For Penn State, time is of the essence
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The Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, hovering over Penn State and its football program for almost exactly a year now, again came to the forefront this week.
Charges were brought Thursday against former university president Graham Spanier, with state attorney general Linda Kelly saying he was part of a “conspiracy of silence” that covered up Sandusky’s attacks on young boys and allowed them to continue (see story)
also came out with a cover story about the scandal’s aftermath, written by S.L. Price. In it PSU professor R. Scott Kretchmar is quoted as saying, “We’ll never get over this. It’s sort of like the Kent State shooting: Everybody, when they hear ‘Kent State,’ thinks of a massacre. When they hear ‘Penn State,’ they’re going to think of this.”
Later in the piece, Price concludes that Kretchmar may be right, while also recounting the scene at halftime of last week’s 35-23 loss to Ohio State: Rodney Erickson, the school’s current president and the guy who signed off on the NCAA sanctions in July, was booed by the sellout crowd in Beaver Stadium.
Then the team returned to the field. And, Price wrote, “… sports did what it does best. It makes you move on, even maybe when you shouldn’t.”
That’s what this team has done. It has alternately been distracting and uplifting, and given the fans something to cling to in a troubled time. The trials of Spanier, as well as two other former officials, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, will come when they come. The sanctions will do what they do. (Example: With no possibility of a bowl game this season or the next three, coach Bill O’Brien mentioned again on his weekly radio show Thursday night that he is hoping to schedule a season-ending game in a warm-weather site in 2014 or ’15, and added something new – that an overseas game is also a possibility.)
Nobody wants to think about that right now. Nor does anybody want to think what this team will look like next year, when the Lions will be stripped of a strong (and strong-willed) senior class. There is very much a live-in-the-moment vibe to this season.
And the moments are beginning to dwindle. The seniors have often mentioned how little time they have left. Quarterback Matt McGloin did so this week, with the team preparing for Saturday afternoon’s visit to Purdue, the first of four remaining games for the Lions (5-3).
“We're definitely aware that we only have four more opportunities to take the field here at Penn State,'” McGloin said, speaking of himself and the other seniors. “I mean, there's no December for us. Nov. 24 [when PSU hosts Wisconsin] is our last day as a Penn State football player.”
That being the case, it seems unlikely there will any sort of dropoff after last week’s loss, which snapped the Lions’ five-game winning streak. They have fully invested themselves each time out of the gate, and seem likely to continue to do so -- even against a low-voltage team like the Boilermakers (3-5), and even though they will play in front of crowd that will likely be no more than half as big as the one that witnessed last Saturday’s proceedings (107,818).
As linebacker Mike Hull said, “We’ve got to bring the intensity and create that for ourselves.”
Hull said the Lions have been preparing for each of the Boilers’ three quarterbacks – Robert Marve, Caleb Terbush and Rob Henry – though Marve, a mobile guy, will start. O’Brien said Purdue has some studs along its defensive front and in its secondary. But the numbers say the Boilers are far from overwhelming on either side of the ball: They are no better than fourth in the Big Ten in any offensive category (scoring, at 30.9 points per game), no better than eighth in any defensive category (pass efficiency).
But it remains more about what the Lions can do than when their opponents cannot. PSU seems certain to run the ball better this week after the Buckeyes limited them to 32 yards on 28 carries, far and away a season low. And while McGloin threw for a career-high 327 yards, his interception – just the third he has thrown this year – was returned by linebacker Ryan Shazier for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
Ohio State’s blitzes were a problem. So too was Penn State’s pre-snap communication.
“Saturday was probably the only place in the country where at home you use a silent cadence,” McGloin said. “We really weren't expecting that.”
McGloin continues to lead the conference in passing, averaging 264.4 yards per game while completing 62 percent of his attempts. Allen Robinson continues to lead the conference in receptions, with 52. And the team as a whole continues to lead everyone in motivation.
They would appear to be the better club this week. But it would also appear they will never take anyone for granted. Especially now, with time of the essence.Gordie Jones covered Penn State from 1984-2003 for the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal.