Iowa fans who booed injured Penn State players aren’t the problem

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Saturday Tradition 13 October, 2021 - 02:10pm 2 views

34 Random Thoughts on Penn State’s Stumbles Against Iowa

Black Shoe Diaries 13 October, 2021 - 09:05pm

A history lesson in reflection of a long Saturday in Iowa City

1. Thirteen years ago, an unbeaten Penn State team ranked third in the country traveled west to face another Big Ten rival ranked in the top-10. Despite Penn State’s uncharacteristically impressive offensive performance in an offense run by redshirt junior Daryll Clark, the game was widely expected to be a defensive struggle.

3. Ultimately, Penn State prevailed. It did so in an unusual way against a top-level team on the road – with its backup quarterback.

5. It wasn’t Clark out with the offense, though. It was redshirt sophomore Pat Devlin, a former four-star prospect himself.

6. Devlin, as it turns out, wasn’t asked to do a whole lot that night in Columbus. The 7-play drive that followed featured 3 carries by running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green, and 1 carry by fullback Dan Lawlor. On the second play of the drive, Devlin took a five step drop and tried to hit senior receiver Derrick Williams downfield on a post. Williams was essentially tackled on the play by Buckeyes’ defensive back Donald Washington, drawing a 15-yard pass interference penalty and putting the ball at the Ohio State 14-yard line. Penn State ended up on the goal line and Devlin snuck the ball twice, putting it over the goal line and giving Penn State a 10-6 lead with 6:25 to play.

7. Two minutes later, Penn State got the ball back and Devlin handled one final drive – an 8-play, 45-yard drive that culminated in a Kevin Kelly field goal that provided the game’s final margin. Penn State 13, Ohio State 6. Devlin carried the ball once more on that drive, converting on third down with a two-yard sneak.

8. It turns out that the fourth quarter of the Ohio State game was the only time Clark missed that year. He started the final three games on the schedule, then the Rose Bowl against USC. Devlin saw the writing on the wall and announced his intention to transfer at the close of the regular season. He had a successful career as the starting quarterback at Delaware, then a premier FCS-level program, and spent several seasons on NFL rosters.

10. The following season, though, was a different story. With Devlin gone, Penn State’s top reserve quarterback became true freshman Kevin Newsome. Notably, Newsome eventually transferred to Temple, where he was expected to transition to running back before retiring from football.

11. With Newsome as the only other possible option under center, the offense was less dynamic. Clark was still excellent – he won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football (given to the Big Ten MVP) and was first team all-conference. But without a viable backup, Clark’s running was far less effective. Though he technically had more carries during his senior year, Clark scrambled noticeably less as the coaching staff worked to protect him from injury and keep him (and their season) upright. Penn State finished the season averaging 28.7 points per game, ranking 51st nationally.

12. I’ve thought a lot about that 2008 October evening and the football season that followed it in the days since this year’s fourth ranked Nittany Lions jumped out to a 17-3 lead in Iowa City, only to fall to Iowa in the end, 23-20. And all I can think is that we’re in the Daryll Clark alternate universe, featuring Will Levis as Pat Devlin and Ta’Quan Roberson as Kevin Newsome

14. It’s become readily apparent why Penn State had been working so hard over the last several weeks to get the running game headed in the right direction. Saturday’s game is exactly the situation in which a competent running game with running backs that are averaging 4 yards per carry is exactly what is needed.

15. You can see that from the 2008 Ohio State game alone. As noted, on the road in a hostile environment against an excellent defensive team, Pat Devlin came in cold and was not asked to do much. Instead, he was quite literally asked to manage the game.

16. Technically, Devlin didn’t even have a pass to his credit that night. He drew that pass interference call on his only dropback. The other 14 offensive plays were all runs, 11 of which came from running backs.

17. What Devlin was asked to do was calm the offense, get the exchanges right, and make timely plays to get first downs. That’s what having a highly qualified back-up and a solid running game can do for you.

19. Roberson was put in an unenviable position, no question. No reserve QB ever gets “meaningful minutes” absent an injury, and Roberson was thrust into duty in Kinnick Stadium against the number 3 team in the country. A team with a defense that has a penchant for takeaways. Expecting him to move the team like Clifford was doing prior to his departure is a bridge too far.

20. The problem, though, is that Roberson couldn’t manage the team like Devlin did. Some of that is the running game’s failure to produce yards, but from the moment Roberson relieved Clifford, Penn State looked entirely out of sorts. Snap counts were off, false starts plagued the team, and open receivers were missed.

21. Honestly, the thing that sticks with me the most about Saturday’s game is that I don’t think Roberson actually had to score again in order to successfully navigate this team through the Kinnick minefield. Getting 3 points on that third quarter drive could have been sufficient. At that point, the lead was 20-10 with 6:40 left in the third quarter.

22. 10 points with Penn State’s defense and Iowa’s offense is significant. It’s two scores and, up until that point, Iowa had shown virtually no ability to move the ball consistently or generate a chunk play. Even assuming they get lucky and bust a long touchdown, Penn State still holds on by the skin of its teeth for a 20-17 win.

23. The problem here, though, is that Penn State gave them chance after chance after chance after chance. Sooner or later, Iowa was going to put together a single competent drive, then pull the lever and get three 7’s.

24. That’s exactly what that Spencer Petras pass to Nico Ragaini was – the one big play against a Penn State defense that had been on the field too long and was asked to hold one drive too many.

25. Under Roberson, the offense featured 8 three-and-outs. Several of those lost total yardage. Without the ability to burn clock and secure field position, Penn State’s offense continuously hung its defense out to dry. In this case, even drives that didn’t end in points would have served the purpose of keeping Iowa on its own side of the field.

26. Where do we go from here? It’s hard to tell. It’s true that losing this game probably doesn’t put Penn State in much worse post-season position. Assuming Clifford returns and is back to form, winning out is possible. Doing so gets them to Indianapolis, where they are likely to face the Hawkeyes again. On a neutral field, they’re likely to be favored.

27. That’s all assuming Clifford returns to form. A long stretch with Roberson at quarterback changes the dynamic considerably.

28. It’s hard to fathom how Penn State got here, or if there’s another player in the country as critical to his team as Sean Clifford. Based on what we watched on Saturday, Sean Clifford is the difference between a playoff team and, at best, a borderline top 25 squad.

29. Roberson played poorly on Saturday, but I have to believe he’s a several miles ahead of 2009 Kevin Newsome. The problem, though, is that even at best, Roberson is unlikely to beat Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, all of whom are top 10 to 15 caliber teams.

30. Of course, if Zach Calzada can beat Alabama, then anything is possible.

31. I’m not going to dignify the nonsense from Iowa fans and Kirk Ferentz about these “phony injuries.” It’s ridiculous and doubling down on it only takes away from Iowa’s win on Saturday.

32. Time to move on. All of us.

33. Let’s go win the bye week.

Penn State Football: Iowa Shouldn't Blame Nittany Lion Injuries for Slow and Boring Offense

State College News 13 October, 2021 - 11:01am

So yes, Penn State may have decided the best way to beat Iowa was to slow down the Hawkeyes however it could, including fake injuries. Just disregard the fact Iowa’s offense is ranked 120th in yards per game, or the fact the Hawkeyes ran two fewer plays than the Nittany Lions on Saturday but had the ball for 11 more minutes than Penn State.

Don’t worry about Iowa’s yards per play either; the Hawkeyes now average 4.65 yards per snap, which is 121st in the nation out of 130 teams. (Iowa had just six plays all game over 10 yards – for comparison Ohio State averages 8.55 yards per play.)

Don’t think too hard about the fact Iowa huddles.

Don’t think too hard about the fact Iowa only had three plays all game that went for more than 20 yards, converted less than 40% of its third down attempts, went into the victory formation and then ended up having to punt the ball anyway or scored just 10 points when having to start a drive on its own side of the 50. Don’t think too hard about the fact Iowa fans booed the wind for knocking the ball off the tee, or think too hard about booing PJ Mustipher for being hurt nearly as soon as the game started.

Perhaps most important of all, don’t think too hard about the fact Penn State appeared to be on the verge of having the game in hand before Sean Clifford was injured.

All of those things are true, and yes it is entirely possible Penn State decided whenever Iowa did something good the best course of action was to fall over and play dead.

Slowing down a bit here, the challenge in moments like this is not carrying Penn State’s water for it. Because I don’t really know if James Franklin told his players to fall over and play hurt. I just don’t. I know that it doesn’t make a ton of sense, but I don’t know for a fact it isn’t true. I also hate things like this because you are required to have an opinion about something that doesn’t matter and frankly I really don’t care if Penn State wins or loses. As far as rooting interests go, I just care if Ben Simmons can pass his COVID test and if Jalen Hurts can throw the ball to the correct team.

But now that we’re talking about…

It seems odd that Penn State faking injuries would happen now. The Nittany Lions have annually been one of the few programs to give Ohio State a run for its money and have done so in straightforward fashion. They have never had a swath of real or fake injuries plague the team, subsequently slowing down the Buckeyes’ high-powered offense. If anyone would be accusing Penn State of such a thing it would be Urban Meyer or Ryan Day. And yet…

Beyond Ohio State, James Franklin has been at Penn State for almost a decade and has been at the helm for nearly 100 games. Even in the sanction era, when Penn State needed all the help it could get, nobody was falling over in theatrical pain and nobody was accusing anyone of faking it.

Heck, look at the Wisconsin game. Safety Jaquan Brisker was hurt roughly every other play and Wisconsin fans never booed that because even in the first week of the season the Badger faithful understood that that offense wasn’t exactly Oregon in the peak of the Chip Kelly era.

Gonna slow them down? Okay, gonna go grab a beer.

Simply put, Franklin has been at Penn State for ages and not a single team has ever accused Penn State of faking injuries. Not even the teams that are faster, better and more potent than Iowa.

All of the finger pointing aside, it’s just a strange and unfortunate way to go about the issue during an era when player health and safety is at the forefront of the conversation. Because ultimately two things are possible: a player is hurt, or he isn’t.

Much like me, Iowa fans, Kirk Ferentz and his entire coaching staff don’t know if those players were hurt — well, aside from the three or four who never played another snap. They just don’t. So given the opportunity to choose between keeping their mouths shut or being skeptical, they choose to boo and make accusations. Then again this is the same program that had 13 players hospitalized following offseason workouts, so there’s that. Not to mention the precedent it sets to assume any injury is a fake one, and the sportsmanship lost working from that standpoint.

At the end of the day it’s truly one of those things that doesn’t really matter. Maybe Penn State did try to slow Iowa’s offense down by faking injuries. That is technically cheating and part of the reason why there are rule changes on the way around the issue.

But it’s also possible guys got hurt, thought they were hurt, cramped up or maybe Iowa’s offense is so boring that anything good happening is so memorable that anything that happens afterwards becomes memorable too.

When it’s all said and done this entire saga is stupid because it doesn’t even really matter, and given the chance to move on Big Ten elder statesman Kirk Ferentz opted not to, and that’s stupid too.

You know you’re complaining too much when you won and you sound like you lost.

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