On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lion and the Indiana Hoosier engaged in a contest of American football at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. The Hoosiers emerged victorious (?), 36-35. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly (?) below:
1. He was out of bounds.
2. I was tempted to make that the only Random Thought this week, but they don’t pay me the big bucks to produce content that fits well within the confine of a single tweet.
3. Seriously, though, he didn’t score. I’ll take this one to my grave. Kid was short by an inch.
4. Why bother having replay if you don’t use it to correct game-altering missed calls?
5. Penn State fans – I double dog dare you to read the box score. Have you looked at the box score?
6. If you had, your reaction is probably something like this:
I am looking at the stats from this past Saturday and I am so pissed off. What a stupid fucking game.— ƈǟʀɨ (@NotCarlotta) October 27, 2020
7. Of course, that’s the entirely correct response. That box score is the kind of thing that will drive sane people crazy. Stat king Bill Connelly tells us that Indiana wins a game with this kind of box score only 5 percent of the time.
8. Welcome to 2020. COVID-19, murder hornets, turnovers, and terrible calls.
9. After the game, I was thinking, “This is the reason why teams play games against the Akrons of the world.” Penn State probably could have used a warm-up against Kent State in week 1 and another tune-up against San Jose State in week 3.
10. Instead, we’re jumping right in against #9Windiana.
11. Well, COVID. So…#6Windiana? Maybe?
12. On the other hand, it’s not like Penn State didn’t put up yards. They put up a ton of yards. And points. A decent amount of points. With a new offensive coordinator and scheme.
13. And the defense…
15. It wasn’t all candy and roses. In the moment, this game was intensely frustrating and stats can be deceiving.
16. Take Sean Clifford, for an example. Last year in this game, Clifford went 11-23 for 179 yards and a single touchdown. He also carried 10 times for 55 yards.
17. Statistically speaking, his performance was far, far better Clifford completed 69 percent of his passes, passed for 59 more yards and two more touchdowns, and ran for 117 yards and a score. He was the team’s leading rusher and personally accounted for 4 of the team’s 5 touchdowns.
18. On the other hand, the interceptions were bad. Really ugly. Rob Bolden, Christian Hackenberg-level ugly.
19. That pick on the screen pass was brutal. Penn State had numbers for blocking and the play was open, but Clifford just air mailed it. That turnover ultimately led to an Indiana field goal on the next drive.
20. The second interception led to a four-yard touchdown drive. Four yards.
21. Those things will just kill you. In fact, the entire second quarter was basically a lost cause, with a drive chart reading:
d. Missed Field Goal
22. Might as well have just sat that one out.
23. Lamont Wade’s another good example. Wade played a role in two Indiana turnovers, recovering a fumble and picking off a pass. It was a good day.
24. On the other hand, he was picked on and looked lost in coverage several times on the day. Those issues don’t show up in the stats, but they were evident to all of us watching.
25. Most of these mistakes are fixable and Penn State enjoys some advantages you just can’t teach. You can’t teach someone to be Pat Freiermuth or Shaka Toney. You can’t teach Jayson Oweh speed off the edge, or Joey Porter, Jr. doing his best Joey Porter impression.
26. You can’t teach a quarterback to throw a 60-yard dime perfectly in stride to his wide receiver, either.
27. You can, however, teach your offense to run more of them.
28. That, actually, was my biggest concern about the offense coming into the game. It’s not that it’s entirely dissimilar from the offenses we’ve been running since 2016. Actually, it’s remarkable similar.
29. I’m sure those of you with serious football backgrounds can tell me how much is truly different based on play design, but bear with me. To a lay person, these are functionally similar schematically.
30. Philosophically, though, this is offense is wholly different. It’s predicated on ball control and gains yards in small chunks. Move the chains, possess the ball.
31. That’s all good. When you do that, though, you have to convert. And Penn State just didn’t do enough of that last week. Until the Clifford-Dotson touchdown, I wasn’t convinced they were able to score quickly.
32. Now that I know they can, I’m wondering if we left a fair amount on the table.
33. Everyone critiquing Sean Clifford this week should watch that play again, by the way. It’s easy to look at those picks and criticize him, but Cliff has something. He’s a little streaky, but like Trace McSorley and Daryll Clark before him (and Zack Mills even before that), he’s at his best when he’s picking up yards on the ground in addition to his passing game. He’s also seems to throw well on the run and rolled out.
34. He’s not perfect, but he can get there.
35. Devyn Ford has something. He keeps his legs churning and is always looking to make a play. But there’s a reason he was the 3rd back coming into the season. He doesn’t have the same overall skillset as Journey Brown and he doesn’t have the same “grind it out” talent as Noah Cain.
36. It’s totally plausible he turns into the best back of all of them, but it’s clear that he’s still fairly raw in comparison to the more polished guys in the running back room.
37. For all the talk about Parker Washington, I thought he played fine. He’s got something too.
38. Jahan Dotson’s got it and is putting it to good use.
39. There are a lot of elements here that should be great. They all are great in certain situations. But they aren’t in sync yet. And as a result, the whole product looks entirely disjointed.
40. It doesn’t help that the team completely flummoxed the last 2 minutes. Normally, all you want is your defense to get a stop to seal the game. And they did!
41. So, uh, why didn’t we kneel the ball?
42. Or better yet, why didn’t Ford just fall over? Was he instructed to do that?
43. We’re never going to know because no one is going to throw their coach or player under the bus, at least not on this team. But that was a total game management failure and ultimately it lands at the feet of the head ball coach.
44. Last year after this game, I wrote that I wasn’t “clear as to why every loss in the James Franklin era creates an existential crisis that requires us to deliver our #hottaek analysis of the ‘state of the program.’”
45. I’m unhappy with this loss and the inputs that led to it. But giving up on this team and this coach is just not something I’m willing to do yet.
46. In 2016, this kind of sloppy decision making and lack of preparedness led to a bunch of turnovers and an atrocious performance in Pittsburgh. The injuries on defense led to getting smashed by Michigan.
47. I don’t know what happens next. I know we miss Journey Brown and Micah Parsons. I know we’ll miss Jesse Luketa next week. But it’s early, this team has talent, and it has plenty of opportunity before them.
48. Also, it’s 2020. Just the worst kind of year. So, you know, it is what it is. I’m just glad we get to watch football and act like things are normal for a few hours each Saturday.
49. Onward and upward.
50. On to Ohio State.
51. We are…