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Penn State Football: Crimson Tide Overwhelms Nittany Lions, 27-11

by on September 10, 2011 8:29 PM

Penn State safety and co-captain Drew Astorino had a very uncaptain-like question after PSU lost 27-11 to Alabama on Saturday:

“I just want to know how many three-and-outs we had?”

That’s three downs by the Nittany Lion offense and out – as in off the field.

The answer: Only three.

In its totality, and futility, though, the Lions’ offense was worse. Much worse.

Penn State's offense had drives -- and that is really a misnomer -- of 2 (to end the half), 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 6 and 6 plays. That's bad. That the drives came all in a row is ugly.

And worse is that, on average, those drives averaged 13.1 yards each – and resulted in zero points.

Worse than worst: the 27-11 loss by No. 20 Penn State (1-1) against visiting No. 2 Alabama (2-0) in Beaver Stadium and the toll it extracted on the Nittany Lion defense.

Eventually, it just got plum tuckered out.

“In the second half, it kind of wore on us. You get fatigued,” said defensive tackle Devon Still, another Lion co-captain. “Throughout the game it starts to wear on you mentality.”

The limited good for Penn State was that it scored at the beginning and end of that 10-drive exhibition of offensive failure.

On Penn State's first possession of the contest, Evan Lewis kicked a 43-yard field goal.

At that point, the game – played before a Crimson-tinged Whiteout crowd of 107,846 -- was only 7 minutes and 28 seconds old, and Penn State led 3-0.

Then, for nearly the next three-and-half quarters, Alabama scored 27 points. And Penn State scored none.

The next time the Nittany Lions got on the scoreboard, only 113 seconds remained in the game.

What happened in between was a whole lot of whupping by the visiting Crimson Tide, who last visited Happy Valley in 1989 -- that was a win, too.

Until the very end -- when Silas Redd found the end zone and quarterback Rob Bolden added a two-point conversion-- the Nittany Lion offense was as bad as its lack of drive. Two lost fumbles and an interception certainly didn’t help.


The final PSU score was set up by a hard-nosed nine-yard run by Bolden, and a 26-yard pass by Bolden to Shawney Kersey.

As Alabama cruised to its second win over Penn State n as many years (the Tide beat Penn State 24-3 in Tuscaloosa in 2010), it showed that the two-headed Penn State quarterback named Matt Bolden or Rob McGloin just didn't work.

You can’t say that Penn State’s offense was totally outmanned by Alabama. After all, the Nittany Lions did have two men at quarterback.

And it took two to throw five near-interceptions and complete just 12 of 39 passes for 144 yards and one interception.

Bolden was 11 of 29 for 144 yards, with the pick, while McGloin completed one pass in 10 attempts, for zero yards.


Running back was another story. Instead of two or three backs getting the ball, Penn State only saw Redd.

The sophomore had 19 of the Lions' first 20 carries by a running back. On those 19, he gained just 58 yards -- an average of 3.1 yards per carry. His long run -- an oxymoron -- was eight yards. He finished with 22 carries for 65 yards.

Overall, the Penn State offense gained just 251 yards. With the Lions' limited success on offense, Alabama controlled the football, winning the time of possession battle 34:05 to 25:55.

Not that the Lion defense was perfect. Perfect, no. Tired and frustrated, yes.

Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron was 19 of 31 passing, for 163 yards, and a touchdown pass. Trent Richardson carried the ball 26 times for 111 yards, for two TDs, with a long of 22. Backup Tide back Eddie Lacy carried the ball 11 times for 85 yards.


Early in the third quarter, for Penn State, the third officials' replay was a charm. So was the fourth.

It looked as if Alabama had intercepted a Rob Bolden pass that sailed through the hands of a leaping Derek Moye. But, after an officials' review, the throw was ruled incomplete.

On the very next play, another Bolden pass -- this time intended for Justin Brown-- appeared it was intercepted by Alabama. Again. After an officials' review, it was ruled incomplete. Again.

Sandwiched by those faux interceptions were two stellar three-and-outs by the Nittany Lion defense. How long the Lion D can play without an offense remains to be seen.

When the Lions' offense took the field, McGloin was back in at quarterback. And the Nittany Liions continued to throw near-interceptions. Twice. McGloin's first two passes of the drive were almost McPicked off. On the third play of the drive, McGloin threw long along the left sidelines for Moye, who looked like he shrugged off a pair of Bama defenders for a 40-yard catch. But the ball hit the ground. Incompletion.

Penn State's offense has been offensivee. McG is 0 for 6 and Bolden is 6 for 17 passing, for a combined 55 yards. And Silas Redd, after a quick start, has only 50 yards on 15 carries.

After the Lion offense stalled (we know: again), Bama's special teams then made their mark, with Mark Marquis returning Anthony Fera's punt 43 yards.

The Tide marched down the field after that, getting to the one-yard line before the Penn State defense stiffened, twice stopping Alabama from three feet out. Bama settled for an 18-yard field goal by Jeremy Shelley, to cap a seven-play, 50-yard drive that took 5:04 and gave the visitors a 20-3 lead.

Then the red Barron did it. Alabama free safety Mark Barron.

He picked off Rob Bolden pass to halt a mini-hot streak of the Lions. Bolden, back in at QB, threw a 27-yarder to Moye and a 12-yarder to Justin Brown, to get the Lions' offense finally moving. The drive was short-lived, as Barron picked off a deep throw by Bolden, giving Bama the ball on its own 9.

Third quarter - Alabama 20, Penn State 3




 Bolden was 3 of 8 for 21 yards passing in the first quarter, giving Matt McGloin a shot at QB. On a truncated drive that started in the first quarter and quickly ended in the second, after two incomplete passes and a one-yard run by Redd. It was Redd's 10th carry for 35 yards.

Alabama took over at the 44, and promptly started marching down the field. Again.

After being bottled up in the first quarter -- five carries for 12 yards -- Richardson broke open a 22-yard run that took the Tide to the 10-yard line. On third and five from the 5, Alabama called a timeout. When play resumed, McCarron tried to pass, and with his receivers covered he ran for a yard, short of the fourth down.

Alabama settled for a 22-yard field goal by Jeremy Shelley to cap its 10-play, 52-yard scoring drive and up its lead to 10-3.

To this point, McCarron is 7 of 11 passing, for 73 yards and a TD. Richardson has eight carries for 43 yards.

Penn State's next drive was barely a drive. The Lions went three yards on two Redd carries -- he now has 12 carries for 40 yards -- and McGloin's third incompletions (in three pass atempts). In 25 plays, Penn State has four first downs, three completions and 64 yards.

Penn State's defense regained its composure, and forced Alabama to lose three yards on its next three plays. Key was a five-yard sack of McCarron by Devon Still. The Lions' defensive line is getting penetration on the Tide O-line, and the Lions' linebackers are active all over the field. Take away Richardson's 22-yard run, and he has only 19 yards on 10 carries -- less than two yards a rush.

When Penn State's offense got back on the field, at its own 29, Bolden was back at QB. He quickly staked his claim, hitting Brown across the middle for 15 yards. But an incomplete pass to Derek Moye -- remember him?! -- to the left and Smith to the right, set up third and 10.

Bolden went back to the air, and back to the middle, hitting tight end Andrew Szczerba on a crossing route, but...

...Szczerba fumbled and turned the ball over to Alabama (as was confirmed by an officials review).

The Tide quickly took advantage of the game's first miscue, using three crucial third-down plays -- a six-yard McCarron pass to Kevin Norwood, beating Chaz Powell of PSU; a seven-yard reception by Richardson; and a 12-yard catch over the middle by Norwood that knocked off the helmet of Nick Sukay of Penn State.

Richardson capped off the drive with a three-yard TD run up the middle. Alabama went 50 yards in 10 plays in 4:06, to go up 17-3.

End of second quarter - Alabama 17, Penn State 3


Joe Paterno was in the press box to start the game, for the second straight week. He wasn't taking part in the Whiteout, opting to wear a blue sweater.

You had to wonder If he wasn't taking part in the game management either.

Whether it had to do with whether Paterno was on the field or not, the Nittany Lions burned two timeouts in the first 181 seconds of the game. Hard to think that would have happened the last time PSU beat the Tide in Beaver Stadium, 19-17, in 1985.

Penn State went for the big play to start the game, with Devon Smith streaking down the right sideline. Perfect pass from starting quarterback Rob Bolden. Imperfect drop.

A mixture of passes by Bolden (the biggest a 15-yarder to Justin Brown) and six runs by Silas Redd led took the Lions to the 30-yard line on a fourth 1, with 9:23 left in the first half.

Another timeout, Penn State's third of the game.

On fourth down, Bolden rolled out left, looking to pass, but pulled the ball down and hustled to the left sideline, making the first down by a slim margin to continue the drive. The Lions eventually stalled at the 27-yard line, following a drop by Brown, to set up a fourth and 7 from the 26.

Much-maligned Evan Lewis -- he missed two field goals and an extra point last week vs. Indiana State -- came on to make a 43-yard field goal. That capped a drive that was 16 plays, 54 yards, 7:27 and three timeouts in the making.

The Nittany Lions certainly worked for a 3-0 lead, taking up almost half of the first quarter to take the lead.

Alabama's offense took over at the 25 after the ensuing kickoff. The Nittany Lions defense quickly made work of the Crimson Tide, holding an initial run by Trent Richardson to three yards and forcing starting QB A.J. McCarron into two incompletions.

The stadium is rocking. Literally.

And swaying.

Penn State took over its 37-yard line after Justin Brown fair-caught a Bama punt. A great catch and run by Redd on a screen was negated by a Penn State penalty. Poor incomplete passes buy Bolden to Kevin Haplea (behind) and Smith (over his head) stopped the shortened PSU drive.

The Penn State defense tried to return the favor, thanks to defensive Jack Crawford, who knocked down McCarron's attempt at a flare pass to Richardson.

The Tide faced a fourth and 1 from the 40, and looked ready to punt. But Bama long snapper Carson Tinker hiked the ball to blocking back Brad Smelley, who -- barely, by three inches -- ran for the first down.

After that, the Tide just rolled down field, using a 29-yard pass over the middle from McCarron to Marquiz Maze to open things up. Alabama scored on a five-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to tight end Michael Williams, to take a 7-3 lead.

End of First Quarter - Alabama 7, Penn State 3




The student section is almost totally full -- and has a total Whiteout. Throughout warmups, they were singing along with the music over the Beaver Stadium speakers and cheering every time the Nittany Lions moved on to a new drill.

The other sections -- not so much, especially when it comes to making noise. There us a dappling of re through the stadium, save for the upper decks of the south end zoes, where there are club seats occupied by more of the well-heeled Penn State fans.


Alabama is 3-2 at Beaver Stadium, with wins in 1981 (Bear Bryant's only trip to Happy Valley, when he tied Amos Alonzo Stagg's all-time major college coaching record), 1987 and 1989 (a 17-16 win in Bama's last appearance at Penn State). Penn State won games in 1983 and 1985 -- by six and two points, respectively.




No sign of Joe Paterno the field during warmups -- the second consecutive week.


While in the Penn State coaches booth taking a photo from Paterno's seat (see the accompanying photo), there were three members of the Alabama party sitting around. I asked them what they thought of the 10-1/2 spread.

"We don't know anything about spreads," one smiled.

"Well," I replied, "it's 10/12."

"We'll have no propblem doing better than that," the Tide guy quickly replied.


It is not going to be your father's Whiteout.

Beaver Stadium is about half-full, and a surprising numbering of the shirts are red. That's especially true in the upper deck of the north end zone, which is filled up with about 80 percent red shorts. They're ready. Around 1 p.m., a couple hundred Bama fands were already in line to get into the stadium.

Penn State's student section brought its A -- anti-Alabama -- game. It looks about 99.95 percent white, and several sections are already packed.




Look for PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to send waves of his linebackers after Alabama's inexperienced quarterbacks.

When Kent State blitzed him in the Tide's 48-7 win last week, Tide QB A.J. McCarron completed just two of 10 passes, with two interceptions. Otherwise, he was an outstanding 12 of 13, with a touchdown pass.


When asked on Saturday's edition of ESPN's "College Gameday" about Penn State's offense and Jay Paterno's statement that having two quarterbacks is a good thing, Kirk Herbstreit said he was "not buying it." Herbie also said he is taking the under on the over/under of 8 or 9 first downs for the Penn State offense.


Look for Anthony Fera, suspended for the season-opener for underage drinking, to do the kickoff duties for Penn State. That's a given. The Lions' Evanm Lewis missed two field goals (from 38 and 47 yards) and an extra point last week, so it hard to believe Fera won't be the placement guy as well.

Fera spent a good portion of warm-ups on Saturday punting the ball, so there is a very good chance he'll be handling the punting duties as well. Fera was the Lions' No. 1 punter last season, averaging 41.4 yards, with just one block. Alex Butterfield handled the punting duties last week, averaging 38 yards on three punts, with one nearly blocked.



Kickoff for the Penn State-Alabama football game is at 3:30 p.m. in Beaver Stadium. Skies are clear, temperatures are in the 70s and I have already heard "Roll Tide" 217 times!

The game will be televised on ABC-TV by the crew of Brad Nessler, former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge and sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Look for an in-game feature of Blackledge's "Taste of the Town." He visited The Waffle Shop in downtown State College -- hope he didn't have to wait in one of those legendary lines that winds along the sidewalks of College Avenue. And did he order a No. 2 or 3?


Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror is the dean of the sportswriters on the Penn State beat, having covered the Nittany Lions since 1977 -- with the exception of one season.

Rudel uncovered a great stat: Since and including the 1995 season, Penn State has been 1-12 against Top 5 opponents. The victory was a 41-7 victory over preseason No. 4 Arizona to open the 1999 season. That year began with such promise -- Penn State won nine straight games and rose to No. 2 before dropping three straight contests.

For context:

--Under Joe Paterno since 1966, Penn State is 11-20 vs. Top 5 opponents.

--Penn State's best streak was in its biggest heyday, from 1981-86. They were 8-3 during time. Four of those games came when Alabama was ranked fifth or better, and the Nittany Lions were 202 in those games.

--During Penn State's 31-game unbeaten streak from 1967-70, it did not face a single Top 5 opponent. From 1968-754, the Lions played one Top 5 team -- hence the rap that PSU was a weak Eastern power.

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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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PHOTOS: Penn State Football Hosts the Alabama Crimson Tide
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