Penn State 45, EMU 7
Tweet of the weekend comes from left tackle Andrew Wylie:
Wish we could have put on for our fans. That score doesn't reflect our gameplay. Time to beat Rutgers
— Wylie (@RealAndrewWylie) September 7, 2013
Well, it certainly reflects some of the gameplay. This is not “Whose Line is it Anyway?”; the points are not made up.
The EMU defense played surprisingly well for the first 40 minutes, then completely collapsed in the final 20. The Eagles stopped seven of Penn State’s first 10 drives, forcing the Nittany Lions to punt five times, grabbing an interception, and taking a fumble back for a touchdown. To reduce it to a simple number, the defense allowed Penn State a net 10 points (17 points allowed, minus 7 points scored by the EMU defense) through the first 40 minutes. Against a decent B1G team, I think that’s pretty good.
Then, late in the third quarter, they cracked.
Through most of the third quarter, as the teams traded punts, EMU gradually lost the field position battle — due in no small part to the inability of the Eagles’ offense to do anything, though short punts and poor coverage also played a factor. As the Nittany Lions started their drives deeper and deeper into EMU territory, another Penn State touchdown seemed inevitable. For a brief moment there was hope, as consecutive sacks by Hunter Matt and Pat O’Connor pushed PSU to the edge of field goal range, but a 20-yard third-down run by Zack Zwinack seemed to break the back of the EMU defense. The Nittany Lions converted on a 4th and 4, and Zwinack punched the ball into the end zone on the following play.
At that point, with EMU down 24-7 and the offense showing no signs of life, all the air seemed to go out of the defense, and Penn State zipped down the field for touchdowns on their next three possessions. On those three fourth-quarter possessions, the Nittany Lions amassed 244 yards and 21 points — both nearly half of Penn State’s totals — on just 17 plays.
Grade: I’d give them an A for the first 40 and a D- for the final 20; average those and call it a B-.
EMU special teams
EMU’s special teams performance was a mixed bag, with some good individual performances as well as some real stinkers.
The field-goal kicking was unquestionably the low point of the game for EMU. Seven minutes into the game, on EMU’s second possession, the Eagles lined up for a 45-yard field goal attempt; however, Dylan Mulder never got to attempt the kick, as backup quarterback Mark Iannotti — in as the holder — dropped the snap and wound up having to fall on the ball to prevent any further loss in yardage. Early in the second quarter, trailing 14-7, EMU lined up for a 42-yard field goal. Mulder did get to kick that one, but he pushed it wide.
EMU only had two kickoffs (c.f., lack of scoring), 57 yards after Hunter Matt’s touchdown and 59 yards to open the second half. That’s not much of a sample size, but averaging 58 yards per kickoff puts you in the bottom 20 nationally. Maybe Kody Fulkerson needs more practice?
On the other hand, Austin Barnes got plenty of reps yesterday, taking 11 punts. Although his average of 41.9 yards per punt is nothing to brag about (it’s about the national average), he did have two touchbacks and placed four punts inside the 20, which is not too shabby. However, on three punts where he was (or should have been) just going for sheer distance, he just managed 36 yards, 37 yards, and 48 yards.
After you subtract the two touchbacks, there were nine returnable punts, but only three of those were returned, although Penn State’s average punt return was more 11 yards, which is a bit high. On kickoffs EMU allowed returns of 25 and 19 yards; 22 yards allowed per kickoff return is entirely respectable.
Tyler Allen returned four Penn State kickoffs 101 yards, for a very good average of 25.3 yards per return.1 Demarius Reed returned two punts an average of 10 yards, which is not bad.
Grade: Punting, coverage, and returns were all pretty good, while kickoffs were bad and the field goal unit was terrible. Roll it all together I give them a C.
On one level, reviewing the EMU offense is simple. The offense’s job is to score points; when an offense fails to score any points, they have utterly failed.
The EMU offense failed to gain a first down on seven possessions (out of 132 total).
In the second half it got even worse, as EMU ran 24 offensive plays and only gained 44 yards, a pitiful average of 1.8 yards per play.
Here’s the real problem: early in the game, the EMU offense had some success moving the ball, but it was all short passes. With no effective down-field passing threat, Penn State eventually closed up on the line of scrimmage and shut down the short game too. I feel like this is similar to what we saw from the offense last year under Ken Karcher; although they’re passing more than in the prior years, they’re still keeping everything short, and it doesn’t really help to open things up.
Particularly in a game like this — a game no one expects you to win, a game no one thinks you even have a chance to win — why come with such a conservative game plan? Why not try for a big play, try to shock the world?
The answer is clear, it has been for a while, and we’ve discussed it at length: Ron English does not play to win; he plays “not to lose”, he goes with the conventional play, he does exactly what’s expected. Even with a new offensive coordinator, it’s crystal clear that this philosophy permeates the entire program, filtering down from the top.
The problem is, what’s expected is an EMU loss.
Grade: There were some bright spots, but in the end, offense is judged by points scored. F.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m fed up with Ron English. I’m fed up with his excuses. I’m fed up with his overall approach to football. The defense seems to be improving since he took over as defensive coordinator this year; maybe, like Stan Parrish, he’s a good coordinator but isn’t cut out to be a head coach. That would be a textbook case of the Peter Principle at work, which is not an uncommon thing. The bottom line is that this team continues — for what will be the fifth straight year — to display the kind of offense that will leave them generally uncompetitive in the MAC.
Something has to change, and if Ron English doesn’t change it, someone else will.
Overall grade: D+.
For now, for at least the next several games, and most likely for the rest of this season, Ron English remains the head coach. I may complain about him, and I may express my dissatisfaction with the team’s performance, but that won’t stop me from cheering for the team week in and week out, and I hope it doesn’t stop you either.
Next weekend the Eagles will continue their non-conference schedule with a trip to face future B1G team Rutgers. If you’re not going to New Jersey to cheer for the Eagles, I hope you’ll join me in cheering for them from home (or your dorm room, or a sports bar, or a friend’s house…) on our next Saturday open thread!