Saturday, November 12, 2011

Huskers Hold off Penn State in the "Game That Probably Shouldn't Have Been"

Today in Happy Valley, the focus finally drifted away from the disgusting tale of child abuse back to football. Prior to kickoff, the two teams met at midfield for a touching, passionate pregame prayer led by Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown.  I wouldn't have expected anybody other than Brown to be leading in that situation; it set the mood for the day.

Right from the start, it was clear that the Blackshirts were dialed in on Silas Redd, Penn State's leading rusher.  Just a few missteps in the secondary led to big gains, such as a first quarter pass from Matt McGloin to Curtis Drake that set up a field goal attempt that was missed. Judging from the trajectory of the kick, I think it was deflected by Baker Steinkuhler.  Hard to say thanks to ESPN's horrific coverage of the game today. (More on that later.)

In the second quarter, it seemed the offensive line made enough of an adjustment to create some creases for Rex Burkhead to exploit.  And a small opening usually is all Burkhead needs.  That, in turn, made Taylor Martinez more effective through the air, completing 7 of 10 passes in the second quarter.  Martinez's first quarter "struggles" through the air seemed to be more a result of drops than bad passes and misreads by his receivers. As this season goes on, Martinez is becoming more and more a efficient passer. Definitely not the most fundamentally sound.  But efficient.

And Martinez is very much the leader of this team.  Take that touchdown drive just prior to halftime:  three times, Martinez converted key third downs, and a 10-0 halftime lead was much more comfortable than 6-0.  It seemed that Penn State wore down a bit late in the first half, and would be revitalized after halftime. And sure enough, Penn State came out strong to open the second half until the McGloin fumbled while being sacked.  Another impressive drive on the ground gave the Huskers a 17-0 lead...and one that I thought would be nearly impossible for Penn State to overcome.  Absolutely loved that option pitch from Martinez to Burkhead for the score.  Martinez critics like to point out that Martinez hasn't looked natural running the option, but that's because he hasn't run it before. It takes time to learn, and if you don't run it, you don't get better...and that touchdown shows the value of keeping it in the offense.

H/T to @grantsky
Still, Nebraska was in good shape until Nebraska's switcheroo between Rex Burkhead and Taylor Martinez blew up in the Huskers face. Burkhead's handoff to Tyler Legate was fumbled, and the officials awarded the ball to Penn State. Anybody watching the game live on ESPN wouldn't understand why Bo Pelini wanted the play reviewed unless they also had a DVR. Turns out that Nebraska's Yoshi Hardrick actually recovered the ball.

Of course, no review was available...and with the momentum swing, Penn State pulled to within three points with five minutes left. A three and out only ran a minute off the clock, but a 61 yard punt by Brett Maher gave the Blackshirts some room to maneuver.  Enter Lavonte David, who had been quiet much of the afternoon with several missed tackles.... but with the game on the line, #4 came through.  Second and two, David teamed with Austin Cassidy to hold Stephfon Gree one yard shy of the goal line. Then on both third and fourth down, David kept Silas Redd shy of the first down marker.

Some will disagree with Bo Pelini's call to go for it on fourth and 1 rather than punt or try a field goal. I didn't; because I didn't see how Penn State was going to drive the field with no time outs. Kicking the ball risked a block which could be returned, and wouldn't assure the victory either. Certainly that's not a strategy I'd consider against offenses like Wisconsin or Oklahoma State...but being this was Penn State, it was a good choice.

Sure enough, while Burkhead didn't get the first down, Penn State couldn't get anywhere near field goal range in the final seconds.  And that, in the end, denied Joe Paterno the opportunity to be the martyr. I get the emotion of the sudden end of a 46 year legendary career...but let's not forget why Paterno was fired. We still don't know how many children were violated since Penn State officials became aware what Jerry Sandusky was allegedly doing. At best, Paterno and other Penn State officials practiced a policy of "plausible deniability"; it does not forgive them, and it doesn't make JoePa a victim of a lynch mob mentality this week. Paterno's failures are the reason he was fired.

ESPN's broadcast was a travesty on all accounts. I understand the need to cut GameDay fifteen minutes short; it would have been awkward going from Lee Corso's headgear pick straight to kickoff in State College. But seemingly all day, Penn State and Joe Paterno were portrayed as the victim. Yes, the players had nothing to do with the abuse, but Paterno did.  Sticking a camera and reporter outside JoePa's house was out of line.  Meanwhile, ESPN's broadcast of the game itself was woefully inadequate. It's one thing for Versus or FSN to put together a crappy broadcast, but the "Worldwide Leader"? Take that "fumble" of the handoff between Burkhead and Legate. ESPN was more concerned with showing fans and Pelini complaining to the refs than trying to figure out why Pelini was so upset. Thank goodness for Twitter, where someone with a DVR created their own instant replay and let us know what really happened on the field.

A huge tip of the hat to Bo Pelini, who had the guts to tell the post-game press conference that today's game shouldn't have been played. It's an argument I tended to agree with. Football is a game. Lives had been ruined by a pedophile with the implicit approval of a major college football program. That was bigger than football. Fans will get over missing a game.  Those childhoods that have been ruined can never be recovered.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post all the way around. About ESPN I could not agree more. Had I not had company over I would have had the radio on. Even with Greg Sharpe "spoiling" each play before my eyes could see them it would have been a much more pleasant experience.

And it was not just the Paterno love fest either. Was there one incomplete pass Dave Pasch DIDN'T think was pass interference on Nebraska?

Spectator86 said...

Thank you Huskers for coming to Penn St. to the game yesterday.I consider myself lucky and proud to call your outfit my fellow Americans.