The State of the Penn State Football Program

Story posted September 16, 2011 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

Last weekend’s debacle against third ranked Alabama served as yet another setback to the Penn State football program. Unlike last year’s match up where the Tide simply controlled every facet of the game, the Lion’s could actually walk out of Beaver Stadium Saturday and point out positives to build on for the remainder of the season. But the on-field performance is the least of the problems at this point.

Entering the 2011 season, head coach Joe Paterno insisted that he was now fully healthy and ready to resume full responsibility as head coach of the Penn State football team. Simply put, Saturday’s broadcast made it painfully evident that Paterno has anything but full control of this team.

Much of ABC’s coverage of the game consisted of a camera focusing on an 84 year old man, sitting disinterested in a press box, without any form of communication with his other coaches. The calling of three time outs on the opening possession of the game was a complete joke and shows just how little leadership this coaching staff possesses.

The sad part about the whole situation is that there is no question that Joe Paterno is a legend, the greatest college coach of all time, and represents all that is good in college football. But this staple image of him sitting in the press box is what the rest of the college football world will remember.

Anyone that entered Saturday’s game legitimately believing that Penn State was going to pull off the upset was either a complete homer, or unfamiliar with Penn State football. Herein lies the biggest issue surrounding the current program: fan expectations.

In the past 30 games against ranked opponents dating back to 2002, Penn State is only 8-22 and since 2005 against top ten teams they are averaging a dismal 13.7 points per game. In other words, this generation of Penn State fans is only accustomed to the Lions being a middle of the pack Big Ten team that, with an upset or two throughout the season, could turn in a nine or ten win season.

In the prime of Paterno’s coaching career, a nine-win season would be considered a failure. But now, fans have come to accept mediocrity and a consistent offensive game plan that is less sophisticated than the majority of high school offenses these days. With such lowered fan expectations, Joe can continue to put an average product out on the field, win the games he’s supposed to, and get embarrassed in those he’s not, and face no uproar from a fan base that doesn’t know any better.

Much of this acceptance of lowered expectations comes from those Paterno loyalists that still cherish the “Grand Experiment” and “Success with Honor” philosophies that he implemented at the beginning of his career. Penn State will never and should never convert to a “win at all cost” school like Ohio State or Miami. But running a clean program is not an excuse for lack of on-field success. Winning and playing by the rules are not mutually exclusive, and all you have to do is go back 20 years in Paterno’s career to see that that is true.

At this point in time, nobody in college football would consider Penn State to be an “elite” program. Respected? Yes. Feared? No. A lot talk was made about the politeness of the Alabama fans while they were here. Much of this came from the pure fact that Tide fans knew they had nothing to worry about when it came to the game. Why trash talk when you know that you will be coming out of the day with a win? I can guarantee you that the attitude of ‘Bama fans would have been quite different had they seen Penn State as a legitimate opponent.

Obviously, this was only the second week of the season, and with a fairly easy upcoming schedule, there is no reason that anyone should not expect this team to be 8-1 heading in to November when they finish with Nebraska, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

The talent is certainly there for this team to win the Big Ten; that was shown in spurts Saturday. The defense is stout and the offensive line showed the ability to hold their own against arguably one of the best defenses in recent memory. Someone on the coaching staff now has to take control of the offense and sort out the quarterback situation, which leads to my final complaint.

Everyone has their opinion on who should be quarterbacking the team, but what may have been the lowest point of Saturday afternoon was the constant booing of Matt McGloin. No matter what your opinion, there is simply no excuse to boo a college athlete. For a school that boasts the “Greatest Show in College Football” and the best student section in the country, that reputation takes quite a hit when you appear to be rooting against your own team.

As much I want this team to bounce back and string together a conference championship this season, the ineptitude shown by the coaching staff this past Saturday showed me nothing to think that this season will be any different. It all starts and ends at the top, and until a change is made, look for Penn State’s struggles against top opponents to continue.

Matt Lawrence is a freshman majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email mdl5249@psu.edu.