STATE COLLEGE Within the first three plays of Penn State”s first possession, it was easy to tell that it was not going to be the Nittany Lions” day.
Penn State”s receivers dropped the first three passes of the game from freshman quarterback Zack Mills the second drop was welcomed by a chorus of boos from the Penn State fans. This one possession could be a metaphor for the Nittany Lions” season thus far they have had opportunities, but the players lack the confidence and perhaps the talent necessary to make the plays
Even Joe Paterno, who can usually spin things in a positive way, looked dejected and at a loss after Saturday”s loss. The entire season for Penn State is under the microscope, not just because Paterno needs just one more win to tie Bear Bryant for most wins all time, but because the Nittany Lions struggled mightily last year and with less talent this year, how will they perform? Thus far, it has looked ugly.
Statistically, this is the worst team in years. Penn State is completely unable to find a running attack and has yet to stop opposing offenses from racking up yardage through the air and the ground. Football analysts are already predicting that the Nittany Lions will win at most one or two games this season. Fans are calling for Paterno”s job.
But Penn State has a lot more problems than replacing a coaching legend can solve. It simply lacks the talent necessary to compete at the level it is used to.
The Nittany Lions had one of the most talented teams in the country in 1999, but lost three times en route to an Alamo Bowl trip.
The recruits since have been highly-touted, but either suffered career-ending injuries or haven”t panned out Adam Taliaferro”s tragic injury is just one of many losses.
Just to name a few recruits that haven”t worked out: Ron Graham, a high school All-American, was expected to replace Lavar Arrington, but is now stuck at third in the depth chart. Two highly-recruited defensive lineman Dan Acri and Erik Noll left the team after last season. Another linebacker, Charwan Wood transferred to Kansas State. Wide receiver Rod Perry left the team to pursue a baseball career.
What does this leave? A team that lacks confidence in its own ability making a bad team worse. It has cause the Penn State coaching staff searching for answers but coming up empty.
Thus far this season, Mills has replaced Matt Senneca at quarterback and due to an inept running game, they have been forced to go almost exclusively to a shotgun-based passing game a far reach from a team that didn”t even have a shotgun until last year. The change puts a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks and wide receivers in unfamiliar positions.
This team needs a lot more than a quick fix. It goes much deeper than that they need to fix the talent level. This may be a job for Paterno, this may not be, but something needs to be done.
For now, all Penn State can do is continue to gain confidence, or rather, stop losing confidence. Teams with confidence can beat more talented teams, as seen by this season by North Carolina gaining a little, then rolling over Florida State.
A win Saturday against Michigan would have been huge for Paterno and the Nittany Lions, but again they cracked. Down 6-0, Penn State missed a field goal, then allowed the Wolverines to storm down and score a touchdown before the half. Instead of being down 6-3, it was down 13-0 and dejected. At that point, the game was pretty much over.
Penn State will turn it around because there a too many obsessed Nittany Lions fans not to make it so.
But it is going to start with getting a win, and for Paterno and Penn State”s sake, it needs to come soon.
Jeff Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.