Game Day Observations: Michigan
Well, that happened. For the first time since 2007 — the first time any current Penn State student has ever known — Penn State lost to Michigan. It sucked. I was there, which sucked even more. Nonetheless, the Big House is a college football institution, and after taking an extra day to mourn, here are my observations.
- Ann Arbor ranks somewhere in the middle of Big Ten towns for me, with probably the best bar scene other than State College. There are four brewpubs right downtown and plenty of great foodie spots on every block. The breweries are only outnumbered by the pot dispensaries (yes, marijuana has been decriminalized in Ann Arbor for 40 years). It’s definitely a place I would like to spend time in for a couple extra days on a non-football weekend to check out all the local holes.
- The place is only six hours from State College, so there were quite a few Penn Staters around all weekend. I personally had a great time at the “Cock and Balls” tailgate (pictured below). Michigan is one one of the few Big Ten towns that has massive lawns for tailgating (Penn Staters tend to take this commodity for granted), so the tailgating scene gave off similar vibes of home.
- Michigan fans tend to get a bad rap, but on the whole, my group was not mistreated. Most people I met were welcoming, including this guy who says he hasn’t missed a Michigan game, home or away, for 35 years. He had a mobile keg trailer serving only Labatt Blue with Bo Schembechler posters taped on every wall. It was peak Michigan. Penn State, the school that pays bars to not serve alcohol to its students, banned kegs at tailgates in 1993.
- By now, you’ve probably seen the sign below. It was posted up in the lawn of what appeared to be a student house right across from the stadium. It’s easy to turn into a moralizer when things like this happen (especially on the Internet), but, well, I don’t know. There were 113,000 fans at the game, and probably 100,000 more in the tailgating lots. One tailgate with a sign, and a few snide remarks here or there about the Sandusky mess don’t get me riled up anymore at this point. To the less analytical, Sandusky is all we’ll ever be. Penn State’s failure to muster any sort of national public relations safeguard other than “We’re sorry” has, at least, sealed that fate. And, look, if the same thing that happened here happened at Michigan instead, I can’t guarantee that a handful of Penn Staters wouldn’t make comments or inappropriate signs, too. There are always a few idiots in a group this large (here: most recently), but I’m confident the sign below, which was seen by thousands of Michigan fans over multiple hours, would have been removed by one of our thoughtful students or alumni if some of the less tactful among us had put it up. Maybe I’m wrong, but I take solace in that belief. I’ve been to every away game since Jerry Sandusky was arrested. Some fan bases are collectively worse than others with comments and crude visualizations. Other than Wisconsin (twice), I can’t say that those comments have been overwhelming, or that the majority of fans weren’t pleasant. Remember, we play in Pittsburgh in two years. Let’s save our collective ire for that game. Because fuck those guys.
- Starting about five hours before the game, dozens of banner planes started flying around Ann Arbor airspace with all kinds of crazy stuff. Most notably, I learned from these aerial advertisements that Michigan can take their ticket stub to the local strip club for free admission after the game. It doesn’t beat this, but it comes close.
- The Blue Band made its annual full-band away game trip, which always makes my homer senses tingle. The Michigan Band had a neat halftime show too, which required turning the lights out completely.
- The Big House is just as you would imagine it. The bench-style seating is just as cramped as Beaver Stadium, and the simplicity of the interior design is actually aesthetically pleasing. The design does impede the visiting team from actually running out of the locker room, as the tunnel used by both teams opens up right at the visitors sideline.
- Michigan’s kick returner seems like a bit of a punk. I’m not sure what they showed on TV, but even when Michigan was losing, Dennis Norfleet was dancing around up to the point the ball was kicked. Joe Paterno’s spirit would have personally yanked the player off the field and cursed them if any Penn Stater tried this stuff, as it should.
- The game? Yes, the game. Well, what is there to say at this point? Hackenberg appears to be regressing and can’t seem to make plays even in the rare case he does have time to. After the game, Franklin said the quarterback “starts falling into bad habits because he’s getting hit too much, he’s getting sacked too much, he’s getting too many pressures in his face.” Granted, I’ve never stood behind 300-pound turnstiles while other big men are trying to pummel me, but it is clear Hackenberg is lost with this offensive line. I don’t have a solution, and I suspect smarter people than me in the Lasch Building don’t either. Either way, with the offensive line as the (rightly or wrongly) scapegoat, a collective assessment of the team isn’t going to come this season with any fairness.
- We played so poorly — the second half of offense, if you want to call it offense, couldn’t possibly be entirely blamed on the offensive line — that I wasn’t even upset about the bullshit penalty at the end. Sure, Hackenberg has led two final possession drives into glory, but there was no way we were going to score here. The play calling (totally abandoning the run after it, somehow, worked in the first quarter), the coaching (inexplicably calling timeout to save a half-yard delay of game penalty on the last drive), and every other possible thing that could go wrong (Ryan Keiser forgetting to intercept the football, fake punting on 4th and 11) all added up to 200 or so minutes of unwatchable football.
- Grab your spirit of choice. Read our recap. Read Devon Edwards’ recap. Read David Jones’ recap. Read his second one. And then look outside your window at beautiful Happy Valley (or the degree on your wall if you’ve already left it physically) and realize that it will all be okay.
- Fred Lewis Pattee’s words “Pledge our Love and Loyalty” mean just as much today as they did in 1901. We’re pretty bad at football right now, but We Are Penn State and nothing in life could be better than that. A friend of mine put it to me this way, and I think it’s worth ending this post with it:
“No doubt about it after last night. This is a bad team, bad on a “Dark Years” sort of level with which last year’s squad occasionally flirted, but ultimately managed to avoid. The talent is limited. In-game coaching execution is suspect. And the offensive line, God love them, is almost certainly the worst I have ever seen at Penn State or perhaps anywhere. We are going to lose games, in sometimes-embarrassing and, regularly, stultifying fashion. Perhaps the most damning indictment of this year’s edition of PSU football is how little I care that we gave away last night’s game, or that I don’t care at all about the absurd offsides call at the end. I have become comfortably numb.
“Those hard truths and catharsis out of the way, this is my plea to just stick with this group of coaches and players through the rest of this season, because they are fellow Penn Staters. They are not going to EARN our support through exceptional decision-making or execution. They just aren’t. And they aren’t going to capture our affection by delivering the cockle-warming glow of victory, at least not very often. If James Franklin and Co. don’t represent the home run hire we all believed in so strongly nine months ago, we aren’t going to learn that this year – there are too many mitigating factors – but I still tend to expect much better days ahead. We all see the similarities between this team and the doomed Nittany Lions of 2004. I will never forget how loud and loyal the crowd remained throughout all our futile efforts against Purdue that year. We all also remember how that fealty was ultimately repaid by a team led by men like Michael Robinson, Alan Zemaitis, and Paul Posluszny. And all of that was back when it was still just about football. We need to keep showing up and keep caring through the rest of the season because We Are Penn State, and this is what we do – through good times and bad.
“Trust me, I am NOT looking forward to sitting in the cold and rain watching this team struggle to beat Temple. But by virtue of our mutual love and devotion to Dear Old State, that is time I owe our players. In the years to come, when smarter decisions, better execution, and cockles flush with the warmth of winning are all more common, I will savor them all the more for having kept the faith.”