Saturday night’s loss to Central Florida was a hard fought, emotional, and quite frankly, highly entertaining affair. But to read my email, the VBR Twitter mentions, and more message board threads that I can count, you would think that Penn State lost by 30 to Central Michigan, not by 3 to Central Florida. There are calls for John Butler, 180 minutes into his stint as defensive coordinator, to be fired, and fear that the 2nd year of NCAA sanctions has finally reached its goal of crippling the program.
Yes, Penn State had their struggles. The disappearing act of that front 4 on defense is probably at the top of my list. But, lets just take a deep break and step back from the ledge for a few minutes.
First things first, give the other guy some credit. The Knights aren’t your typical directional school, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Bill O’Brien called their starting quarterback Blake Bortles an NFL player. He more than looked the part on Saturday night. Storm Johnson was at one time recruited by Penn State, before landing at Miami. His 17 carry, 117 yard performance backed up those high major offers. And the offensive line, an area I admittedly expected to be an area PSU could exploit, was dominant against All Big 10 players like Deion Barnes and DaQuan Jones. If you put the UCF team in the uniform of a more well known BCS program, they would be getting a lot more attention than they are.
PSU also put up 31 points and 455 yards of offense. For the first time in 3 games, Zach Zwinak of a year ago emerged (ironically with the fumbling of a year ago too). Christian Hackenberg, with all of 2 games of experience coming in, completed 75% of his passes, didn’t throw an interception, and continued to show an expanding knowledge of the offense. Adam Breneman made the first 4 catches of his PSU career. The offensive line continues to show improvement. Oh, and that Allen Robinson guy is pretty good at what does, eh? If you score 31 points, you are going to win your fair share of games.
I don’t mean to brush aside the concerns about the defense. Three games in, and not a single TFL for Deion Barnes has to be a red flag. The best offensive line that PSU has seen to date was able to completely neutralize what is, at least on paper, the strength of the Lions’ defense. Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin have to be licking their chops. But, until about 10:00 on Saturday night, Larry Johnson may have been the star of the PSU coaching staff, deservedly so. Jones, Barnes, and company didn’t suddenly forget how to play football, and LJ didn’t suddenly forget how to coach. If there’s one area that you should have complete faith in the staff, it’s along the defensive line.
A little over year ago this program, and this staff, was looking at 0-2, and many of the same questions (complete with the ridiculous calls to fire a defensive coordinator). All they did was roll of 8 of 10 wins, and win coach of the year honors. Only time will tell whether that is the case again, but lets give them the benefit of the doubt, and some time to figure things out, before dismantling everything and turning off the lights.
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