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Penn State Football: 12 Ways to Do a Number on the Nittany Lions

by on September 28, 2012 12:01 AM

Freeh, sanctions, defections, injuries, “personal reasons,” the scandal, wide left. They all have done a number on Penn State football.

Yet, the Nittany Lions are 2-2 heading into Illinois on Saturday. And yes, Virginia, they could just as easily be 3-1.

As amazing as it seems, the soon-to-be 2-3 Illini are seemingly in a worse situation than Penn State.

A good portion of the blame is on Illinois coach Tim Beckman. He showed his character when he brought his Eight Men Out to State College, trolling for players and shaving the point of good sportsmanship among conference members. Beckman got the third-stringer he deserved.

I won’t go into it here, but a lengthy piece on CBS Chicago’s website does a great job of unveiling the supreme state of confusion at the largest school in the Land of Lincoln. These days, Illinois football is the Champagne of Jeers.

On to Penn State. And Norman Vincent O’Brien.

If it seems like someone has his number, Penn State’s first-year coach isn’t letting on. These days, if you’re Bill O’Brien you take it all in and just deal with it: For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Aren’t honeymoons supposed to be fun? Let us count the ways this one is – and is not:


The number of sacks per game Penn State’s under-rated offensive line has allowed per game (four overall) – 15th-best in the country. The first thing veteran center Matt Stankiewitch asked when I approached him after the Temple game: “Do you know if we gave up any sacks?”


Chapter and verse from the Book of James (and I don’t mean LeBron): “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”


How far Penn State has gone down the depth chart after Silas Redd left and Bill Belton got hurt and Derek Day got hurt and Curtis Dukes got hurt and Michael Zordich got hurt and Zack Zwinak ran for 94 yards against Temple.

                                                 11 and 12

Jersey numbers for Penn State’s quarterbacks, present and future (Matt McGloin, Steven Bench). There’s no doubt they are the two best QBs since Darryl Clark. Rob Bolden’s best game was perhaps his very first, on Sept. 4, 2010, when he was 20 of 29 for 239 yards, with 2 TD passes and an interception, against Youngstown State. Jones? Well, he not only didn’t play in the first game of his college career, he didn't play in the next 27, either.


The number of players who have left the program since the NCAA sanctions hit in July. They are: Silas Redd, Rob Bolden, Justin Brown, Tim Buckley, Anthony Fera, Khairi Fortt, Luke Graham, Kevin Haplea, Paul Jones, Shawney Kersey, Matt Marcincin, Ryan Nowicki, Jamil Pollard and Dakota Royer.


Receptions by sophomore star receiver Allen Robinson, for 404 yards, five TDs and a 13.9-yard average. Justin who?


The net punting average of Alex Butterworth. That ranks Penn State 116th out of 120 FBS teams. That’s just not Fera.


The number of “Junction Boys” who survived 10 days of 100-degree heat in Bear Bryant’s first preseason camp at Texas A&M in 1954. Five dozen players packed it in early. The Aggies went 1-9 that season, but two years later they won the Southwest Conference. Germane because? These Lions and the ones for the next year or three will need more than a little bit of the Junction Boys in them.


Linebacker and Lion leader Michael Mauti does everything right these days. The 42 is the number on his jersey. It’s also the number of tackles he has after just four games. Of those, an impressive 22 are unassisted. And he’s forced two fumbles as well.


The number of players in pads at Penn State’s practice inside Holuba Hall on Wednesday, not allowing for those on limited duty, like Pete Massaro. (At least according to my calculations; I counted twice.) NCAA rules limit the number of players who can practice before the start of classes to 105. After that, it is normal for a program like Penn State’s to have 120 players, maybe 125, out there at practice.


Penn State’s national ranking in rushing offense, with 124 yards per game. The problem? See No. 6. (BTW: Silas Redd is averaging 84.5 yards per game for Southern California.)


The aggregate number of head football coaches in the history of the 12 Big Ten schools. (It also includes the two head coaches at former Big Ten powerhouse, the University of Chicago, from 1892 to 1939, after which it disbanded the program. Amos Alonzo Staff was coach for the first 41 of those years.)

The point?

The 321 guys not named O'Brien, like TV talkers Lee Corso and Gerry DiNardo – a combined 49-95-2 (.339 winning percentage) in separate stints as head coaches at Indiana -- never faced a challenge like this.

And that goes double for Tim Beckman.


Related Coverage:

No Sign of Revenue Slide for Penn State Football, Per Bloomberg Report (Sept. 27, 2012)

Exam Day: Offensive Line Tightens Up Details With Weekly Test (Sept. 27, 2012)

Penn State Football Team's Personality Meshing With O'Brien's (Sept. 24, 2012)

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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