Pigskin Preview – A Weekend Without Nittany Lions (kind of).

SIGH. It’s always nice to get a break from a gut-twisting season like this one (SEE ALL OF THE PAST REVIEWS OF PENN STATE GAMES I’VE POSTED), but it does feel a little weird not to have a game to plan my day around. Penn State is unfortunately in the news for a terrible off-field reason, though, which would have been my Fugly had the headlines come up a few days earlier. Jerry Sandusky, a former PSU assistant coach, has been formally indicted on felony sex abuse charges AGAINST MINORS. I think I might vomit. I think when problem times for Penn State come into the news, it’s triple-disheartening for those of us who hold Penn State to a higher standard. I hope the university handles this in the appropriate ways, out of respect to any victims and their families, and out of a passion for making things right.

NOTABLE GAMES THIS WEEKEND
-This is the big one (and you have to wait till 8 PM tonight) – #1 LSU visits #2 Alabama. Both teams are undefeated, both 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC. This is huge. I don’t know how else to describe this game. Can’t wait.
-Another 8 PM kick-off – #14 Kansas State visits #3 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is putting up insane numbers this year, and Kansas State is coming off a rough loss to Oklahoma last week that pushed their ranking down. Can they bounce back? Or does another team from Oklahoma spoil their day?
-#9 South Carolina at #7 Arkansas, kick-off at 7:15 PM. This is a tough SEC match-up, and one that the Gamecocks have struggled with in recent years, having lost four of the last five match-ups. Arkansas only squeaked by Vanderbilt last week, so this is a prove-yourself game for both teams.

The Good, The Bad, The Fugly – November 3 Edition

I’ve been hearing complaints (from my conscience) that I do not post enough. To quell this disapproval, I’m implementing a mid-week sports feature called “The Good, The Bad, The Fugly”. I want to touch on a few stories, major headlines or not, that fall into those three categories. For those of you struggling to understand the word fugly, it’s a mash between fuBLEEP and ugly. Get it?

Welcome to the first edition.

THE GOOD
Sue Falsone was named head athletic trainer by the Dodgers on Monday, making her the first female in all four major professional sports leagues to assume that title. Props to Falsone for clearing being kickass at her job and achieving professionally what no other female has yet been able to, and props to the Dodgers for being genderblind in recognizing the best option for their staff.
THE BAD
-The sanction-laden Ohio State Buckeyes football program had a huge win at home against Wisconsin last weekend, but the good news has turned sour once again. Sophomore RB Jaamal Berry has been suspended from the team following a misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charge. Lots of the word alleged being thrown around, but read the link for more details.
THE FUGLY
-I am not a fan of Denver QB Tim Tebow, but last weekend, the Detroit Lions took their celebratory mocking to an awkwardly ugly level. Most notably, after sacking Tebow in the 2nd quarter, Detroit LB Stephen Tulloch genuflected, mocking Tebow’s prayer pose. I should rephrase… it’s not so much the mocking of a pose, but the fact that Tulloch (and a few other Lions) mocked Tebow-in-prayer (because Tebow prays a lot. Whatever. That’s his deal.). There has been a lot of back and forth on this, and everyone seems divided on the subject. Mocking and celebration is a big part of football these days, but this just seemed a little classless.

Finding a Way.

Sweet God. The Penn State-Illinois game was making me nauseous in a way only sports can. I clenched consciously and unconsciously as neither offense could do ANYTHING (the first points on the board came in the third quarter on an Illinois TD), and both defenses forced turnovers and three-and-outs like crazy. It was frustrating and painful, and I fully felt that Penn State was going to face its first loss since Alabama, and first conference loss altogether. Somehow, they didn’t, giving Joe Paterno his 409th win (now the Division I all-time leader) with an ugly final score of 10-7.

Everything came down to the final minutes of the game. Nittany Lion WR Derek Moye trotted onto the field (likely because despite broken foot, he was tired of seeing the offense look pathetic) and QB Matt McGloin got the ball to him multiple times, moving the chains (for what seemed like the first time all day) and marching the PSU offense down the field to allow for a 3-yard Silas Redd TD run with 1:08 left in regulation. The score was 10-7 Penn State. The Illini offense woke up for its final drive as well, moving all the way from the Illinois 17 yard line to the Penn State 25 to attempt a 42 yard tying field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Illinois K Derek Dimke’s kick was high enough and long enough – and then thwacked the right upright as the clock hit 0:00.

Nope.

Penn State again, eeks out a win and again, the defense carries the team. AGAIN, the quarterbacks looked very bad (Rob Bolden has no vision and his internal time clock is warped. I think he’s done; Matt McGloin can occasionally complete a pass but is not much better – I was shouting at him/my TV for most of the game). Each and every member of the offense (minus Silas Redd, who had ANOTHER +100 yard rushing game) should personally thank the defensive squad for keeping their asses in the game and giving them chance after chance to score. NO style points awarded, but somehow Penn State sits alone at the top of the Big Ten Leaders Division and remains the only unbeaten-in-conference-play Big Ten team.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Speaking of Big Ten teams, #11 Michigan State, fresh off their big-time win against Wisconsin last week, falls hard to #14 Nebraska, 24-3.
-#15 Wisconsin, looking to regain its footing after losing to Michigan State on an end-of-game Hail Mary last week (see above), lost for the second straight week on a late TD, but this time to Ohio State, 33-29.
-#9 Oklahoma played with a chip on its collective shoulder after falling from the top spot in the NCAA last week after losing to Texas Tech. They rolled over #8 Kansas State, 58-17.
-Texas Tech must have been all out of juice after that primetime win over Oklahoma last week. They couldn’t do much of anything against Iowa State, losing 41-7.
-Unranked Georgia Tech upset visiting #5 Clemson (who had previously been upsetting teams all over the place and climbing the rankings) 31-17.
-Unranked Missouri took #16 Texas A&M to OT and beat them, 38-31.

Cripes, Football.

If you haven’t noticed, I am not posting about the NFL this season. This is because I am in a pool (meaning ca$h is involved) and a Fantasy League, and my inner sports journalist is grumbling about discussing my quasi gambling and competitive ventures. I am still a giant (Steelers) fan, and I still analyze Sunday play each week – I just am not going to share it in a public forum. Been meaning to get that off the proverbial chest for a while. Whew.

College football, however, is not something I am dabbling in, in that way. I am reserving analysis, public shock, and overt expressions of feelings for the Saturday young men.

I PROMISE I’ll be returning to action this weekend with a preview and recap. I was in State College for Penn State’s Homecoming win over Purdue two weeks ago, and I was in a Penn State bar with my parents for (part of) Penn State’s win last weekend over Northwestern. Excuses are like assholes – everyone’s got one. I get it. Sorry. I’ll be better.

Homecoming.

PRETTY.

Tonight I’m hopping into a rental with two other Penn State alums and cruising on 80 West for four odd hours to make the trek from NYC to State College, PA. It’s Homecoming, for the 92nd time in Penn State’s history, and the third “homecoming” in my history (as an alumni). Other friends of mine are converging from different corners of Pennsylvania in the name of coming home – to the place where we met and spent years together, happy in Happy Valley.

Football starts early tomorrow (tailgating breakfast sandwiches.. oh yeah) for 5-1 Penn State and the visiting 3-2 Purdue Boilermakers: kick-off at 12 PM. Penn State has enjoyed plenty of Homecoming-game success over the years, with an overall record of 65-21-5, and a Joe Paterno record of 39-6. The Nittany Lions are looking to keep that winning feeling against Purdue and its noteworthy ground game (specifically RBs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers, who have combined for seven TDs).

Last week, Penn State dropped Iowa, while Purdue had no trouble with Minnesota, winning 45-17. The obvious match-up to watch for is Penn State’s bruising defense vs. Purdue’s take-care-of-the-football offense. In its five games this season, Purdue has only turned the ball over four times. The nasty Nittany Lion D, on the other hand, has forced 14 turnovers in six games.

Stat that doesn’t really matter: Purdue has not played at Beaver Stadium since 2007.

Non-stat that matters to me: I have not been in Beaver Stadium since September 18, 2010.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Big Ten match-up (with new Spartan uniforms), #11 Michigan at #23 Michigan State, 12 PM kick-off
-Offensively explosive #6 Oklahoma State visits #22 Texas, 3:30 PM kick-off
-Can Wake cause another upset? Unranked Wake Forest hosts #19 Virginia Tech for a 6:30 PM ACC battle
-10:15 PM (ET, obv) Pac 12 match-up between #18 Arizona St. at #9 Oregon

A Defense that Roars.

As I wrote in my previous post, we were due to find out whether Penn State’s defense was as good as it seemed, and whether they had enough to shut down Iowa’s Big-Ten-best passing game.

Crunch.

They were good enough.

Penn State grinded out another win, beating the Hawkeyes 13-3 at Beaver Stadium. Iowa entered Saturday’s game averaging nearly 38 points and 281 passing yards a game, but the Nittany Lion Defense held Iowa to 169 yards in the air and THREE points. Like I said… good enough.

On the other side of the ball, Matt McGloin again seemed to be the stronger QB, though Rob Bolden again got the start. Again (I’m tired of typing again), neither was able to really get the offense going. Instead, the ground game came alive, with sophomore RB Silas Redd rushing for 142 yards on 28 carries. If I were Galen Hall, giving the ball to Silas Redd as much as possible would be my game plan from here on out.

Next week, I’ll be in State College when Penn State takes on Purdue. I can barely describe how excited I am to be screaming (at noon) in Beaver Stadium. And I hope I’m screaming positive things.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-#3 Oklahoma finished off its beat-down of #11 Texas, 55-17. Ouch.
-#1 LSU stops #17 Florida easily, winning 41-11 and staying undefeated (and still #1?) in the process.
-#15 Auburn didn’t have it against #10 Arkansas, Razorbacks win 38-14.
-#14 Nebraska comes back from a 21-point deficit to beat Ohio State 34-27. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez took a lot of flak after the Wisconsin loss (and a lot of boos from the fans in the first half of this game), but Martinez ran for a TD and tossed two others to bring his team to victory. I’m sure he’s thinking something along the lines of “suck it”.
– Upset alert.. Wake Forest downed #23 Florida State 35-30. The Demon Deacons improve to 4-1 and start 3-0 in ACC play for the first time in school history.

Pigskin & Pumpkin Preview.

It’s a gorgeous Saturday in New York City, although a little on the warm side for fall (for me). College Football has already kicked-off today across the country, and there is a semi-full slate of big-time match-ups (see below). As for Penn State, the 4-1 Nittany Lions host the 3-1 Iowa Hawkeyes at 3:30 PM for the Lions’ Big Ten Home Opener. In recent years, Iowa has been notorious for thwarting Penn State’s efforts.

I felt her pain.

But with this being Iowa’s first conference game of the season and with a considerably different defensive roster this year, it’s hard to say just yet where the Hawkeyes stack up. We’ll soon find out if Iowa’s #9-in-conference ranking in total defense is reality, and subsequently a big positive for the (impotent) Penn State offense. We’ll also see if Penn State’s defense is as good as it seems (Devin Still is beastly in a good way), while they try to contain the conference’s top passing offense led by Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receivers Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE:
-#3 Oklahoma is currently visting and beating on #11 Texas (48-10 in the 4th quarter)
-#17 Florida attempts to knock off #1 LSU in an SEC match-up at 3:30 PM
-Another big SEC game – #15 Auburn (people are taking note of the Tigers now/again) visits #10 Arkansas, 7 PM kick-off
-Ohio State @ #14 Nebraska for a Big Ten battle at 8 PM. Both are coming off ugly Big Ten opener losses.

PUMPKIN THING TO NOTE:

Plastic cup.. bummer.

I am working on sampling a vast variety of pumpkin beers available this season, and I’m going to be reviewing them. I am not a beerie (foodie… but with beer.. no?), but I have opinions, and I am very pro-beer and pro-pumpkin, respectively. With that said, my rating system is going to be unique. Check out my first review tomorrow.

Lions and Hoosiers, Oh My.

Woof. What a sloppy game. Penn State snuck away with a (somewhat pitiful) 16-10 victory over Indiana in the the Big Ten opener for both teams. Despite starting 1-0 in the Big Ten Leaders Division with another strong defensive showing, Penn State made it clear (again) that the offense is going to struggle (with mediocrity) to put points on the board. For most of the first half, this game was painful to watch. Neither team had anything to speak of in terms of offensive rhythm – it was 3-3 at the half – and turnovers kept things ugly throughout. Penn State gave the ball up three times, including a Rob Bolden tip-turned-interception at the Indiana 1 and a Silas Redd fumble at the Indiana 2. Indiana had two turnovers of their own.

Matt McGloin again looked sharper than Bolden (not a high bar) and was 10 of 22 for 204 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and no sacks. McGloin’s TD was one of the lone scoring highlights from the game, connecting with Derek Moye on a long ball early in the third quarter. Moye hauled in six on the day for 158 yards and the TD, and despite the fumble, Redd rushed for 129 yards on 29 carries.

Next week, Penn State hosts Iowa in what will sure to be a tougher challenge than Indiana. Squeaking by is not going to work for long, especially in Big Ten play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
– Speaking of tough Big Ten play, #8 Nebraska was welcomed to the Big Ten with an ass-kicking from #7 Wisconsin. The Badgers looked like the Big Ten team to beat after the 48-17 win.
-#3 Alabama stays undefeated after a test from #12 Florida, beating the Gators 38-10.
-In a turnover-laden game of their own, Auburn ended #10 South Carolina’s streak, defeating the Gamecocks 16-13.
-#13 Clemson continues to roll, taking down #11 Virginia Tech 23-3.
-#18 Arkansas bounced back from their loss last week to Alabama, edging #14 Texas A&M 42-38.

Attention Sports Citizens.

I want to give a shout out to a new site dedicated to a side of sports fandom oft overlooked, Sports Fan Manifesto. The site is run by my friend and former colleague, Tom Semioli, and I’m excited to see what stories and topics for rampant discussion Tom brings to light. I’m even more excited to put in my two cents (I’m… opinionated).

From the Mission Statement:
Greetings fellow sports fans! Sports Fan Manifesto is a forum created to discuss, debate, and disseminate the civic issues which affect sports fans from coast to coast. The goal here is to engage sports fans of conscious in a open, honest and respectful dialogue which confronts the serious issues of our times, ranging from the use of our hard earned tax dollars to build stadiums to team owners imposing ideologies which may or may not be in the public’s best interest: religion, politics, jingoism, militarism. We also intend to praise and call attention to those in sports who have exemplified social, moral, and civic responsibility.

Let’s not be simply be “sports fans” – let’s evolve together as “sports citizens!”

Haggard Weekend Recap.

Whoa, it’s Wednesday. I was not on my game (my game is updating/grumbling about teams of my choosing) this weekend, so I’m going to make this quick. Everything is old news.

Penn State beat Eastern Michigan soundly, 34-6, with Joe Paterno back on the sidelines for the first half of play. The two-headed QB attack put points on the board, but Matt McGloin outshined starter Rob Bolden, going 14-17 for 220 yards and 3 TDs. Bolden finished 7-13 for 115 yards, 1 funky interception that only went about one foot out of his hand, bounced back into his chest and was then rebounded, and tossed a screen to Devon Smith that extended into a 71-yard TD pass.

The offense relied more on the pass and it seemed to work (for the first week so far – there were giggles during the halftime report that PSU had finally scored a receiving TD), but the defense tacked on a dominating performance, and they seem to be the consistent side of the ball for the Nittany Lions, who enter Big Ten play this weekend against Indiana.

Other notable games:
-Gameday was in Morgantown, but it wasn’t pretty for the #16 Mountaineers. They fell to #2 LSU 47-21
-#7 Oklahoma State edged #8 Texas A&M 30-29 with just a little help from QB Brandon Weeden’s school-record of 438 yards passing.
-Last week Clemson took down the defending national champs, this week they were ranked (#21) and slipped by #11 Florida State (still smarting from that Oklahoma loss) 35-30, giving the Tigers their first 4-0 start since 2007.
-#3 Alabama is still looking very strong, handling #14 Arkansas 38-14.