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2015 Football Post-Mortem: Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State wasn't very good this year. It was tough to watch for much of the season. The final record of 7 - 6 is "essentially" the same as last year. But 2015 is a turning point in the Penn State story. No matter what you think of the team and/or the coach, there's a compelling story about this season.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Football Post Mortem: Penn State Nittany Lions

We were the sons of farmers and college professors and football coaches. One of my brother’s classmates was named Sandusky; one of my classmates was named Sandusky, too.2 I goofed off in the back of Latin class with a kid named Scott Paterno.3 We knew who their fathers were; their fathers were royalty to us, even if we acted like it was no big deal. Our football team’s nickname was the Little Lions. There was no way to extricate the happenings at our school from the happenings at the university, and the happenings at the university always centered around football.

Michael Wienreb, Growing Up Penn State, Grantland November 16, 2011

To many of you, the Nittany Lions 2015 season was just another mediocre performance for a program that lives in the past. You think of Penn State fans as fools who revel in glory that hasn’t actually happened on the field in a decade.

And for many of you, a decade or less is your entire college football oeuvre. Anything that happened prior to 2005 is ancient history.  Before I confirm your bias that this season was a poor imitation of college football, let me provide you with some context.

The 2015 season was my 33rd year watching the Nittany Lions play.  It marked the first time since 1992 that I saw more than two Penn State games in person. It is just four years removed from one of the worst scandals in sports, let alone college football.

For those of us who "Grew Up Penn State", the last four years were some of the toughest we’ve endured as adults. State College is a small town. We all knew each other. I knew Grantand author Micheal Weinreb’s brother in High School. I was good friends with Michael McQueary’s sister. I blocked for Jay Paterno on scout team. It’s a small town with a big University.

We grew up worshipping college football and Penn State specifically. Watching my team die over the last four years was like losing a close friend. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through.


I came to hate that word. It was both a reason and an excuse. Can’t recruit? Sanctions. Can't keep a coach? Sanctions. Can’t compete in a game? Sanctions. Can’t fucking execute a trap block? Sanctions.

Thank heaven above the sanctions are gone. But what have they left us? What we saw on the field this year was the low ebb of sanctions. The tide fell all the way out and left us bare and exposed to the sun.

We certainly had talent in spots. I think Christian Hackenberg is a talented kid. But without even shouting "Olay!" our offensive line offered less resistance than a toreador’s cape. Temple’s two man rush for a sack became a scathing indictment of our offense. The joke about  our offensive line consisting of a mop bucket, traffic cone, scare crow, and barricade became all too real.

I watched in horror as the touted JuCo lineman Paris Palmer got out of his stance quickly, shuffled outside, and never fucking touched a defensive end on his pass rush. Hackenberg ran for his apt summary of his entire star-crossed career at Penn State. Oh, Palmer’s technique looked great, but he missed the whole part about actually blocking someone. I shouldn’t pick on Paris though. There was enough missed assignments and horribad performances to eclipse even the self-blocking tragedy from last year.

Here’s a tip from 30+ years of watching football. If your line sucks…you suck. No really. YOU SUCK. And we did suck. Our offense looked inept to downright foolish.

Except…Except when we didn’t.

When Barkley took a hand-off and cut upfield with speed and grace that brought tears to my eyes. So many times, he got positive yards out of nothing at all. Or when Hack had time to throw a frozen rope to a receiver. Or when said receiver actually caught the ball. Or when Hamilton or Blacknall or Lewis or Godwin defied gravity and physics to haul in a ball they probably shouldn’t have caught. Or when Carl Nassib sacked your quarterback...again. Or when Anthony Zettell beat another double team to disrupt a play.

Those moments made me think…huh, we may have a shot here.

And then one of the linemen would give up a sack or a penalty or we’d run out of time or whatever we did to shoot ourselves in the foot. We lost to Temple. I don’t give a fuck if they were good this year. We lost to Temple.

For shame.

Our defense didn’t play particularly well either. I watched an Army team (as GoForThree gleefully points out as often as possible) run up and down the length of the field on us. A one-dimensional, we only threw three passes in the last two seasons, Army team I might add. And yet we made them look like a juggernaut.

We damn near lost that one too.

We gave up points too. Lots of points. Thirty-eight to the Buckeyes. Thirty to Maryland. Fifty-Five to Sparty…Fifty-Five. FOR SHAME!

Sanctions…It’s time to bury the word. This season is the last time I will tolerate that word used as an excuse. From here on out, sanctions isn’t the reason that fat kicker missed an extra point. It isn’t the reason John Donovan couldn’t get a play in to our offense without calling a time out. Sanctions didn’t make the center flinch.

Sanctions didn’t out coach us in the bowl game either. That was actually a pack of Georgia grad assistants. How do you like that? Sanctions.

So much of this year’s pain and suffering was just bullshit football. Bad football. Sometimes, mind-numbingly terrible football, particularly for someone who grew up Penn State. I’m old school. I like Wisconsin’s, our guys are bigger than your guys, brand of road-grader football. That was the Nittany Lions’ staple for years.

We used to line up, look at you and say, "Yep, you know which play we’re running and we don’t care. We’re going to punch you in the mouth and get our yards anyway…on one, SET, GO!"

Now we have wildcat, jet sweep fake, quarterbacks lined up as receivers and I just want to throw up my hands in despair. I mean, if you can’t execute a fucking run off-tackle against Buffalo just pack it up and go home.

Really. I’m embarrassed.

That’s in the past now. And I’m telling you that 2015 was the low ebb in Penn State football. It's onward and upward from here. We redshirted a bunch of our hot young recruits this year. We played a bunch of true freshmen and red shirt freshmen too. Next year, we’ll sport an entire new offense including our sparkling new OC and a retread new to us offensive line coach.

You won't recognize our new quarterback (Tommy Stephens or Jake Zembiec). There will be brand-spanking new offensive linemen (Hallelujah). The defense will look a lot different…as in our entire line is gone now. Five of our top eight tacklers are gone as well.

Gone too are the last of the Paterno recruits. The last vestige of a former empire. Gone are the trap plays, the flood pants, and the thick glasses. The "New" Penn State is uptempo…with a CEO…and more read option.

2015 is in the books and I’m happy to see it go. Now I’m going to go mope around until next season.

My prediction? 15 – 0 or GTFO!

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