Sunday, September 23, 2007

We own... Penn State

As I was leaving the game Saturday, I saw a young Penn State fan, maybe 11 or 12, sitting with his dad on a brick wall outside the guys bathroom. The kid just looked crushed, like he was on the verge of tears. It was obvious that this was his first road game cheering on Penn State. I felt like saying something to the kid, telling him that everything would be ok, there would be other games, etc. Of course I didn't, because anything a guy wearing a Michigan jersey and baseball cap said at that moment would be taken as rubbing it in. I realized that this kid could now call himself a true Penn State fan. Watching Penn State lose a heart breaker in Ann Arbor has become a rite of passage for Nittany Lion fans.

This game had to look familiar to Penn State fans. Same sorta woulda, coulda, shoulda as the last two. The had plenty of opportunities (5 red zone trips resulting in 9 points), but were done in by turnovers, conservative play calling, poor quarterback play, and an inability to block Michigan's defensive line. The couldn't run the ball consistently, except for some draws in the second half. They didn't do a very good job getting the ball to their play makers, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood (3 catches each) in space, where they could take advantage of the poor tackling of the Michigan secondary. The didn't look for TE Andrew Quarless in the middle of the field, and didn't really challenge Michigan deep. It seemed to me that they don't trust QB Anthony Morelli or his arm, because they didn't give him many complicated reads.

The Michigan offense was only slightly better. They too missed a couple of scoring opportunities. At one point during the game, I commented like I felt that Michigan was dodging bullets. My friend who was with me pointed out that Michigan had missed a number of opportunities and it was more like both teams were dodging blanks. I thought given the circumstances (freshman QB, third string right guard), the play calling was acceptable. The offensive line was incredible. Mallet made a few more mistakes than the previous week, but also made a couple of great plays while scrambling that give us just a glimpse of what the future will be like (ah, that's what pocket presence looks like).

Hart was, well, magnificent. Let me set the scene for you. Penn State has just kicked a field goal to cut it 14-9. There is six minutes left in the game. We have the ball around our 40. The student section is chanting "Mike Hart, Mike Hart". Penn State has nine in the box. Everyone in the stadium knows where it's going, right behind #77 All-American left tackle Jake Long. Mallet might as well be shouting it out at the line of scrimmage: "Left 20. 77 Off-tackle. Hut hut." Hart gets the ball, avoids a D lineman at the line of scrimmage, jukes past a couple of linebackers four yards down field and then plows through the safety and a couple of other tacklers out to the first down. Later in the drive, he is injured on a second down carry. As he limps off the field, a murmur runs through the crowd. Penn State calls thier last time out. Hart limps back out on the field. The crowd goes crazy. His block of the blitzing linebacker gives Mallet just enough time to hit a receiver just beyond the first down marker. Given the way the season started, I know that Hart will likely not be in the Heisman race. But he deserves to be. Before the season is over, he will be the best running back in the history of Michigan in just about every statistical category, and he is certainly the best I've ever seen.

Thoughts on other games
This was cool:

I'm still not convinced that Les Miles will be offered the job here, but if he does end up here, I hope he brings Gary Crowton with him.
-The UCLA / Washington game was something else, one of those typical Pac 10 wide open affairs. At one point, in the span of 5 minutes, Washington scored a TD, UCLA lost their second string QB (who was playing in place of the injured Ben Olson) and had to sub in a walk on freshman, UCLA busted an 80 yard run, Washington hit a 70 yard pass to a slot receiver, and then UCLA returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Can't they find a way to put those games on earlier, so more of us can see them?
-I wonder how long after the cheering subsided for Notre Dame's first offensive TD of the year, did people in the stadium realize, "We're still going to lose this game and go 0-4"?
-How in the world did Louisville lose to Syracuse?!? Syracuse is awful, they've only scored over 20 points against a BCS opponent once in Greg Robinson's tenure there. Steve Kragthorpe might have a pretty short stay there if he's not careful.

Full Golden Rankings coming up later this week.