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Penn State Football: Finding Fault for 0-2

by on October 09, 2010 11:11 PM

Editor's note: Photographer Nathan A. Smith was on the sidelines and in the post-game press conference. Check out his photo gallery here.

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“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves,” is what Cassius said in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

A more slightly modern day philosopher put it this way on Saturday after his team made a mess of things on Homecoming Day in Happy Valley, losing 33-13 to Illinois before an announced crowd of 107,638 mostly quiet fans.

“We stunk,” said Joe Paterno. “I did a lousy job.”

Specifically?

“I think we could have probably done a better job somewhere down the line. I have to look at the tapes and figure out whether we could have done a couple different things. I don't know.”

Then Paterno made the admission of the day.

“We really weren't competitive.”

He’s right. And it was worse than it looked.

Against Illinois. Illinois? Illinois!?

HOW BAD WAS IT?

The Penn State offense had only seven first downs, its second-lowest total in Paterno’s 532 games as head coach. Only in its 6-4 loss to Iowa in 2004 – also on Homecoming – did Penn State have fewer first downs (six).

It may be just a coincidence, that 2004 comparison. Or not. Could things have been that bad on Saturday?

Against Illinois, the Nittany Lions converted just two of 14 third downs. That makes the Lion offense four for 24 in its last two games.

Quarterback Rob Bolden completed just 8 of 21 passes, although one was for an 80-yard touchdown to Derek Moye, accounting for nearly half of the Lions’ 170 passing yards. Another was tipped by Illinois' Nate Bussey, who took the interception to the house for a touchdown.

Aesthetically as well as statistically, it was Bolden’s roughest showing of the season. He was sacked twice and hammered a number of times. And he thought he wasn’t going to be in Iowa any more.

“We didn't execute, we have to find out some things in the next couple weeks, but we obviously have to get better than we were today,” quarterback coach Jay Paterno said. “I don't think we played as well today as we did in previous weeks and that's disappointing.

“We, as coaches, have to look at ourselves as the first thing. Then we have to look at who we're playing in terms of are we playing the right guys and we have to evaluate who wants this, who wants to compete and who wants to be tough, and that includes us.”

The running game was worse. Penn State ran for just 65 yards, as senior running back Evan Royster had only 35 yards on 10 carries.

Bad as it seemed, it’s almost par for the 2010 course.

Royster had 187 yards rushing in a breakout effort against Temple, but his other five games combined (40, 32, 38, 56 and 35 yards) equals just 214 yards. He stands 93 yards from breaking Curt Warner’s all-time Penn State rushing record. And I do mean stands.

“The record means nothing to me right now,” Royster said after the game. “What we need to do now is get better and start winning games.”

RED ZONE REWARDS

At least Penn State was successful in the red zone. Twice. As luck, trumping ineptitude, would have it. Twice.

Illinois return man Frank Ramsey fumbled away two punts, giving the Lions excellent field position at the Illini 23- and 10-yard lines.

On the ensuing two drives, the Lions took 11 plays to go all of 18 yards. Collin Wagner came through both times, making field goals from 28 and 22 yards. (He’s now 13 of 15 in 2010.)

Penn State has scored just 108 points in 2010, its lowest total after six games since 2001, when the Lions scored 98 and went 2-4 after opening with No. 2 Miami, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State – a decidedly more difficult trek than the one in 2010.

Paterno the Senior is right. Lousy job.

Let’s not point the finger at Bolden. Too much. That a true freshman is starting is a function that he is the best quarterback on campus. He is the starter by default. This was to be Pat Devlin’s year. Or a recruit who did not pick PSU.

Still, Paterno says he is not concerned.

“I think we did it on the right note going in,” Paterno said. “I thought the kids were ready to go. It's disappointing. We got a couple breaks early. We weren't able to kind of get more than field goals. I thought we were over that.”

BY ZOOK OR BY CROOK

Ron Zook’s reinvigorated program is now 1-1 in the Big Ten and 3-2 overall. That equals or exceeds its victory output in three of the past five years.

On Saturday, Penn State lost to a team that last season was 3-9 and lost to the Nittany Lions 35-17 at home in Champaign.

The 33-13 winning score by the Illini signifies an almost complete turnaround. Penn State is not reloading or rebuilding. It is in danger of recycling some not-so-good seasons.

You have to give the Illini their due: Mikel Leshoure carried 27 times for 120 yards, while redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaasse ran eight times for 63 yards and completed 15 of 19 passes (79 percent) for 151 yards and a TD.

The Illinois offense had the ball for an overwhelming 38 minutes and 12 seconds (to Penn State’s 21:48), with their top seven drives averaging eight plays and 57 yards. That’s two such drives every quarter.

Total domination.

“I think the coaches did a great job in preparing the guys for doing what we're trying to do and then executing it,” said Zook.

It was Illinois’ first win in seven trips to Beaver Stadium and only their third since Penn State joined the Big Ten.

DEFENSIVE INJURIES

Penn State’s defense, depleted by injures, just wore out. Illinois ran 74 plays to just 52 for Penn State.

“We had some guys playing today like Kevion (Latham, a defensive end), who got more plays today than he has played in a year,” PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. “They get tired in there playing that many plays. We had a young freshman, DaQuan Jones, who was playing in there today and that is the first go-around for him.”

Eleven Nittany Lion defenders in the two-deep rotation were either inactive due to injury, left the game with an injury or were suspended for undisclosed reasons.

Not playing: defensive ends Jack Crawford and Sean Stanley (discipline); linebackers Mike Mauti, Bani Gbadyu and Gerald Hodges; and nickel back Derrick Thomas (discipline).

Left the game with an injury: defensive ends Eric Latimore and Pete Massaro; defensive tackle Jordan Hill; and safeties Nick Sukay and Andrew Dailey.

Not in that group is linebacker Chris Colasanti, who has played the last two games with a broken hand. Colasanti led the Ions with a career-high tackles, while freshman linebacker Khairi Fortt, making his first start, had 11.

“I think we are all disappointed and I think we are disappointed in the way we played,” Bradley said. “People will say we had a lot of guys hurt, but that is football. You will not be getting an excuse from me there. Guys have to step up and play.”

132 LOSSES

It was Paterno’s 132nd loss -- and he remains three short of an historic 400 wins. Preseason it looked like that would likely come on Halloween Eve in three weeks against Michigan in Beaver Stadium.

Now, the earliest it could happen is Nov. 6 against Northwestern in Beaver Stadium. That’s followed by a date against the Buckeyes in The Horseshoe. The Nov. 20 game against Indiana at Maryland’s FedEx Field is a real possibility.

If that comes to fruition, Penn State’s record would be 6-5. And that would mean Dave Jones of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, who predicted a 6-6 record for Dear Average State, could be right. Shudder. Michigan State is 6-0 and has survived a heart attack and Michigan; by Nov. 27, two days after Thanksgiving, Penn State could just be leftovers.

(This has the small odor of when Joe did in his Bataan Death March toward his then-record 324 wins, when he won just eight of the 22 games leading up to finally getting the record in 2001.)

GHOST OF A CHANCE

The 2010 season is shaping up to be more trick than treat.

No matter where the fingers are pointed, Penn State is now 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference.

Iowa and Illinois are the Nittany Lions’ first back-to-back losses to start conference play since 2007; it’s happened only five times in their 18 years of Big Ten play.

Starting the Big Ten schedule with a pair of losses was a regular occurrence during the Dark Years of this century, back in 2001, 2003 and 2004 – none of those seasons producing more than five wins, let alone a winning record.

Only one other time did Penn State start 0-2 in the Big Ten. That was in 1995, when they overcame close losses to Wisconsin (19-17) and Ohio State (28-25) to finish 9-3 and 5-3 with Bobby Engram, Jeff Hartings and Wally Richardson.

This is not 1995.

This is 2010, and in its sixth game of the season, Penn State lost for the third time by 20 points or more. Yes, contextually, Alabama (now with one loss) and Iowa were supposed to be better than Penn State. Illinois was not.

GOPHER NO. 4

The Lions have a much-needed off-week coming up. It will give Bradley’s defense a chance to heal and the offense an opportunity to get on an even keel. Following a bye week in the Big Ten portion of its schedule, Penn State has had a 9-4 record.

But Paterno’s recent track record is not so good; three of his last four conference games followed by a bye then another Big Ten game have resulted in losses.

The Lions travel to Minnesota’s new TCF Bank Stadium in two weeks. Minnesota is 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, with a game at Purdue next week. Penn State has won just once in its last three visits to the Twin Cities, a 28-27 overtime number in 2006.

For the next two weeks, the Nittany Lions can ponder the sage words of Ron Zook, a man who knows whereof he speaks.

“You don't want to go 0-2 in the Big Ten this early in the season.”

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