Penn State began the new year with an impressive victory over the Tennessee Volunteers in the Outback Bowl on January 1st. Anthony Morelli was an "impressive" game manager. This gave Nittany Lion fans much to be hopefull of in the coming months.
Unfortunately, this would be the best news for the Nits in the year 2007. A few months later, many players—including All-Big Ten safety Anthony Scirotto—were charged in an off campus mele. This would only be the beginning of the off-the-field issues for the Lions this year.
Among other things, a handfull of players were charged with underage drinking. Then there was the horrible story of Austin Scott's alleged rape. And finally, a few weeks ago, more Lions players were accused of starting another brawl, this time on campus at the HUB.
As for on the field: the season began with much promise. The Lions started 3-0 against what we now know was very inferior competition. Then came the game that was circled on the calendars of every Nittany Lion fan and player: a trip to the Big House to play the Michigan Wolverines.
Penn State had not beaten Michigan in what felt like ages, but everyone thought that maybe this would be the year. Michigan had lost two of its first three and was going to be without starting quarterback Chad Henne. The Wolverines had been exposed by Oregon and 1-AA Appalachian State, when both teams spread them out and threw down the field.
Penn State did no such thing—they went back to being conservative. A few key turnovers by seniors Austin Scott and Anthony Morelli, and Penn State could not find away to beat hated Michigan.
Though the turnovers did not help, the loss must be put on Coach Paterno and his staff. All week long, they had planned to spread the field and throw on Michigan, until coach Paterno made a last second decision on Friday to scrap that game plan. So credit this loss to the coaches.
Penn State was bewildered after the Michigan loss, and were faced with what everyone saw as a trap game in the preseason: a trip to Champagne to face Illinois.
The game started on a bad note when the Illini took the opening kick all the way back for a touchdown. But Penn State rallied back and found themselves in a shootout the whole day. Finally, in the fourth quarter, the defense stepped up to stop Illinois four straight times and give the offense the ball in Illini territory to start each of their last four drives.
This loss can be blamed on Anthony Morelli. The final four drives ended in the following manner: interception, interception, fumble, interception. The Nittany Lions did not play great, but played well enough to win—unfortunately, their senior quarterback killed their chances for their first road victory of the year.
For those of you keeping count at home: Coaches 1, Morelli 1.
Next came a game against Iowa at home that Penn Sate was expected to win, and did handedly. But we did see the Nittany Lions pass coverage exposed late, something that would come back to haunt them in the weeks to come.
After Iowa came Penn State’s most complete game of the year. Wisconsin came into town, and Penn State just man handled them. It started on the very first play from scrimmage, when Dan Connor caused P.J. Hill to fumble inside his own 20.
A week later, Penn State found themselves in another shootout with Indiana. This time, the Lions were able to pull out, despite J.J. Hardy’s huge day and Justin King’s horrendous struggles. The win over Indiana set up the biggest showdown in Happy Valley since Penn State joined the Big Ten.
The #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes came into town for an eight o’clock kick off. The forecast was for a white out, and the atmosphere was electric.
Unfortunately, the team was not. Down 17-7 at the half, the Lions were still in it. The coaches made no major adjustments and the route continued. Although Morelli threw a horrible interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the game was really over at halftime. The coaches are to be blamed for this loss.
Despite the letdown loss to Ohio State, Penn State fans were still hopeful that the Lions could win out and maybe find themselves in a New Years Day Bowl.
The next two games were not contests for the Lions—they dismantled both Purdue and Temple. This all set up the final week of the season—a clash with "rival" Michigan State for the ugliest trophy in sports: the Landgrant trophy.
As we all know, Penn State by now found itself on the wrong end of a close ball game. But two things stand out in this game. First, the horrible play of the defense, and second, the atrocious play calling late.
Penn State’s running game, despite Rodney Kinlaw being injured, was producing awesome yardage. Yet the idiots that be decided to end the game throwing four straight times into the end zone with two timeouts in their pockets and the ball at the 25 yardline.
We’ll split this and give the coaches and the defense each half a loss. So for the year, the score is: Coaches 2.5, Morelli 1, Defense .5.
So where does Penn State stand? The Lions look like they will be playing in the Alamo Bowl a few days after Christmas, against what appears to be Texas A&M (that’s right, the same team PSU played in the ‘99 Alamo Bowl).
But lets think long term: Penn State has not been a major player in the nation for a long time now. 2005 aside, Penn State is a middle of the road Big Ten team. A program that everyone once thought would compete for the conference crown with Michigan and Ohio State now competes for third place, with the likes of Wisconsin and Iowa.
This is not a good program right now, and it boils down to coaching. The talent is there—I would put Penn State’s athletes up against those from any other school. It’s the staff that is horrible.
Jay Paterno must go—this is said year in and year out, but it is true. Penn State has yet to fully develop a quarterback under him. Michael Robinson was great despite him, and Zach Mills would have been great had it not been for him.
Until Jay's hand prints are off of the program, I can’t see it improving. People think there's a chance Terelle Pryor, the number one recruit in the nation, might come to Penn State. That is simply crazy talk—for his sake, I hope he’s smarter than to put his career in the hands of Jay Paterno.
Let's end the discussion with three negatives and three positives from the year.
1) Rodney Kinlaw. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that Kinlaw was going to rush for 1000 yards, I would have laughed in your face. But in the absence of Scott, Kinlaw proved he could carry the work load and was one of the few true leaders on the team.
2) The offensive line. You never know what to expect from a Penn State offensive line, especially one that lost first round pick Levi Brown and whose only true returning starter was A.Q. Shipley. However these guys did a great job all year, and really were never beaten too badly, even in the Ohio State game. If you're looking for something to be encouraged about next year this is where to look, as every starter returns.
3) Maurice Evans. I’ve been touting this guy since he signed with Penn State, and he had himself a great season in 2007. Penn State is linebacker U, but Evans is yet another on the long list of impressive defensive ends that have played for the Blue and White over the last 15 years.
1) Team discipline. I understand we are dealing with 18-23 year old men here, but the fact is they’re still men. I do not want to go on a long rant here, but I will say this: I have never seen a worse disciplined group of players at Penn State, on and off the field, in my entire life. The seniors and the coaches should be embarrassed of themselves for letting this happen. Things need to revert back to the old ways, and now.
2) Anthony Morelli. I hate to pile on Morelli, especially because his Penn State career is now over—but this guy just never had it. He was never one to take the blame he often deserved. I was at the Michigan game, and waited for the players to come out after it. All of them seemed to take it extremely hard, except for Morelli. He had this kind of "it wasn’t my fault so I don’t care" attitude about him, and I heard him mention quite a few times about how this was the coaches fault. Even if it was, a true leader always looks in the mirror first.
3) The defense. Oh boy, oh boy. I was wrong about this one. Earlier in the year I got caught in the hype and called this the best defense in the nation—wow was I wrong. You won’t find a better front seven, but the secondary was horrendous. King looked apathetic and slow all year, Scirotto decided he didn’t want to hit anyone unless it was in an apartment (I know cheap joke), Sargent was O.K. for Sargent, and Tony Davis’ transition to safety wasn’t too bad until he got hurt and Mar Ruben had to take over.
All in all, this was the least liked Penn State team I’ve ever seen. Hopefully they can turn it around in the Bowl game.
For the Glory...