Penn State Football: Are Sanctions Really To Blame For Loss To Indiana?
In the wake of Penn State's 44-24 loss to Indiana, fans have taken to social media to give their two cents as to why the Nittany Lions finally lost to the Hoosiers for the first time in program history.
The most common argument? NCAA sanctions.
Bill O'Brien would never agree with that publicly. Citing depth as a reason for losing could be true if the team was ravaged with injury, but beyond a few bumps and bruises the Nittany Lions were as healthy -- if not healthier -- than they have been all year. To blame depth for an entire season's worth of losses is basically saying that the players on the roster aren't good enough to win. Even if it is true, no coach is going to say it.
But even if he could say it, would it be true?
Penn State's problems have in large part been the same all year. The defense hasn't been able to stop offenses that are led by talented passers and the Nittany Lion offense has alternated between lethal and lethargic.
So the argument might be that Penn State lacks players to execute at a high level consistently and that depth plays into that. It's important to remember that physical depth and depth of experience are two separate things.
But that isn't really true either.
On offense Penn State boasts a veteran offensive line with capable players waiting in the wings. Christian Hackenberg is as talented a freshman as you'll see and the running backs have all been around the block before.
Allen Robinson is one of the best receivers in the nation and the Nittany Lions have one of the deepest tight end groups in the country. So deep in fact that five star tight end Adam Breneman rarely sees the field on offense and has mostly made an impact on special teams.
So Penn State isn't lacking for talent or depth on offense, and while the likes of Justin Brown and Silas Redd may have been nice assets to have, neither were ultimately irreplaceable.
On defense the story is similar.
Penn State's linebacker depth is an issue because beyond Glenn Carson and Mike Hull, the corps has had little playing experience. Even so, Carson has had a stellar season and Nyeem Wartman and Hull have played well enough that Penn State hasn't gone to the likes of Brandon Bell of Gary Wooten in desperation. Both Bell and Wooten being players O'Brien recruited and has given scholarships to.
Looking at the defensive front Penn State boasts the 2012-13 Big Ten Freshman of The Year in Deion Barnes and senior DaQuan Jones and juniors C.J Olanlyan and Kyle Baublitz. All of these players were recruited and played for Penn State well prior to the sanctions. The depth in experience behind those players isn't great but isn't directly related to the NCAA limiting Penn State's scholarships.
In the secondary Penn State has O'Brien recruits Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams, who are both talented and raw. Malcolm Willis has plenty of experience and Adrian Amos is as good any safety or corner in the conference. Similarly Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is a seasoned vet who has made the transition to linebacker as well as safety. Ryan Keiser is a walk-on, but was at Penn State well before the NCAA hammer fell and has played well all season prior to his injury.
So has depth really hurt Penn State this season?
On the recruiting trail it has. Limited scholarships means limited chances to recruit a player who could turn out to be a major contributor. In turn, it also means that maybe Penn State misses out on a player or two unsure of the program's future. The Nittany Lions had a number of decommitments in the early going, but a slew of Hackenbergs didn't leave Penn State's recruiting ranks. There is no certainty that those handful of players would have won Penn State the game on Saturday if they had been wearing blue and white. Could their talent have been helpful? Sure; but in all likelihood they wouldn't have replaced the majority of the players who saw the field on Saturday.
As for practice, the THUD controversy is simply overblown. O'Brien mentioned earlier in the season that NFL teams practice with the THUD (no tackling in practice) technique as well as the vast majority of unsanctioned college football programs. THUD became and issue because people learned the name of something that had been going on before O'Brien was ever in town. THUD certainly takes place to ensure that team depth isn't hurt anymore than it already is, but Penn State didn't lose to Indiana because of practice techniques.
There is no doubt that more scholarships will equal more depth which will equal a stronger team. Being able to offer scholarships to more players means a higher likelihood of finding players that will help the team win. It also means being able to rotate more players into a game and being able to have stronger depth skill wise on the 3rd tier of the depth chart. Luckily for Penn State, the program got time off for good behavior from the NCAA and will take full advantage of that going up to 75 scholarships next year.
Sitting at 61 active scholarship players right now is a far cry from the 85 limit set by the NCAA. Even so many teams, including Penn State, have and do operate in the mid to high 70s. So next year, when Penn State will be allowed to have 75 scholarships, the team will have roughly the same number of scholarship athletes it had prior to the sanctions.
But in the end, 22 players started the game for Penn State with the majority having played a significant amount of college football. A good number of the players waiting in the wings behind those 22 were Division I level athletes who had been in the program for over a year.
So it's really pretty simple. Penn State just lost because Indiana was the better team, not because of the NCAA. Why that happened is something O'Brien will have to figure out on his own.