National Signing Day: A Look at Syracuse’s Class

1 Feb

This is Doug Marrone’s fourth recruiting class since he took over as head coach for the Syracuse University football team.  In my opinion, this is the best one he has produced.  Now I don’t want to completely overreact and look at how many stars each of the kids received, I would rather look at the potential of these players, look at what other school offered them a scholarship, and look at their particular type of skill set and how they will fit in to the Syracuse system.

This class did manage to pick up a few big name recruits.  Wayne Morgan chose the Orange today over UCONN, Rutgers, Penn State, and others.  Most of the recruiting web sites have him as the best player in this class.  Morgan is a shut down corner who is said to be lightning quick and may be able to help the Orange in the return game as well.  Syracuse has lacked a true shut down corner.  Hell, watching last year’s team, if one of our corners was within five yards of the receiver I was considering it great coverage.  It was very sad to watch.  We also did not have a corner that could make a play on a ball even if they were right on their defender.  Hopefully Morgan will be able to eventually bring that to the Orange defense.

Losing Chandler Jones to the NFL is going to be a huge hit on the defensive line for next season, but Coach Marrone did a damn good job in going and finding a couple players that will be able to hopefully make an immediate impact for this team.  The biggest pick up on the D-Line was Markus Pierce-Brewster.  Markus was the National Junior College Defensive Player of the Year.  Markus should be able to step right in for Jones and limit the loss of his departure.  Josh Manley and Myles Hilliard are also some good looking defensive line prospects that had multiple offers from some big name schools.

On the offensive end, a big point in the Orange’s offense is the tight end.  Last season, Nick Provo set multiple school records and was the leading receiver on the team.  With his departure, Syracuse needed to find someone to back up Beckett Whales in the upcoming years.  They did a great job in pulling in Ron Thompson from Michigan.  Thompson is a big tight end that is said to have great hands.  He also had offers from most of the Big Ten schools, and Coach Marrone’s ability to take him right from underneath Michigan’s nose just shows the way Coach Marrone can recruit.  Another big get on the offensive end was wide receiver Alvin Cornelius.  Cornelius is a big wide receiver and he was named the New York State High School Football Player of the Year.

Running back George Morris from Georgia was another big name get on the offensive end as he turned down his hometown Georgia Tech Yellowjackets to come up to Syracuse.  Morris is a big, athletic back that may be able to come in right away and contribute.  If not next year, look for him to be a big name for the Orange in years to come.

Overall, Syracuse signed 22 new members to their football team today, in what was a very solid recruiting class for Coach Marrone and is probably his best to date.  Hopefully this will be a step in the right direction for direction for Syracuse football and Coach Marrone can lead us into a new era.

DDL

Syracuse/ West Virginia Recap

29 Jan

via syracuse.com

Let’s just get it out of the way right now, the refs missed a blatant goal tend call again Baye Keita that would have tied the game at 63 and could have possibly sent the game into overtime.  To say that that one call cost West Virginia the game though is idiotic.  Would I feel differently if the roles were reversed?  Maybe.  But during the course of a game, especially this one, there are so many missed calls that lead to points or ones that take away points from both teams.  It’s something that you have to deal with.  What people are going to forget is that West Virginia had the ball last and still had a chance to tie/win the game.  Also, the missed goal tend call happened with just under 10 seconds left in the game.  A.) it would have only tied the game, and B.) SU would have had 10 seconds to take a final shot with a chance to win the game.  So you can’t put everything on one call.  Was it a horrible call?  Yes and I do feel bad for West Virginia and their fans that a game has to come down to that, but it can not be said that it was the only reason they lost, or SU won.

Now let’s get to the rest of the game.  This was as ugly of a game that we will probably see SU play all year.  To come out on top with a win just shows how good this team really is.  The Syracuse defense continued to dominate teams forcing 17 turnovers with 11 steals.  However, the lone stat that will really stand out to SU fans in how we were out rebounded 41-20.  Most people will equate this with the absence of Fab Melo, but that is not the case.  Yes, Fab definitely helps in the rebounding department, but its the guards that need to step up their rebounding.  The combo of SU guards finished the game with 1 rebound.  That is not acceptable.  This is what kept West Virginia in the game.  Besides the rebounding the defense was its usual spectacular self.

The offense was a different story.  SU continues to really struggle shooting the ball.  Saturday, they were horrendous.  They shot 46% from the field, but only 4-20 from 3.  You might look at that and think that SU was forcing way too many deep shots, but they really weren’t.  The majority of these shots were WIDE OPEN.  It is not bad offense, SU just needs to start making shots.  Brandon Triche was the only player that really had any type of good offense game as he had 18 points.

Overall, this was a good win for the Orange, as they did not play a good game and still found a way to win.  The defense carried this team again, and you know what they say…Defense wins championships.

DDL

We Are Penn State Football – Part II

26 Jan

This is a mini-series that covers my personal experience with Penn State football. It is dedicated to the memory of the late Joseph Vincent Paterno (1926-2012).

Penn State and Michigan. 2005. The most memorable game of my life.

There was a time where I thought these teams could have had one of the most heated rivalries in the game. Unfortunately, the college football landscape doesn’t allow for that, at least for the time being. Because of the size of the Big Ten, even before adding Nebraska in 2011, every season a few teams didn’t end up playing each other. So even before the two divisions were created the Nittany Lions and Wolverines was not a guaranteed game on the schedule every season. Michigan was Ohio State’s lock-in game at the end of the year. We got “rivaled” with Michigan State.

If there was ever one coach, besides “Bear” Bryant that Joe Paterno couldn’t figure out, it very well may have been Lloyd Carr. Coming into the 2005 season, Carr already possessed a 7-2 lifetime record vs. the Nittany Lions. Carr had Joe’s number and both coaches and teams knew it.

At the time of this game, however, Michigan was at its lowest point of the season. Having started the season #3 in the country, the Wolverines had just fallen out of the AP and coaches Top 25 after losing three of their first six games.

Penn State came into the “Big House” that day a favorite to win. Michigan had just lost to Minnesota at home. They hoped to prevent the first ever two-game home losing streak in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines were down, yes, but not even they could have predicted what was about to unfold in front of their very own eyes.

Now remember: I am in Buffalo, New York for this game and I had just eaten my lunch at Applebee’s with my dad and brother, Danny. We all returned to the hotel in time for the game.

In the first half of the game Penn State squandered two key drives. The first was the opening one, where Michael Robinson led a fierce offense all the way down the field before being shut down inside the Wolverine 30-yard line. I was honestly really surprised it came down to a field goal attempt because Penn State moved the ball so well that first drive it looked like from the start they were ready to shove the game right down the throats of the Wolverines.

Freshman Kevin Kelly came into the game to kick. To that point he had been such a pleasant replacement for graduate Robbie Gould, who really had his kicking problems while at Penn State. Ironically or not, Gould is a pro-bowl kicker in the NFL.

Anyway, as Kelly came set to kick the ball it didn’t even come to mind that he may miss the field goal. But he was only just a true freshman in his first real pressured-packed situation away from Beaver Stadium. As his kick went up it turned out to be just plain ugly. It had no shot of going in at all – way far left of the goal post. I’m sure when Kelly kicked it he instantly put his head down in shame because it was THAT BAD. I remember falling back onto the hotel bed in disgust, but it was only one three-point field goal miss, right?

Kelly came on again to attempt another field goal early in the second quarter. As the kick went into the air I thought it had a chance. The ball hooked wide right this time and again the Nittany Lions had wasted a golden opportunity to put valuable points on the board.

Luckily for us, Michigan also had kicking problems of their own. Junior kicker Garret Rivas did have the advantage of being at home but surprised everyone by missing on his first attempt. He quickly redeemed himself by nailing a field goal to give the Wolverines a 3-0 lead. After all of the missed kicks/opportunities by both teams I was satisfied with only being down by three points at halftime.

Of course it was Penn State’s defense leading the way, but then again neither team had very much success on offense during the first half. Team leaders for both squads on offense got things done on the ground with Robinson taking the honors for the Nittany Lions and running back (and Syracuse area native) Mike Hart for the Wolverines. Hart was really having a great game especially after being injured on-and-off the first couple of weeks of the season. An extra missed tackle here-or-there and Hart may have run for three or four touchdowns by himself. But just as Penn State’s offense would stall at a sudden moment, so would the Wolverines and they’d be forced to punt or attempt a field goal.

As bad as I felt for Kelly and the fact that we had wasted at least six points, I still had all the confidence in the world in him and my Nittany Lions. We had just beaten Ohio State and shown the world Penn State was back. How could we lose to unranked Michigan?

I really thought Penn State would come out storming in the second half, but it was Michigan who opened with a 70-yard, ten play drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by Hart.

Just like that Michigan now had a 10-0 lead.

But before I knew it Penn State was about to go onto a most auspicious roll.

It all started with a 25-yard field goal by Kevin Kelly at the end of the third quarter. Penn state tied the game on a delay run by Robinson early in the fourth. Tony Hunt set up the touchdown run by going 61 yards on a Reggie Bush type run before Robinson capped off the drive.

Then more craziness.

On Michigan’s next drive, cornerback Alan Zemaitis stripped the ball right out of quarterback Chad Henne’s hand and took the return 35 yards for the score. Things were going so well for the Nittany Lions that even after a botched extra point attempt, Kelly was able to run the ball into the endzone for a two point conversion and give the Nittany Lions a 18-10 lead.

By this point in the game I was really into it. My mom, back home in Syracuse, wasn’t able to watch the game because it wasn’t the regional broadcast in that area. So every time something good would happen for Penn State, my brother or I would call her and give her the news. I had the liberty of calling her after Zemaitis’ fumble recovery and I was screaming so loud I had to tell her four times before she could understand that Penn State now had a 18-10 lead.

Something started to happen from then on that was probably a worry of Joe Paterno’s all season long. Through the first six wins that season star freshmen Derrick Williams and Justin King were used as if they were like big locomotives and would never run out of steam. Things finally started to catch up with each true freshman.

King was the first to have a breakdown.

After taking the 18-10 lead Penn State had Michigan set up on a long third down. King was covering a true freshman on the other side by the name of Mario Manningham – I cringe as I write this because “Super Mario” is such a huge part of my Football Giants team now. Manningham cut right by King on his left, near the five-yard line before making a basket catch for a touchdown. Hart then dove into the end-zone for the two point conversion and the game was again tied at 18.

A quick Michigan field goal ensued and it was now 21-18. Penn State would get the ball once more with plenty of time on the clock – about two minutes left till the end of regulation. Robinson was so eager to get down field that he almost threw away the opportunity and Penn State’s dream season all in one. But after a big first down completion he settled down and seemed to realize that he had plenty of time to lead his team to victory.

Robinson did just that. He accounted for all 81 yards – including 61 through the air – on the series, and capped the drive with a three-yard run on a draw for the go ahead score.

I remember jumping so high in the air that when I came down I felt as if my ankles were about to give out. Like I jumped from the top of the hotel.

Finally Penn State had done it.

The game was over. Michigan coaches, players and fans were shocked.

Penn State rejoiced.

The crowd at the Big House was completely silent and I never had a doubt in my mind that Penn State would be headed to Illinois anything less then 8-0.

What did Yogi Berra once say? Something like, “It ain’t over, till it’s over.”

When a kick returner has proven himself time-after-time to be dangerous, doesn’t it make sense NOT to kick the ball to him?

Sure seems logically to me.

So what does Penn State do? Kelly kicks the ball to Steve Breaston and he takes the kickoff 41 yards and gives the Wolverines great field position.

41 yards. I could not believe it. Breaston even made special team great Ethan Kilmer miss a tackle.

There was still :53 seconds on the clock, plenty of time for a Michigan score of their own. But Penn State had the Big Ten’s #1 ranked defense. They wouldn’t give in now would they?

With about :30 seconds left in the game Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr came storming out at a referee demanding for two seconds to be put back on the clock. The refs, almost too willingly, gave him his two seconds back.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

I remember my reaction like it was yesterday. It was so painful.

It’s a four point game with :30 seconds remaining and these refs are giving away two of the most valuable seconds time has to offer. Michigan was now driving and facing a third-and-four at the Penn State ten-yard line with seven seconds remaining.

As Henne took the snap it looked as though for a moment a Michigan wide receiver was wide open near the five-yard line. Out of no where came a Penn State defender and he swatted the ball away, leaving one second on the ABC scoreboard on the tube.

In retrospect, the Penn State defender might have been better off letting him catch the ball and then tackling him to end the game.

Michigan had no time-outs left.

Robinson held his left hand with a teammate’s and raised one finger up high in the air on his right hand. All the Penn State players joined together on the sideline.

This was the last play of the game.

Calvin Lowry, my favorite player at the time, had played exceptional during his senior campaign at Penn State. He was instrumental in Penn State’s win over Ohio State where he snagged a Troy Smith pass and brought it back to the Penn State two-yard line before the Nittany Lions scored.

Why did it have to be Lowry who blew his coverage?

Here is how it went in my head: One second remaining on the clock. The Penn State defense gets set at the line, as does the Wolverine offense. Fourth-and-four from the Penn State ten-yard line, but that doesn’t matter. Michigan needs to score a touchdown here or the game is over. Henne drops back; stays in the pocket, looks, now finds a receiver down the middle into the end-zone…

Manningham was wide open.

Touchdown Michigan.

Lloyd Carr got those two seconds he cried for and his team won him the game.

I was so confident in Penn State that I never would have thought they could lose a game like this.

More than half of the 2005 season was over and Penn State had as many wins as they had its previous two seasons combined. None of that mattered to me anymore. They weren’t undefeated. The dream was over.

I wanted that undefeated season. I wanted the Rose Bowl. I wanted another National Championship. Not just for myself, but for Joe Paterno.

I didn’t talk after the game for at least an hour. Not once. Neither did my brother. Just ask our dad. I had to be the one tell my mom that Penn State had lost and I didn’t want to hear anymore of it.

Lost in the game was Derrick Williams. Williams again proved he was a big-time player, but on a kick return that set up the Penn State touchdown late in the game, Williams broke his arm. He was now out for the season.

At the time this was a day and game I had hoped to never have to revisit, in any way, shape or form, ever again. Penn State was now on their way to Illinois with questions hanging over them about how they would respond. I was looking for justification after the most heartbreaking loss I had ever watched.

Stay tuned for Part III of “We Are Penn State Football” as Athletic Jocks remember the late Joseph Vincent Paterno.

Posada Retires

25 Jan

For all you Yankee fans out there, and me being one of them, we will miss Jorge Posada. After 17 seasons the 5 time All-Star and 5 time World Series Champion retires. Posada was born August 17, 1971 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He played his high school ball at Alejandrino High School in San Juan, where he played shortstop. Yes, you read that correctly, I did say shortstop. Following high school he played at Calhoun Community College in Alabama, and graduated with an Associate’s Degree in 1991. Fifteen years later his number 6 was retired at Calhoun.

Posada was drafted in the 24th round by the Yankees in 1990 as an infielder. He became a catcher after just playing one year as a second baseman in A ball. Which is a little humorous considering the play he made last year at second base against the Oakland A’s, when Nick Swisher had to scoop the short throw out of the dirt. In 1995, Posada made his Major League debut. Late in the 1996 season he was called up and made his first start in late September, but was not added to the postseason roster. Jorge will go down as one of the top offensive catchers of all-time and in my eyes will end up being a Hall of Famer.

Posada helped the New York Yankees to 5 World Series titles. He was also part of the “Core Four,” who also included Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte. Those four Yankees were all a big part in the 3 titles from 1998 to 2000 and the one in 2009. As Posada came closer to the end of his career he saw less and less playing time at catcher. Finally, in 2011 he became the full time designated hitter, where he started the season in a slump. Throughout the entire season his hitting was up and down. He would get hot for a few games and find himself back in a slump shortly after. It was almost like he didn’t feel comfortable at the plate until the postseason. He had a .429 average in 14 at-bats during the 2011 ALDS. Jorgie has been one of my favorite players for the Yankees. I grew up a Yankee fan, I was born into being a Yankee fan. There isn’t one person in my entire family who isn’t a fan of the Yankees, and I have a very large family. Baseball was also my favorite sport, to watch and play. I was 7 years old when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996. Even though Jorge wasn’t on that postseason roster I remember him helping the Yanks win the other four that I have been alive for. It is going to be weird not seeing him in the dugout or at the plate this year, because he is such a familiar face. For true Yankee fans of my generation, Jorge had to be a favorite, because he was a true Yankee. He was brought up through the minors wearing pinstripes and retired pinstripes.

When Posada finally announced his retirement earlier today it was saddening. Jorge Posada has dedicated 21 years of his life to the New York Yankees organization and he will never be forgotten. Not only will Yankee fans always remember him but fans of Major League Baseball as well, and if you aren’t a Yankee fan you can still respect Posada just by the way he played the game. And I’m sure that sometime in the near future you will see the 5 time World Series Champion’s number 20 in Monument Park.

GCB

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We Are Penn State Football – Part I

24 Jan

This is a mini-series that covers my personal experience with Penn State football. It is dedicated to the memory of the late Joseph Vincent Paterno (1926-2012).

Black Shoes. Basic Blues. No Names. All Game.  

It was a cold, October Saturday early in 2005. You know, the kind of day where just looking outside makes you feel gloomy inside. I was in Buffalo, New York for a baseball clinic the next morning and I arrived at the Marriott with my dad and brother, Danny, a few hours before the Penn State-Michigan game was slated to start.

Probably since the moment I was born, the Nittany Lions were burned into my heart, and it has been like that ever since. My parents would always tell me stories about when I was younger and how when Penn State would score I would always start crying. No, it wasn’t because I was upset that my favorite team had scored, it was because my parents and their friends would be screaming so loud, you’d think they had just met Bruce Springsteen.

Now I bleed blue and white.

Both of my parents are Penn State alumnus and both of them wear their blue and white colors with pride. I too always wear my Penn State merchandise around. There were years when Penn State wasn’t playing well that made that rough. I took a lot of heat from Orange fans (why? I’m not so sure because we aren’t talking about basketball) but I stayed loyal to my Nittany Lions.

My parents have a Nittany Lion outside of their front porch. That’s how loyal they are. That’s how loyal we all are. Once when I was younger a few of my parents friends from here decided it would be funny to steal it. Luckily, it was returned a day later in the same condition it left in, so all was forgiven and there have been no recorded robberies since.

Up until the 2005 season, I only had fuzzy memories of the great Penn State teams of the 1990’s. I was too young to fully take in the Kerry Collins’ teams of the early-to-mid 90’s and I had only started to understand Penn State Football around the time of LaVar Arrington and company. For clarification purposes: When I say Penn State Football I’m talking about the religious-like qualities we fans have for our team.

Back to the team – I remember all the big name Penn State players of my childhood such as Arrington, Collins, Courtney Brown, Curtis Enis, Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius , and Ki-Jana Carter. Then there was Zach Mills and all the Johnson’s; Larry, Tony, and Bryant. Michael Haynes stands out but otherwise, I can only remember a few other select players.

I remember only a few games, mostly from the 2002 season and they were all four losses experienced during LJ’s great season. I remember one time – it must have been 1999 – I was watching a game with my mom on the tube and right when it seemed Penn State was going to lose, an 80-yard pass or something like that was completed for the game winning touchdown. Of course I joined my mother who was jumping up and down frantically like a little kid who had just seen Santa Claus.

As I grew older I wanted to become more of a student of the program, and it seemed as if Penn State Football was a never-ending class. I didn’t think I would never be able to take in all I needed to know to become a true Nittany Lion.

Soon, however, I was becoming a student of Penn State Football. My dad thought it was finally appropriate to tell me the story about the 1979 Sugar Bowl between Joe Paterno and Penn State and the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Dad was in his early twenties for this game and he watched it at a bar with a few of his buddies. After building up the story and how great the matchup was, he would only briefly describe the end of the game, when Paterno decided to run the ball (again) on a 4th and goal at the 1-yard line. After being stuffed the first three times, Penn State attempted to run the ball with Mike Guman through the great ‘Bama defense and was stuffed again. Penn State eventually lost the Sugar Bowl and the National Championship dream. Joe, in later years, would say if he could do it over again he would do it differently and also stated that it was the offensive coaches who said, “If we can’t run the ball one yard we don’t deserve to be National Champions.” My dad still insists after all his years of being a Penn State fan that the loss to Bryant and Alabama was the most crushing one of them all.

Dad was quick to follow up that story with the more successful ones, such as the 1982 and 1986 National Championship teams. The 1986 National Championship turned out to be, and still is, the most watched College Football game ever. The underdog Nittany Lions shocked the world by defeating a powerhouse Miami Hurricane squad 14-10 that was led by Heisman trophy winner Vinny Testaverde.

Then there was 1994.

The 1994 Nittanly Lion squad was probably the best offensive team under JoePa. Penn State finished the regular season undefeated and crushed Oregon in the Rose Bowl but the National Championship was given to Nebraska.

Why you ask? Well, the only logical I have heard since then is because it was legendary head coach Tom Osborne’s second-to-last season before retiring. Since he had yet to win a National Championship, the AP and Coaches decided they should give the edge to him because Paterno had already won two. The computers had Penn State ranked number one, but this was pre-BCS and they didn’t count. Thus, the 1994 season and its’ end result was the fuel to the fire needed to create the BCS system in college football four years later.

Ironically, the 1994 National Championship was the first of back-to-back titles for Osborne and Nebraska.

Then I experienced the most bizarre and most unexpected event in the history of Penn State football; four losing seasons in five years.

That steep, downhill slide started with a humiliating loss 33-7 on national television against the eventual National Champion Miami Hurricanes in 2001. Things never got better from that point on.

Dating back to the beginning of the Joe Paterno era (1966) Penn State’s overall record was an astounding 307 wins vs. just 83 loses going into the 2000 season. After 2000 and up until the start of 2005, Penn State’s record was a disappointing 26-33; certainly a major change in events.

Who was to blame for this sudden swing? Was it the players? Was it the coaches? Was it Paterno himself? Could it have been the fans, who over the years had seemed to take every great season for granted?

Players put the blames on themselves while the coaches insisted it was their fault.

The fans took a different approach. They took the initiative of placing the blame on JoaPa. The same guy with two National Championships and five undefeated seasons.

Could that really have been the answer? Surely not, many fans probably thought at first. But as the seasons passed and fans experienced more losing then ever, most fans, including myself, started to turn on Paterno.

My basic thinking back then was that Joe just wasn’t getting the job done anymore. It was that simple. He was being too damn stubborn, he wasn’t adapting to the changing culture in college football and he wasn’t recruiting great players like he used to. There were so many occasions as I watched games where I almost wishing he would retire and save the school from the pain of having to fire him.

One of the most inexplicable decisions Joe ever made as a head coach -to me – was never starting Larry Johnson until his fifth year “senior” season. It’s not like Penn State wasn’t known for great running backs by that point. When LJ did get his chance to play, he exploded for over 2,000 rushing yards during the 2002 season and was a Heisman finalist. Penn State won nine games that season before losing to Auburn in the Capital One Bowl.

Michael Robinson was Joe’s guinea pig for his first four seasons in Penn State. I still sometimes wonder how Robinson survived his time in State College before 2005, given the way he was treated. Only recently has Robinson spoke of this time and he praises Joe for how he handled what he called himself an “immature young boy”. It certainly didn’t seem like it back then.

Zach Mills, the starting quarterback for most of those horrendous seasons, was just someone you wish you had never seen play. Mills was like a bad odor – once he starting playing badly it just kept on getting worse.

The best part about Mills was that he was actually a good quarterback during his freshmen campaign and was the catalyist in Penn state’s come-from-behind win against Ohio State in 2001 that gave JoePa 324 career victories.

If there was ever a “good” feeling going through Nittany Lion Nation during those losing seasons, it was that game when Paterno finally passed “Bear” Bryant on the all-time wins list with 324 victories. Led by Mills, Penn State won two games in a row, one to tie Bryant, and one to pass him.

Joe, bluntly, deserved that record, but with the continued losing in the seasons ahead, Paterno was passed by another legendary coach, Bobby Bowden, of Florida State. As it stood Penn State fans couldn’t even talk of the career victories record as something to brag about.

After an ugly, ugly, ugly 6-4 (yes, the defense provided the only points) loss to Iowa in 2004, fans were prompted to start a website to get Joe Paterno out of Penn State. The site was called www.joemustgo.com. As amusing as it may sound, these fans were not joking around. JoePa was being booed repeatedly at home games during that rough stretch, and a stadium that seats well over 100,000 fans (20,000 student seats alone), was filled by only 24,000 fans for the 2004 season finale against Purdue.

The offense had become the weakest core unit to ever play under Paterno. Mills, who had numerous injuries during his last two seasons, had no targets to pass to. The team had no playmakers. Tony Hunt was not getting the job done at running back and his backup, Austin Scott, was about as big of a bust as Hillary Duff’s attempt to become a professional singer.

In retrospect, Joe really didn’t have many options. But that was the point. He couldn’t recruit, so he needed to go.

Just when Penn State fans thought it would never get better with Joe as their leader, the Nittany Lions engineered a goal-line stand of their own. It was just like 1979, but this time Penn State was on the defense and held on for the victory. Many people refer to it as the “turning point” for the program.

It happened, of all places, in Indiana against the lowly Hoosiers. Late in the game Penn State was clinging onto a slim lead, 22-18, and they desperately needed a break. Finally, they got one. From the defense. A Joe Paterno special. The Nittany Lions stopped the Hoosiers three times in a row at the goal-line and Penn State held on for their first Big Ten victory of the 2004 season.

Nobody could have predicted what was to follow. Change was in store for the 2005 season, but I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t expect to see much of a difference in the win-loss column.

The Penn State core defensive unit, which didn’t allow more then twenty-one points in a single game in 2004, was mostly returning. Michael Robinson was finally appointed to one position – starting quarterback. There were also a couple of freshman who were ready to take on the responsibilities of bringing Penn State back to the top. Derrick Williams and Justin King came to Penn State with a lot of hype and with a promise: to lead the Nittany Lions back to national prominence.

I headed to State College on a beautiful Saturday in early September for the first game of 2005 Penn State football season. With the stadium almost filled to capacity, the roar of the crowd was loud enough to be heard back in New York. I was very excited for the game, and I expected a win against South Florida. Before the game I bought my new “#2” jersey, to represent Derrick Williams. It ended up being a 22-13 victory for Penn State, but the score really did show how inconsistent Michael Robinson played.

Robinson had single-handed kept South Florida in the game with two fumbles and one interception. I knew that kind of play would not translate into wins for the start of the Big Ten season. Honestly, if you really want to know, I was really pulling for red-shirt freshman Anthony Morelli to start over Robinson.

I was never a real big fan of “MRob” because he basically never showed me he could lead a winning squad. Penn State began 3-0 that season and travled to Northwestern for their first true test of the year. Early in the game I was yelling at Paterno on the tube to pull Robinson and put Morelli in the game. By that point, Robinson had continued his inconsistent play into the second quarter – three INT’s and one fumble – and Penn State found themselves down 23-14 at halftime.

Something happened during that second quarter that I didn’t realize at the time and Robinson finally clicked. He led Penn State down the field to cut the Northwestern lead before half. Maybe Robinson realized that his starting job was up in the air for the next game, or next quarter. Whatever it was, from that point on Robinson was like Superman. He led Penn State to a thrilling comeback victory 34-29 with a touchdown pass to Williams in the closing minutes.

I was jumping up so high once Williams caught that pass and scored that I could have put my head through the ceiling. There was so much adrenaline pumping through my body. It was a great feeling. I never wanted it to end. Just like a kid on a merry-go-round: I wanted one more.

That feeling and the excitement grew in the weeks to follow.

Penn State went on to crush Minnesota back home 44-14 in a game that can be summed up by “The Hit”. Michael Robinson knocked out Minnesota’s Brandon Owens while rushing for 112 yards. The defense, as I mentioned earlier, was back. It was led by Butkus winner Paul Posluszny and African decent Tamba Hali.

With that win against Minnesota Penn State FINALLY jumped back into the top twenty rankings. When I say FINALLY, I really mean it. It only took Notre Dame two wins that season to jump from un-ranked and into to the top ten, but it took the better Nittany Lions team five wins to reach #16 in the country.

It was Columbus Day weekend when Ohio State came to Happy Valley looking to rebound from their crushing defeat against Texas the week prior. The entire campus was going crazy in anticipation for the game, and it was announced that the first ever “white out” at Beaver Stadium would be held that game. College Gameday was in State College on Saturday and so was Cold Pizza the morning before. Paternoville was the highlight of the morning show on ESPN2, and students got up early for the surprise visit from the crew.

A sense of urgency was finally back in the Happy Valley.

I watched that game at my parents house with them, my brothers and my cousin Nathan. My cousin Chris was actually at the game. Since I wasn’t, I had to make it seem as if we were there. My parents living room was draped with Penn State jerseys and plenty of food was ready for the long game ahead. I even had some pump-up music on CD ready to keep the family in the game.

When the game began I seated myself on the couch directly in front of the tube and was on the edge of my seat, as I was every game, the entire game. Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t had a heart attack yet.

When Derrick Williams scored early to give Penn State the 7-3 lead “high-fives” went out to everyone in the room. My favorite Nittany Lion, Safety, Calvin Lowry made a great interception and returned it all the way to the two-yard line before Robinson punched it in for another score. I was screaming so loud I’m sure the neighbors next door heard me.

As the game progressed I can only remember seeing punt after punt go back and forth, like one of my brother’s soccer games, only this game actually meant something to me.

It was a typical Big Ten football game. Low scoring. Lots of defense. Physically bruising.

I thought for sure Ohio State would find some crazy way to score and win the game, but as it turned out I was wrong. It was Penn State’s Tamba Hali providing the crazy hit on Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith that sealed the 17-10 victory.

Beaver Stadium erupted. So did my house. Fans stormed the field. I put my hands in the air, fell into the couch and took in every second of that moment: the post-game interview with Robinson and Paterno, and the sight of seeing a Penn State fan with a sign that read “12-0. We Believe”.

It was finally happening.

I was finally experiencing Penn State Football at the very finest.

I believed again.

That night of joy and excitement would soon be followed by a week of intense nervousness. Penn State was about to head to the “Big House” to take on Michigan, 6-0 and ranked #6 in the country.

In the moments leading up to that game I’ll admit I had all the confidence in the world that my Nittany Lions would come out of Ann Arbor and be 7-0.

They just had to, right?

Stay tuned for Part II of “We Are Penn State Football” as Athletic Jocks remembers the late Joseph Vincent Paterno.

CJC

Back to Business

23 Jan

via syracuse.com

That was more like it.  I was getting so used to watching this team win, that I forgot what a loss felt like.  Then when it happened, I almost forgot what the feeling of a win was like.  Syracuse was able to take a punch early on from Cincinnati (no pun intended, Yancy Gates) and move on to a 60-53 win.

With Dion Waiters having arguably his worst game of the season, Scoop and Brandon really needed to step up, and they did.  Joseph was a true star in the second half of the game, to go along with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche as the leaders for the Orange in this game.  Joseph lead the Orange with 17 points on a very efficient 8-11 shooting.  With the game still in doubt with about 10 minutes left, Scoop Jardine took control.  It all started with a simple, yet perfect pass to James Southerland for a dunk down low.  When Scoop just does the simple things during a game, and not try to be the star, he is at his best and coincidentally becomes the star out there.  Scoop had 13 points 6 assists, and the most important stat: 0 turnovers. This is what was missing in the game against Notre Dame.  Triche had a very Brandon Triche like game finishing with 11 points, 3 boards, 3 assists, and 4 steals.  The difference in Brandon’s game tonight was the agressiveness that so many SU fans want to see out of him.  The Big East, and the rest of the country, better watch out if that continues.  If this team wasn’t already real good, that can only make them better.  Scary, I know.

With the uncertainty surrounding Fab Melo and whether or not he will be eligible the rest of the year has left a lot of  Cusenation with nightmares.  What Rakeem Christmas did tonight should help ease some of those fears.  Rakeem had his best game of his very young college career, and was a key to the victory.  Rak only had 4 points, but he chipped in 9 rebounds and 3 blocks and was a force down low that was not there against Notre Dame.  I believe this will be Rak’s coming out party, and we will start to see more games like this one.  It really looked like he finally had that fire in his eyes that Boeheim has talked about.  As a McDonald’s All American, we all know he has the talent, but after tonight’s performance, hopefully Rak continues to build on it and improve from here on out.  If these kind of games continue, I believe that Rak will start to take a lot of Baye Keita’s minutes as the back up center. Rakeem seems to look a lot more comfortable playing the center of the zone than he does playing the wings.

This was a huge win for the Orange.  I will fully admit, going into this game, after watching what happened at Notre Dame, and coming off a quick turnaround, I was not feeling very confident.  When Cincinnati got off to its hot start hitting 3’s from Kentucky, my confidence continued to drop.  The difference tonight was that the Orange finally had a decent game in a half court setting.  They used the pick and roll to perfection as Cinci was not getting around or hedging on SU’s screens and they were able to take advantage of that in their half court game.

I believe we will look back at this game and see it as a turning point.  It was the game where the Orange faced adversity, and unlike the Notre Dame game, was able to punch right back and show its toughness in earning a win.  This team has all the talent in the world, and now I believe they have finally got “it.”

DDL

College Basketball Top 25

22 Jan
  1. Kentucky 19-1     Ever since their early loss to Indiana, Kentucky has been perfect, and is easily the new #1 team in the nation.
  2. Missouri 18-1     Mizzou with two great wins this week bumps up to #2.
  3. Syracuse 20-1     Despite losing to Notre Dame the Orange is still 20-1 and only drop two spots.
  4. Kansas 16-3     Robinson and Taylor lift the Jayhawks in exciting fashion over Baylor and get a win in Austin against Texas.
  5. Ohio State 17-3     With Duke losing Saturday, the Buckeyes move into the top 5.
  6. Duke 16-3     Duke drops a couple spots after losing to Florida State on a buzzer beater, snapping their 45 game home win streak.
  7. Murray State 20-0     With a few top ten teams losing, and Murray State being the only undefeated team in the nation they move to #7.
  8. North Carolina 16-3     After struggling in the first half to Virginia Tech, Carolina finds a way to win.
  9. Baylor 17-2     Even tho the Bears lost twice this week, the losses were to great teams and I still have them in the top 10.
  10. Georgetown 16-3      The Hoyas are my #10 team despite struggling agianst DePaul and Rutgers.
  11. Michigan State 16-4
  12. San Diego State 17-2
  13. Florida 15-4
  14. Creighton 18-2
  15. Indiana 16-4
  16. Mississippi State 16-4
  17. UNLV 18-3
  18. Virginia 15-3
  19. Michigan 15-5
  20. Marquette 16-4
  21. Louisville 15-5
  22. Connecticut 14-5
  23. Saint Mary’s 19-2
  24. Harvard 16-2
  25. Florida State 13-6

 

GCB