Game Day Observations: Northwestern
In the spirit of forgetting all about this train wreck and moving on, I’ll keep this week’s game day observations post brief. Suffice it to say that an otherwise enjoyable Homecoming weekend — full of great friends, a vibrant downtown, and perfect weather — was sullied for about four hours on Saturday afternoon.
Let’s get to it…
- Beaver Stadium broke 100,000 in official attendance for the first time this season, but the student section was at its lowest point. Here’s what it looked like midway through the first quarter. It’s a bit disappointing that the student body didn’t turn out in droves for a 4-0 Penn State team on the verge of cracking the top 25 for the first time in three years, but I suppose the absent were the lucky ones.
- I complained about this last week, and I’ll complain about it again: The student section security guards who mark the game tickets with a sharpie are an enormous waste of time and money. I have racked my brain all season for a reason, and I still cannot come up with one (if you know the reason, email me). I asked the person marking my ticket if he knew the reason for his mundane task, and his response was “Hmmm…I guess it is confusing.”
- On a more positive note, my favorite part of the Homecoming game is always the Alumni Blue Band. There are few Penn State traditions more adorable and entertaining. Former feature twirler Matt Freeman still has it, too.
- The numerous Richard Bundy tributes throughout the afternoon were well-deserved and touching. Penn State is losing a legend, for certain.
- I really enjoyed the n0-name Homecoming jersey tribute. If we must have the names these days, it’s a nice touch, at least, to pay homage to one of Penn State football’s best known (former) traditions. Superstition might not permit such a tribute ever again after how Penn State played in them, though.
- Oh, right, the game. Where to begin? It’s a powerful thing when a trio of proven, solid running backs, each capable of 1,000 yard seasons under normal circumstances, are rendered useless. It’s always tough to tell how well the offensive line is playing unless you’re watching the game on television. You know the unit is playing poorly when Penn State only puts up 50 yards on the ground — 10 of which came from Cole Chippialle in garbage time — but it’s hard to exactly see how little push the team is getting from the stands. Until you check Twitter see this Brian Gaia vs. Andrew Nelson disaster…
- This 2014 Penn State team reminds me in so many ways of the 2004 team. Both teams field a top-25 defense. Both rosters are full of young talent with flashes of brilliance (think then-receiver Michael Robinson and Geno Lewis today). Both teams have good-to-great quarterbacks (Zack Mills back then). Both teams are missing just one key ingredient keeping them from being great — in 2004, it was the lack any offensive playmaker besides M-Rob; now it’s the outmatched offensive line. For both teams, that one missing part is proving to be an Achilles’ heel. I don’t think the 2014 team is anywhere near as bad as the 4-7 2004 team, but both squads have high ceilings for future success. Here’s hoping this 2014 squad materializes like that 2004 team did into a vindication-filled Orange Bowl victory the following season.
- My friend Devon Edwards of Black Shoe Diaries critiqued the play calling as best as I’ve seen in his game column, but it bears repeating. I understand there’s only so much a coach can do when you’re averaging 1.5 yards per carry in Big Ten play, but it got to the point where my stomach would knot every time I saw Hackenberg drop back and look to the sideline for a quick low hitch route. Hackenberg either hits these short high-percentage passes for 3-4 yards (no yards after the carry or competent blocking, of course) or just throws a low-percentage bomb down the field into coverage and hopes Lewis or DaeSean Hamilton can make a crazy play. There’s nothing in between — no using the middle of the field, no utilizing Jesse James and the tight ends, nothing. And that’s only the first play. What follows is either a sack, a busted rushing attempt, or a Belton wildcat scheme that uses the entire play clock and catches nobody by surprise. Northern Illinois hung 221 rushing yards on the Wildcats three weeks ago — almost 4.5 times what the Nittany Lions could muster. Is Penn State actually that bad on the ground?
- Anyway, back to things that make me happy, like the pink S-zone. Kudos, L’ambs!
- On my way into the stadium, I noticed a total of three students wearing 409-themed crop tops in less than a minute. Literally, shirts like this with the bottom half cut off. I know Joe Paterno has at least one granddaughter who attends Penn State, but that would be a pretty major coincidence. Is this a thing? Can 409-crop tops be a thing?
- Major props to Kevin Bunce and Kenya Crawford, Penn State’s Homecoming King and Queen!
So, yeah, that sucked. The off week couldn’t come at a better time, and Penn State may even be favored against a demoralized Michigan squad in two weeks. But no matter what happens, we’ll always have this:
See you in two weeks from Ann Arbor, and Go State!