I am writing this blog three days after my soul was crushed by another Penn State loss to Ohio State, and I still really cannot get over this one. I traveled the five and a half hours to Columbus, Ohio for the top ten showdown between the two teams last season and watched the Nittany Lions squander an eleven-point lead with 5:42 in the fourth quarter in the Horseshoe, losing by one point. The ensuing car ride might have been the longest drive of my life. After careful thought the past couple days, I can now confidently say that Saturday night’s defeat in Beaver Stadium surpasses that loss in Columbus as the most tragic loss during the James Franklin era at Penn State. I am still sick to my stomach.
Penn State could have won this game by 20+ points. Instead, they shot themselves in both feet, ankles, chest, back, both arms, jugular, and then put one through their skull. There were so many preventable mistakes that kept giving me skepticism throughout the game, even when the Nittany Lions were up 12 with eight minutes left in the contest. Early in the game, Ricky Rahne wanted to try and get their wild card, Tommy Stevens, involved to try to catch the Buckeyes off guard. Instead, almost every time Stevens touched the ball, the Penn State offense lost yards, including a 13-yard loss that took all the momentum out of a drive that led to a field goal rather than a touchdown (points being sacrificed is a common trend of this game). The Penn State defense rattled Dwayne Haskins during the entire the first half, the best the unit has played all season by far. Despite the Penn State offense consistently moving the ball down the field and the defense playing at a championship caliber level, the Nittany Lions only led 13-0 late in the first half. Penn State received a punt with under three minutes to go in the half, giving Trace McSorley a chance to put more points on the board before half. The only thing the Nittany Lions could not afford was a turnover. Literally as I sent that text to one of my friends, Miles Sanders coughs up the ball at their own twenty-yard line, which was followed to plays later with Haskins hitting JK Dobbins on a screen pass to make the score 13-7 going into halftime. This is when every bad feeling a sports fan can have rushed through my blood. Significantly outplaying an elite team and only having a six-point led to show for it at the half is a gut punch.
Ohio State then comes out and shits on the defense that looked unstoppable in the first half to take a quick 14-13 lead. I thought this is where the flood gates were about to open for the Buckeyes, but McSorley had something to say about that. The rest of the third quarter was uneventful until toward the end where the Nittany Lions started getting back into rhythm. Hamler drew a pass interference with around two minutes left to go in the quarter that brought the Nittany Lions down to the 33-yard line. The next play McSorley throws a perfect pass under pressure to Brandon Polk that could have been a touchdown, but Polk could not bring it in. This is the same drive that Franklin decided to go for it on fourth down at the 24-yard line rather than kicking the field goal (more points left on the board) and fail to get it on a McSorley pass targeted at a wide-open Pat Freiermuth that was deflected at the line of scrimmage. If Polk catches that ball, and Penn State scores on their next two drives like they ended up doing, this game is over. Another “fuck, this is going to bite us in the ass” moment.
Penn State gets the next two touchdowns of the contest, both coming in the fourth quarter, but the second touchdown came at the expense of KJ Hamler, who got rocked by an Ohio State defensive back and knocked out of the game. Despite Hamler exiting, it seemed like all the momentum was behind us, and the defense along with the intimidating Whiteout crowd was going to be able to close out the game. I was unfortunately wrong. The defense Penn State fans have gotten to know over the first four games of the season reared its ugly head. On a third and long, Ohio State WR Binjimen Victor caught a ball across the middle where multiple Penn State defenders missed key tackles, allowing Victor to scamper 47 yards for a critical touchdown with just under 7 minutes left in regulation. This made me sick. This was the beginning of the end, and I knew it right when Victor reached the endzone. The Buckeyes scoring a touchdown was not the end of the world, but it should have taken them at least another minute or two to get down the field. Although Penn State was able to get into Ohio State territory the following drive, the offense was only able to run off two minutes from the game clock before giving the football back to Ohio State with 4:35 left in the game. This gave the Buckeyes more than enough time to dink and dunk on the Nittany Lion defense and expose their poor tackling that haunted them all season. This drive was finished off with embarrassing coverage on a KJ Hill screen pass that gave the Buckeyes the one-point lead. The crowd was stunned. There is no way you lose a 12-point led with eight minutes left in Whiteout conditions against a team that struggled on offense all night. Unfortunately for myself and all 110,887 fans in Beaver Stadium Saturday night, they had no idea what was coming next.
Trace McSorley got Penn State down to the Ohio State 43-yard line. With the team too far out for a field goal, the offense had to go for it on fourth and five. Anyone that is reading this knows exactly what happened after Penn State called two timeouts and Ohio State called out one timeout prior to this play. Franklin (yes Franklin because he takes over play calling duties when a big game (a theory Big Mike (my father) has and I blindly believe) is on the line and that is why we lose them most of the time) calls an indefensible read option handoff to Miles Sanders, who could not get anything going all game, which was blown up by soon-to-be superstar Chase Young for a loss of two to end the hopes of a Penn State Big Ten Championship run. I was extremely pissed off at the play call, just like every other Penn State fan. How do you not give Trace McSorley, who accounted for nearly every yard on offense during the game, the ball when the game is on the line? This was just another example of the offense trying to be too cute whenever their bread and butter plays were working all game long. I then realized something obvious that an irrational fan like myself needed to accept—Penn State should have never been in that situation in the first place.
That is the frustrating part to me. Every casual fan is going to look at that fourth and five play call as the reason Penn State lost this game, but in reality, I quickly drafted a comprehensive list of bonehead plays and decisions made by the players and coaches on this team throughout the entire game that ended up making this game a loss rather than a convincing victory. This does not even include the countless drops by the receiving corps, particularly Juwan Johnson. You must give credit to Ohio State for coming into Happy Valley and getting a win, no matter how they got that win, but any Buckeyes fan that watched that game knows that they did not play well. Haskins was visibly rattled (he could not complete anything deeper than ten yards down the field until the Victor fiasco), the defense had no answers for Trace McSorley, and the kicker missed a field goal after one of the blockers grabbed a facemask during his first attempt. This was Penn State dropping the ball when the team is trying to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. This game was an example why they are not there yet.
James Franklin’s post game speech was bullshit to me. You could just tell he was recruiting all the kids and parents that were observing him after a heartbreaking loss. There is absolutely no reason to bring up two or three players not going to class every once in awhile when you yourself made some bad coaching decisions throughout that game. It felt to me that the stigma of Franklin only being a great recruiter and not a great coach decided to make an appearance. Don’t get me wrong, all the things Franklin emphasizes off the field are important and should be a priority for every major college football program, but there is a time and place for that conversation. This was not the time or place. Franklin is right about the state of the program though if you are talking about a roster perspective—Penn State is a great football program, but we are not elite yet.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young looked like the best player in college football against a solid Penn State offensive line, and he is a backup to All-American and likely top five NFL draft prospect Nick Bosa. Young would be the best defensive lineman on Penn State by a longshot. If Penn State lost DE Shareef Miller, the defensive line would be in trouble. When Ohio State loses an All-American defensive end, they replace him with another potential All-American. That is the difference between the programs. Penn State still does not have the depth that elite teams like Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson have. There is a reason those teams rank in the preseason top five year after year. That does not excuse poor coaching decisions. That is on you, Jimmy.
The season is not over for Penn State. They have a chance to win out from here on out, with their only challenging road test coming against Michigan at the Big House, a game I will be attending. I am officially ready to move on from this game. We are going to bury the tape, like true football guys do, and we are going to bring the morale back up and make fun of the dumpster fire that is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I wrote many strong opinions about my beloved football team that resides in Tampa, saying that this season would be the worst since Josh McCown led them to a 2-14 record, igniting the Jameis Winston era. I accepted mediocracy before the Bucs even took the field for a regular season game. Instead of just shitting the bed from the beginning, Ryan Fitzpatrick decided to play like Aaron Rodgers for the first two weeks of the season, winning games against the high-powered New Orleans Saints and defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. They gave me hope. I knew deep down it was false hope, but I had to listen to the sport media “experts” tell me how this team had potential this year, and the Jameis Winston days were behind us. I never truly believed any of it, but if the Bucs could beat the Steelers at home on Monday Night Football, then maybe I could start getting excited.
Very similar to the Bucs loss against the Patriots on Thursday night last season in week five, the Bucs showed promise against the Steelers after a rough first half but could not capitalize on two drives at the end of the game to take the lead. This is the worst thing the Bucs could have done to me. They lose a game they needed to win but keep it just close enough to not break my spirits entirely.
Sunday afternoon put an end to any of the spirits that remained from that Steelers game. Mitchell Fucking Trubisky, the guy that can’t throw an accurate pass, threw for SIX touchdowns against the worst defense in the NFL, a title the Bucs proudly held last season, and will continue to live up to as the 2018 season unfolds. Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like he came back down to earth but was then launched into the center of the Earth’s core where he could rot for the foreseeable future, never seeing sunlight again (cannot be good for the beard). Everyone’s favorite dumbass Jameis Winston comes in for the second half with the team already down 35, and throws two picks, one being a classic Jameis pick where he failed to see a linebacker in underneath coverage. The Bucs get shit-pumped, and I am officially calling off the rest of the season.
Going into the bye week, the team is going to have to deal with an uneasy locker room after an embarrassing performance along with the decision to make Winston the starter for week six against the Atlanta Falcons. All these coaches and general manager Jason Licht are now firmly back on the hot seat. The secondary cannot be fixed. Vita Vea was underwhelming in his first game in the red and pewter while Chargers safety Derwin James looks like a defensive rookie of the year candidate. Not many things to be excited about as a Bucs fan. I am done, so done.
There are not a lot of people that are fans of both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this world (shout out to the Wagner boys and Trenton Wright), but in all my years as a fan of both teams, this past weekend might be the most devastating and heartbreaking I have experienced. Both teams are on bye weeks this coming weekend. Thank the Lord. I need a weekend to get my life together and make sure that I am prepared for what the rest of the season has in store for me. I will never waver in my fandom. With every heartbreak as a sports fan, there will eventually be a celebration. For Penn State, that will most likely be in the form of a third consecutive New-Years-Six Bowl. For the Bucs, I hope it is a franchise quarterback that does not sexually assault Uber drivers.
Photo Credit: mcall.com