I fired my opening salvo last week after a 34-0 victory over Kent State, so it’s hard to load up that same gun again. I optimistically concluded:
“Last year’s metamorphosis gives me reason to believe that O’Brien can learn from what he saw in the first month of the season…It starts with Hack’s stats taking a back seat and Lynch moving into the driver’s seat.”
O’Brien indeed didn’t learn from what he saw in the first four weeks. Instead, he loaded up an “Ohio 2012” game plan against middling Indiana. You remember that game, the one where O’Brien threw 70% of the time even though McGloin only made a smidge more than 50% of his throws?
Yesterday, O’Brien set a school record with 55 pass attempts for true freshman Christian Hackenberg, which might have been understandable for a team playing from behind. Penn State, however, relied on the pass when the game was still tight.
I could accept if redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch still wasn’t O’Brien’s favorite flavor at halfback, but for goodness sake, establish the run, coach! Indiana gave up 248 yards per game before hosting Penn State on Saturday. Still, Penn State passed on over 60% of its downs and wouldn’t even call a run play on a 3rd or 4th and short. PSU had just 70 total rushing yards.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sane Penn State fan who isn’t thrilled about Hackenberg’s future potential, but placing the offense on his shoulders now is a head-scratching philosophy from our previously unquestioned young coach.
What can be said in defense of coach O’Brien? After last year’s blushing displays of praise and litany of year-end awards, we might forget that OB only head coached his 17th game yesterday. He has a lot of growing up to do.
Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say, but even if you try excuse O’Brien’s overall offensive approach, it’s hard to agree with most of his clutch decisions. Especially with a freshman quarterback starting.
Some knucklehead fans are calling for O’Brien’s head or using this loss to the Hoosiers as a chance to wax nostalgic about Joe Paterno. But that’s ridiculous. O’Brien is a godsend for Penn State during this difficult period. However, he has a long way to go as a head coach, and it appears that he still hasn’t figured out what he has with this current Penn State squad.
Other Nittany Lions fans have had plenty of gripes with the defense but not me. I knew the defense would be taking a step back this year all along. You don’t lose three high NFL draft picks and suffer mediocre defensive recruiting the last four years and expect to be stout.
And if you even remotely follow college football, you know that Kevin Wilson at Indiana has offensive prowess. Yesterday was never going to be a 13-10 Penn State win, like old guard fans expected. The Hoosiers were destined to score 30 against these Lions; we simply needed the offense to score 40.
If there’s any good news about Michigan coming to town, it’s that Michigan’s offense isn’t as good as Indiana’s. But their defense is. And then some.
Our team has pride. They’ll be ready to give the Beaver Stadium homecoming crowd everything they got. But as Coach O’Brien confessed in his post-game presser, “It starts with coaching, it starts with me.”
You’re right, Coach.
Ryan J. Murphy is author of Ring The Bell: The Twenty-two Greatest Penn State Football Victories of Our Lives, available in ebook and paperback.