Ben State Football: A Weekly Look Inside Covering The Nittany Lions
Cover Penn State football week after week and you start to notice patterns. Outside of the game itself, the experience of a weekend in Happy Valley hasn't changed a great deal over the years. So when something does change, it's easy to pick out.
Intentionally or not, the political correctness of the Penn State football experience is slowly but surely beginning to dissipate. At the very least Saturday's at Beaver Stadium are returning to a pre-scandal atmosphere.
In 2011 anything and everything that had to do with the Paterno era was predictably avoided as the early stages of the Jerry Sandusky scandal were sorted out. When he was still head coach, Paterno wasn't exactly a part of the game day experience to begin with. After his departure there were no real attempts to acknowledge Paterno's past contributions to the program. Considering the ambiguity surrounding his role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal it seemed like the safest move.
Fast forward to 2013 and the Paterno era is making a slight resurgence. His face shows up during a pregame video twice with great fanfare. And as of this past weekend, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" made at least a one-time return to the weekend playlist.
The song was the only tune removed from the playlist in 2012. Even though the song had only been played in Beaver Stadium for a few years, some fans took it as an assault on one of the only pieces of the modern Paterno era weekend that they had left.
Why "Sweet Caroline" ever left, or returned will probably never be answered in a way everyone will accept. The notion that the board itself had a hand in it seems unlikely and in many ways was just a good excuse to target outrage.
In the end the objection to its removal had much less to do with the song itself and more to do with a feeling that Penn State was going overboard with being politically correct. The day before this weekend's game, a group of Penn State alumni rallied outside of Penn State's board of trustees meeting calling for resignations, statue replacements, NCAA appeals, settlement withdrawals, and any other action that might quench their collective thirst for at least one aspect of perceived justice.
So maybe Sweet Caroline came back to appease the crowds and give them a small victory. Penn State football is still an intriguing story, but media rooms are full of local reporters more interested in the team than asking the obligatory 100th sanction related question. So really Penn State can slowly slide back into what normalcy is left because nobody outside of the bubble is watching anymore. Ironically the only people still twisting the burning iron into Penn State's side are Penn Staters. In a 24-7 news cycle the Penn State scandal has long become a thing of the past.
Some fans still call for the Paterno statue to be replaced, something that will probably never happen as it sits in campus storage next to the Ark of The Covenant. Between Franco Harris' willingness to have a Tiananmen square moment and the target it would place on campus for any well lubricated visiting fan, it seems like the simple removal of a flash point. Paterno never liked it to begin with.
But for now things are a little more like they were. Whether that's a good thing or not is up to you to decide. However it does seem to be abundantly clear that it's silly that it ever really mattered.
Fittingly, the Notorious B.I.G's song "Mo Money Mo Problems" -- which has played at every home game this season -- might best explain the administration's confusion during O'Brien's successful tenure at Penn State and the still angry portions of the alumni base.
"I don't know what they want from me, it's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see."
After getting a day off to rest on Sunday, Penn State will practice every day this week until Thursday. O'Brien says they may practice on Friday as well. If the Nittany Lions don''t practice on Friday they'll get an extra day to travel back home before returning by dinner on Sunday night.
For Akeel Lynch, Penn State's Canadian born running back; he'll be staying in town.
"It's a little too far to travel in such a short time," Lynch says flashing his trademark smile. "I have some school stuff to work on here in town anyway."
Calm And Collected
Christian Hackenberg has been very good for Penn State as a true freshman quarterback. So when things didn't go his way on Saturday it wouldn't have been a surprise if he was a little flustered. According to center Ty Howle though he was as good as he has ever been in the huddle.
"He's an even keel kind of guy," Howle says. "The coaches do a good job keeping him focused and ready for the next play. We don't have to say anything to him, he's ready to go."
It's not a knock on Hackenberg, but things will undoubtedly not go his way again before the season is over. So for fans and teammates, it's a good sign that a few incomplete passes aren't snowballing into bigger issues.
After a week of questions regarding the defense's struggles against UCF, defensive coordinator John Butler and standout safety Ryan Keiser never found their way to the media room. Maybe not answering questions was their reward for pitching a shutout, but between O'Brien's demands for more defensive questions after the game and the harsh criticism Butler took the week before, it wouldn't be shocking if O'Brien and Butler were just sticking to the media.
Nothing wrong with playing the cat-and-mouse media game, it's harder to write nice things about good performances if there aren't people to quote.