allen has done just that. Receivers running routes underneath, knowing that Allen is bearing down on them, tend to fear extending their arms away from their body. They get dinosaur arms.

With the upper arms pressed in to protect their ribs, they have the same reach as a raptor. I don’t want to come off as being anti-raptite or worse, a Tyrannosaurus rexist. When receivers only extend their forearms to catch the ball, they resemble the prehistoric animals. Some dinosaurs had tiny little arms compared to the size of their body, similar to the legs of an alligator. It makes it very hard to catch the ball when you have dinosaur arms.

Weathering The Storm

Not too long ago coach James Franklin was facing a great deal of criticism from within the Penn State community. There was speculation about the status of his employment, what it would take for him to keep his job, and whether or not his seat was hot. All of that talk has disappeared.

Coach Franklin handled the uncertainty and criticism with grace, allowing all the negativity to slide off of him like Gatorade on a bald football coach’s head. There is a good chance, with a win next week to close out the regular season, that we will see exactly what that metaphor looks like.