Read and React: vs. Alabama

In this experiment, I’m going to link to a few game recaps from around the blog world and present my reactions in order to present you, the reader, with the most viewpoints possible. Obviously, you should feel free to leave your own observations and/or arguments in the comments section. Let’s hit it.

Ali Soheilian’s recap did a great job separating last year’s Tuscaloosa defeat from the 2011 State College edition. Despite the fact that the scores of the games were similar, Soheilian is adamant that Penn State played much better in this season’s 27-11 loss.

“This year, we were constantly in the game and only a score away from coming back, until late in the game.”

I’m not sure I totally agree with that. Penn State wasn’t within a touchdown of Alabama for the entire second half. However, at least for most of the first half, the game appeared competitive. Penn State’s opening field goal drive showed some promise, what with the offensive line opening up holes for Silas Redd and Rob Bolden throwing the ball more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Penn State even got the ball back with a 3-0 lead, but could do nothing with it. The Lions went three and out and then punted back to Alabama, who were able drove 69 yards for the game’s first touchdown thanks to a questionable spot on the fake punt play.

The game really turned in favor of the Tide when late in the second quarter Rob Bolden completed a 3rd and 10 pass to TE Andrew Szczerba. The play looked like it would go for a first down and get Penn State into Alabama territory, but instead Szczerba fumbled upon contact to give ‘Bama the ball back with a 10-3 lead. Rather than attempting to tie the game up before the half, the Lions were put back on their heels and ended up surrendering a touchdown to give the Tide what turned out to be an insurmountable 17-3 halftime advantage.

It’s not as though Alabama’s lead was seriously threatened after that, but Soheilian does have some other good observations.

“For all of you that were freaking out about the pass protection this game, here are the total sacks they gave up against Alabama….ZERO. So let’s give credit where credit is due.”

It was very strange to see Penn State quarterbacks look more comfortable in the pocket vs. Alabama than they did vs. Indiana State last week. In an blog post leading up to the Alabama game, I suggested that PSU ran too many screen passes against the Sycamores and that a more vertical approach would be welcome in the Alabama game. My wish was the coaching staff’s command, as Penn State surprised me by being very aggressive throwing the ball down the field. Unfortunately, a couple of those long throws were to Devon Smith (more on him later) and one ended up in Alabama DB Mark Barron’s hands when Bolden attempted to go to the Derek Moye well one to many times in the third quarter. I can’t blame them for trying, and I’m glad the offensive line held up well enough to at least make throwing downfield an option.

“Both Crawford and Lattimore tipped two passes each, and each missed a sack by an inch. They put constant pressure on McCarron all game long, its just unfortunate that it didn’t translate to any turnovers.”

I wouldn’t describe the pressure as being constant. Although there were a few nice plays made by Jack Crawford and Eric Lattimore, they didn’t get to Tide QB A.J. McCarron consistently enough to make him look very uncomfortable. McCarron did only throw for 5.3 yards per pass attempt, but he did so while completing 61% of his passes. Overall, I believe the PSU pass defense was adequate, but it wasn’t enough on a day when the Lions needed to force as many turnovers as possible to steal a win.

“Eleven dropped passes is simply not acceptable in a game of this magnitude, they really made this game that much harder on their own team.”

I’m not going to argue with this one. The pass receiving was pretty dreadful. That’s not acceptable in a game of any magnitude.

“Bolden was getting into a rhythm and building his confidence early, then McGloin came in to compliment some moderate success with two 3 and outs.”

Soheilian is upset that McGloin was brought in just as Bolden was starting to find himself. It’s a legitimate point. Just don’t get carried away into thinking that Bolden was lighting the world on fire. He finished 11 of 29 with a pick. That’s not as bad as McGloin was, but “getting into a rhythm” usually means you’re closer to 50% completions. While it’s questionable whether or not McGloin should have been in the game to begin with, at least his performance will make it easier on the coaching staff to choose one starter going forward.

“I know it sounds contradictory, but this team is a very good team. We didn’t lose to Bama due to the level of their talent or a lack of our speed.”

Yeah, there’s still a chance that Penn State is a “very good team,” but saying that Alabama is not more talented than Penn State seems silly. Even taking the passing game out of the picture, Alabama was able to run the ball much more successfully than Penn State because they are bigger, stronger and faster in the trenches and in the offensive backfield. Yes, there are some positions — such as QB, WR and maybe even the defensive backfield — in which Penn State is even with Alabama, but the Tide have more talent overall. That’s why they were able to pound the ball on State more efficiently than State could return the favor.

Wow. That took longer than expected. Let’s now take a look at Chris Grovich’s review for Black Shoe Diaries.

“Bolden needs a chance to develop without the prospect of losing his job on a series-by-series basis.  In other words, if he’s going to suck, allow him to suck without fear or reprisal.”

Will Bolden play the game differently if he knows his job isn’t on the line? It’s a good question, especially considering Penn State was in a game in which they needed to take some risks in order to move the ball downfield. I thought Bolden played a lot looser vs. Alabama than he did the week before. He didn’t seem afraid to go deep and risk an interception. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the coaching staff ought to name Bolden the undisputed starter for the Temple game.

“Evan Lewis hit a 43 yard field goal.”

Yeah, I couldn’t let this go without mention. Lewis was abysmal vs. Indiana State. I was unsure if he’d even get a chance to kick a field goal vs. Alabama. I looked on in horror when he was brought on to try a field goal on Penn State’s opening drive. And then I was pleasantly surprised when the kick flew through the uprights. I guess Lewis has bought himself at least another couple of kicks.

“Devon Smith is a woefully inadequate downfield target and I cannot reasonably explain or discern why he is used in this fashion.”

On the first play from scrimmage, Bolden found Smith open on a corner route, but the ball glanced off of the diminutive receiver’s hands. Later Penn State tried Smith 0n a running play only to see him cough up the football. The one known as Moo Moo could see his role in the offense being shrunk as Shawney Kersey and Allen Robinson see more playing time. When Penn State does feature Smith, it should probably be with crossing routes, curls and screens instead of corner and fly routes.

“Thirteen minutes left in the game, down 17 points, 4th-and-6 on the Alabama 40 yard line.  Penn State hasn’t been past this point on the field since the opening drive of the game.  They needed three scores, so exactly why the hell were they punting?”

This drove me absolutely nuts. There’s no reasonable explanation for this type of play calling. Except this: Penn State was playing not to get blown out instead of playing to win. It’s a shameful way to play the game, and yet you’ll see a team punt in a similar situation every weekend. Penn State had absolutely nothing to lose, and yet they decided to give up anyway.

Oy. That would be a terrible way to end this post, so here’s some fun statistics from Saturday’s game. Thanks to the high volume of plays run by Alabama’s offense, several Nittany Lions set personal records for tackles. Hopefully in the future, Penn State’s offense can possess the ball long enough to avoid such records from being brought up again.

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Tags: A.J. McCarron Andrew Szczerba Devon Smith Eric Lattimore Evan Lewis Jack Crawford Matt McGloin Rob Bolden

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