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Pregame stretch, 10.07.11

October 7, 2011 - Ray Eckenrode

Iowa (3-1) vs. Penn State (4-1)

3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC/ESPN

Announcers: Dave Pasch, Chris Spielman, Urban Meyer and Quint Kessenich

Annoyance factor: Yes, you read that correctly, this game is so important, so complex, so ripe with storylines, that it requires four announcers to cover it. On one hand, that sounds like just too much clutter in the booth, but on the other hand it means Spielman will talk less. We’ll give it a chance. By the way, we really are starting to like Dave Pasch. He’s almost invisible, which is a great compliment for a PxP guy.

Line: Penn State -3.5

Smarts say: With an over/under of 44, you’re still talking 24-20 PSU and we can’t imagine getting there without a defensive score (or two).

Quick hits:

+ The 1986 national champs will be honored Saturday and that team and that title game will always hold a special place in our heart because it was the first time (although many followed, you always remember your first time) in our football fanhood that our team won by sitting back and just letting Vinny be Vinny.

+ The Mirror’s Cory Giger blogged this week (see link at top right) about whether Penn State quarterbacks have the ability call an audible at the line of scrimmage. After reading the blog, the rational side of our brain said it’s not really that unusual to limit what a young QB can do at the line of scrimmage until they’ve demonstrated the ability to get through their progressions quickly. However, the smart-alecky, frustrated Penn State fan side of our brain won out and posted this:

So Jay and Galen flip a coin. Heads is pass, tails is run. If it comes up tails, Jays says, "Best of 3." They then send the play down to McQueary, who might or might not hear it. He runs it by Joe, who suggests they change it to a fullback belly (unless it actually is a fullback belly, then he just smiles and nods). Then they signal it into to the quarterback, whose name they might or might not know, who has exactly 8 seconds to call it, get the team to the line and run it. Why would you ever need to audible?

We think the bottom line is that if Penn State’s offense were moving the ball and scoring points, no one would question what the quarterbacks can or can’t do at the line of scrimmage. And, yes, we realize that’s a “chicken or egg” question. The real issue remains not how Penn State is handling these two quarterbacks, but how they got into a situation where they have only these two quarterbacks to rely on.

+ In case you missed it (and you probably did, linked at top right), State Sen. John Eichelberger jumped into the PSU coaching fray, blogging about his admiration for the position the Mirror’s Cory Giger took (Cliff notes: Joe and Jay Paterno’s conflicts of interest are hurting Penn States’ program, linked at top right) in a commentary earlier this week. Eichelberger also used the forum to blast the Mirror’s recent editorial stance opposing a bill that would take many coroners’ records out of the public’s view. He concluded: “Unfortunately, to many papers, the monetary benefit of selling extra copies of a gory banner headline trumps the public’s best interest in catching a murderer.” First, we had a bit of a chuckle when the blog appeared on the same day the Mirror was recognized in a statewide contest for editorial page excellence. Then we re-read the blog and thought: “Hey John, Joe Friday called from 1957 and he wants his argument back.” Seriously, when was the last time you saw a gory banner headline in the Mirror or any Pennsylvania paper for that matter? That argument is based on a 50-year-old stereotype that might have been true once upon a time in major cities where news boys hawked papers on the corner as the 5 p.m. whistle blew, but it was never true in Altoona. And no newspaper will make or lose a single penny based on the final outcome of this issue. It’s about public access to government, plain and simple. It seems to us the senator’s coroners’ records argument is stuck in the past, just like Penn State’s offensive philosophy.

The pick: It’s human nature to keep holding out for a happy ending to the Joe Paterno story, but as we’ve said many times before, human behavior says otherwise. And so it is with predicting this game. We really want to predict that Penn State will turn the corner here but a little voice in our head keeps repeating: Past performance is the best indicator of future behavior, past performance in the best indicator of future behavior, past performance … alright already, we hear ya … Iowa 17-9.

Last week: Obviously, if Penn State would have done any one of about 25 little things correctly they’d have covered against woeful Indiana, but they did them all wrong, leaving us 4-1 against the spread and 5-0 straight up.

Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Announcers: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

Annoyance factor: (Assuming best John McEnroe voice): CBS, you have got to be kidding! We thought for sure we were getting Solomon Wilcotts this week talking about "Mendinghall" and "Rotlisberger," but Dierdorf two weeks in a row is cruel and unusual punishment.

Referee: Walt Anderson

Competence factor: Any of the various NFL white hats named Walt are serviceable, but let’s change the topic to a white hat who’s not serviceable: Referee Ron Winter. Did you see that debacco (note to new readers: a debacco is a farce much worse than a debacle) Monday night? Twenty freakin’ penalties for 156 yards and a game time of 3 hours and 36 minutes! And that’s only slightly, SLIGHTLY above the average for number of penalties called by this crew of jackwagons led by the clueless Winter!! And this has been going on for three years now!!! How can the NFL justify it? Are there just magically or coincidentally more penalties in the game this crew just happens to be working that week, every week for 48 weeks? Of course not. While officials are human and will always make mistakes, the NFL should be striving for a system where a penalty in Seattle is a penalty in Green Bay is a penalty in Philly.

Line: Pittsburgh -3

Smarts say: This was a “no line” affair for almost two days until the injury situation shook out. But once it was announced that Ben Roethlisberger would likely play, the Steelers were installed as 3.5-point favorites, falling to -3 by press time. We’re guessing they’d be 2.5-point underdogs if CBatch were under center. With an over/under of 39.5, Vegas sees this as a low-scoring affair in the range of 21-17 Steelers.

Quick hits:

+ One of the amazing things about the Steelers is the way they’ve been able to stay one step ahead of the NFL’s dreaded “P” word: Parity. Toughen up the schedule after a winning season? No problem. Pick at the bottom of the first round every year? Piece of cake. And it’s been like that for much of the past decade. Unfortunately, in retrospect, the loss to the Texans provides evidence that parity might be catching up with the Steelers.

The Texans have been picking in the top half of the draft for the past 10 years, while the Steelers have been, for the most part, selecting in the second half, and often in the bottom eight. Now, there’s no guarantee of getting great PLAYERS in the top half of the first round but that is the only place you get truly ELITE ATHLETES. That’s what has traditionally made the top half of the first round such a huge risk/reward challenge. If you get an elite athlete who’s also a great player: Jackpot! If you get one who’s not: Millions down the drain.

On Sunday, the Texans had seven or eight jackpot athletes on the field (Mario Williams, 1st overall; Andre Johnson, 3rd overall; Brian Cushing, 11th overall; JJ Watt, 15th overall, to name a few) while the Steelers really only had two in Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall) and Troy Polamalu (16th overall) with the jury still out on Lawrence Timmons (14th overall). And what we plainly saw Sunday was the Steelers getting pushed around by a bigger, stronger, younger opponent, just the way the NFL draws it up.

+ We’ve tried to quantify the Steelers’ woes in the following chart (and yes, we’re naming names) which illustrates the team’s four levels of misery and likelihood of escaping them:

Level 1 OLD: Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Larry Foote (did you see that gray beard Sunday?). Remedy: Replace with younger players.

Level 2 UNDERPERFORMING: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Chris Kemoeatu, Ben Roethlisberger. Remedy: Play better.

Level 3 ADAPTABILITY (struggles linked to other players struggles): Heath Miller, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall. Remedy: Fix Level 1 and Level 2.

Level 4 INJURIES: James Harrison, Mewelde Moore, Willie Colon. Remedy: Time.

The pick: A lot of national pundits are predicting a bounceback effort here for the Steelers similar to the dismantling of the Seahawks. We’re not buying it. First, Matt Hasselbeck is no Tavaris Jackson (even though Jackson was brought in to replace Hasselbeck). Second, those same national pundits didn’t watch last weekend’s game as closely as we all did. That was no fluke in Houston. The Steelers were manhandled and Mike Munchak has Tennessee in the right frame of mind to do it again if Pittsburgh isn’t careful. The Steelers formula for a win here is relatively simple: No turnovers, stop Chris Johnson on the stretch play, get a splash play from the defense or special teams. It won’t be easy, but … Steelers 21-20.

Last week: Like the Steelers, we flopped straight up and against the spread to go to 2-2 on both counts.

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