I’ll admit. I had various angles for this week’s edition.
Freshman Follies—the story of Christian Hackenberg’s highs and lows as a precocious quarterback on an inexperienced offense.
Sophomore Slump—the expose of coach Bill O’Brien’s lack of rhythm as a play-caller and unusual personnel decisions at key moments during his rough second season at the helm.
Next Man Down—the debate of personnel versus scheme on the defensive side of the ball. (It’s more personnel than scheme and I’ve been predicting this since spring!)
But, in reality, all of these stories would only add to your malaise and angst over Penn State football. You came here for serenity.
As I listened to Jack Ham and Steve Jones hang on to final shreds of hope in the 4th quarter on Saturday, I recalled my trip to Minnesota ten years ago.
Penn State football then—two years removed from a squad with four first-round picks, unhindered by sanctions, boosted by a well-revered legendary coach in recruiting fights—was coming off of a dismal 3-9 season. The top QB recruit in the nation spurned us for rival Michigan. We seemed destined to lose the top high schooler on our radar for the next class to the Wolverines too—Justin King. Number one overall prospect Derrick Williams seemed like a pipe dream.
The 2004 season didn’t start out hopeful. Penn State’s offense was beyond anemic. And three of five on the road only made matters worse. We only notched one touchdown at Boston College and a field goal at Wisconsin.
My first Penn State road game—accompanied by a childhood friend from PA who went to grad school at Minnesota—was still cause for excitement. Would Zach Mills rekindle some of his freshman heroics in his senior season? Would Austin Scott get in the game? Would a wide receiver ever emerge to give us an outside threat?
No. No. And emphatically no.
The offense was putrid. I remember succinctly the feeling at the end of the game—when those final 4th quarter scenarios run through your head as a desperate fan—of hopelessness. We had no weapons. We had no creativity. We had no push.
2004 was the season we never gave up more than 21 points defensively and yet still went 4-7.
So, it’s safe to say that 2013 is vastly different than 2004. A stout defense. Nope. An coaching staff incapable of playcalling creativity. Nah. A lack of offensive firepower. Nada.
But as a fan, which one would you prefer right now? By the message board venom towards our defense, I indeed think the typical Penn State fan likes 14-3 losses with great defense rather than 43-40 wins with an erratic but exciting offense.
I’m not going to tell you what’s right.
I will remind you that our 2004 Lions made strides in the final two games of the season, doubling their win total. We’ve already won five this season, and two of our last three are winnable.
And remember that a few wildly athletic players signed with PSU (King and Williams) in an otherwise listless recruiting class in February 2005. We have some top receiving and secondary recruits joining us next season as well.
And don’t forget our 7-win improvement between 2004 and 2005. I’m not making any predictions for next year, mind you, but I don’t want you to jump off any figurative bridges when you think about the future of Penn State football in 2013.
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