I went to the game at the Linc today. I went to root vociferously for Temple, as my father played a few seasons there not too long after the Owls' last victory over the Nittany Lions and because he used to take me to their games -- at Temple Stadium, Veterans Stadium and Franklin Field. We saw some great games, some upsets and some disappointing losses (especially two heartbreakers to Penn State in the late 1970's). So, with the point spread below 10 (it was 7 at game time), I figured this was Temple's best chance in years to beat Penn State, and, to continue a ritual (which turned out to be watching Temple imitate Sisyphus by pushing the big rock up the hill and not getting to the top) of going to Temple games.
That said, I wanted to note the following:
1. I was surprised that the place wasn't packed to the rafters. Franklin Field (for a 31-30 Penn State win) and the Vet (for a 10-9 Penn State win) were packed and very loud. Then again, it was the 1970's, Penn State was a top 10 team, and Joe Paterno was "only" in his early 50's and very much relevant. Now, Penn State is not even a top 25 team, Paterno's legacy is getting tarnished weekly (he made himself bigger than the institution, and both his beloved Penn State and self are suffering). So, Penn State fans don't have the mojo that they once did, because their team is not all that good.
2. On the other hand, where did all of these Temple fans come from? Temple had its largest number of students ever attend an athletic event today -- almost 11,000 (a far cry from the number that go to games in Happy Valley, but, then again, Temple is a smaller school and more importantly for purposes of this paragraph a commuter school). There were lots of people in red at the Linc today, and you'd have to venture to guess that most of them weren't early arrivals for the Phillies' game to be played 7 hours later.
3. The Linc could do a better job for Temple. True, the game lacked the buzz of an average Eagles' game, but the concessions stands and services were somewhat lame in comparison. Perhaps it was just that it was a noon game, the place wasn't packed, and no one -- except for some players on both teams -- seemed to be fully alert.
4. The game was exceedingly sloppy. If I were Penn State's special teams coach, I'd start thinking seriously about stepping up my and my charges' game or else begin thinking about a different line of work. Temple blocked a field goal, blocked a punt and Penn State's kicker hooked a short field goal attempt and then hit the upright on an attempt in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game at 10.
5. After the game, we heard a Temple fan, somewhat irate, shout out to no one in particular, "They should take that offensive coordinator out on North Broad Street and shoot him." To which several Penn State fans responded, "Which one?" That was the funniest moment of the day, and it really spoke the truth. Both offenses were unimaginative, both yanked their starting QBs and then reinserted them late in the game. No QB played particularly well -- Temple's Mike Gerardi made some bad reads and threw too many interceptions, including a few late in the game that were invitations for Penn State to win the game. Temple's Chester Stewart, an option quarterback, didn't show much imagination in his reads. Penn State's Rob Bolden fumbled the ball near the Temple goal line late in the game and was otherwise unspectacular. Penn State's Matt McGloin probably looked the best of the four, but also made a few bad decisions and was yanked for Bolden late in the game. As they say on ESPN, "if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback." Touche, for now, for both schools.
6. The two names I heard the most today on the loudspeaker were Michael Mauti (a linebacker for Penn State whose dad, Rich, played for the Lions in the 1970's) and Blaze Camponegro, a sophomore linebacker for Temple. Mauti made a key interception late in the game, seems to be a spiritual leader for the Lions' defense, and at one point had to have gone into the defensive huddle after too many offensive miscues to count and said to his teammates, "Guys, we're going to have to figure out a way to win this game, because the offense can't." Similarly, Camponegro seemed to be in on almost every big play, and it's hard to forget a name like his. And, yes, his first name is Blaze and not "Blaise."
7. Overall, Penn State won the game because they were bigger, quicker and better at pushing the Owls around than the Owls were at pushing them around. Still, I thought that when the FG attempt in the fourth quarter hit the crossbar, the Owls were going to win the game. To Penn State's credit, they stunk the joint out, but they still won the game. That said. . .
8. I don't think that they'll fare very well in the Big Ten. Sure, they should beat Eastern Michigan next week, but it's hard to see this offense doing much against any Big Ten school, and, as a result, winning more than two games in the Big Ten. I just don't see it -- they don't have the QB (and, quite frankly, State College is a place where the careers of outstanding HS quarterbacks have been known to die), they had trouble running the ball for the most part, and their passing game was good enough but not of the type that a fan who hadn't seen them would run away raving about it. Their defense was pretty good, and their special teams were bad (except for kicking off and receiving, where they were okay).
9. Their leadership also is very much at issue. Their top 3 coaches on offense -- the head coach, the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach -- are all up in the booth. That leaves WR coach Mike McQueary, a onetime Penn State QB who is hard to miss because he's about 6'5" and has bright red hair -- as the leading offensive coach on the sidelines. That's pretty hard to understand. McQueary is animated and appears to be a take-charge guy, but you have to wonder what he says to his wife when he goes home after practice. There must be some big-time ventilation, including mutterings such as, "Honey, if I am still here next year, just take me out back during deer hunting season, shoot me, and tell the police it was an accident."
10. And that gets us to Paterno himself. I'm sorry, but I just don't get it, and Penn State alums and fans should say "enough is enough." He isn't Penn State, he doesn't run the place, the football program is a shadow of what it once was, and it's hard to believe that many if any top 100 recruits or their parents want to consider a school with an 84 year-old coach. This is not to say that Coach Paterno isn't a legend, doesn't stand for good principles and hasn't had an awesome career at Penn State. He has. But it's been long since past the time he should have retired, and now the program is suffering. It was plain for all to see today -- just a clunker of a game after another clunker of a game against a program with whom it competed annually for a national title.
You only have to go as far as Tallahassee, where Florida State had to deal with the issue of getting Bobby Bowden to retire. Unfortunately, it wasn't the most graceful exit, but it was time for Bowden to retire years before he did. And, in Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles got a senior assistant coach with strong recruiting ties who has put Florida State back on the map (they are in the top 10 now) and will keep them there.
Penn State needs to do the same thing and tab a replacement for Coach Paterno after this year. No, it's not his son, Jay, either, as these positions are not a family business. That's not to say that Jay hasn't made valueable contributions to Penn State -- he has -- but there are many head coaches out there who would love the job, among them Al Golden, an alum who was UVA's defensive coordinator before turning Temple around and then taking the head coaching job at Miami, one he might want to leave if the NCAA levels the U with enough recruiting sanctions to turn it into solely a music school. There are other coaches out there as well with outstanding track records, and it's time -- for everyone involved.
Good atmosphere down at the Linc, exciting (if sloppy) game, good weather. Temple should go to a bowl game (if it can spring star RB Bernard Pierce free, which it couldn't do today) and finish about 8-4, 9-3 overall. Penn State will end up 5-7 or 4-8, and I just cannot see it winning more than a game or two in the Big Ten.
It was a Tale of Two State Schools today, and a very interesting one at that.