Monday, November 19, 2007

The long-awaited return

I received a letter from a fan the other day, and I'd like to share it with you...

Dear Tom,

When are you going to be returning to Sports Fountainhead? Your contributions used to be so thoughtful and witty. My internet surfing experience just won't be the same until you come back and grace the blog with your presence again.

I left some split pea soup in the fridge, because I know it's your favorite. I'll be home from work at 4pm.


Yes, thank you, uh, erm, "Mom", for your insightful words of encouragement. And I am back. It's been a rough few weeks with exams, commitments, and the like, but with the holiday upon us, I can return to blogging again. Trust me, it wasn't easy being away. I wanted to blog badly when Navy beat Notre Dame. Or Air Force. I wanted to blog when Billy Gillespie and Kentucky lost to Gardner-Webb. Or when Michigan State lost to Grand Valley State (with Drew Nietzel). Or when Wyoming's coach flipped the bird. Or when Brent Musburger had his annual orgasm at the Ohio State-Michigan game.

Well, at least it's not too late to blog about Louisiana-Monroe beating Alabama last weekend. People in Tuscaloosa are still hung over after drinking all the Kool-Aid they served at 'Bama's spring game. Now their savior is 6-5 in his first season with a 3-game skid.

Also not too late to mention that Penn State's women's volleyball team won their 5th-straight outright Big Ten title last weekend, an unprecedented mark in the conference. I was in town Friday during the thrilling 3-1 victory over #9 Wisconsin -- these ladies are damn good, but then again they usually are.

And, oh yeah, Lloyd Carr's retiring. Yawn. Tell me something I don't know.

Anyway, I planned on taking the wood to our Nittany Lion football squad today, but I'll restrain myself ... slightly. The day had disappointment written all over it, really. It was grey and gloomy, that general feeling of malaise in the air. I had left State College early Saturday morning to come home, as students are enjoying a (well-deserved!) week-long Thanksgiving break.

The Lions decided to get fancy, and trick plays were abound. I think we're just wondering where they've been for the first 11 games. Did it really take us four months to figure out how to run these plays or were we saving them for a grandiose finale?! The coaches do need to admit, though, that Morelli in the WR position has never fooled anyone and has never worked. But the two fake FGs were brilliant. First, Kevin Kelly pooches it from about the 37-yard line, and we down it on the MSU 1. Then, up 17-7 in the 3rd quarter, Boone fakes a high snap and Kelly runs it in for six! Wow! Holy Spartans, Batman!

So, okay, we're up 24-7 in the 3rd, and their crowd's out of it. Things are so bad that our kicker is now running rampant in Spartan Stadium. So, you know, it's been a long day, I drove a while ... it might be a good time to put my head down and rest. I start nodding off slightly. I'm semi-conscious when MSU marches down the field and makes it a 24-14 game. I'm even closer to dreamland when we go back up 31-14. Well, all is good, I think I'll just close my eyes and...

"Tom, I thought I'd wake you up. Michigan State just scored and took the lead."

Aw, crap.

Don't ask me how. Don't ask me why. I was asleep, which I thought might be okay when your team is up 17 points in the third! Oh, but look, it's okay, some guy named Carter wearing the number 32 is running through the MSU defense. Phew, that was close. Oh, there he goes, running it again. We're within striking range!

Dammit, what is Morelli doing holding the ball and dropping back?! Game over.

Doesn't it say something when your fourth-string running back who has never played in a game before can move the ball at will when your senior quarterback with two years experience completely halts the drive?

Well, look, I'm not going to cry over spilled milk anymore, this is in the past. Let's look ahead. Can a decent bowl victory erase the calamity that is the 2007 season? With all the troubles off the field, our inexperienced two-year starting QB, and our hot-shot recruit who has made our secondary look like swiss cheese ... can we forget? I mean, in 2006, we at least lost to all the big boys -- overrated Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, and overrated Wisconsin, three of those losses on the road. Now, switch out Notre Dame and replace it with a decent Illinois team. Okay, now switch out 12-1 Wisconsin and replace it with ... 7-5 Michigan State. Three losses on the road. Can a bowl win really make us forget?

Looking farther ahead, like a good fan should when his team is in disarray, some of the question marks we had to start 2007 no longer exist for 2008. There is no running back problem, as Evan Royster looks really solid and it sounds like we have a good backup in... whoever Carter is. The two people I'll really miss in the senior class are Matt Hahn and Dan Connor. Sean Lee's been waiting for this moment to step up as a leader for a while, and he'll shine. I don't worry about our LBs at all. The O-line has really brought it together this year, and I'm pretty sure most if not all will be returning. Who woulda thunk our O-line would be a bright spot?

That's not to say there aren't glaring question marks. I don't know whether or not I'll be happy if Justin King declares for the draft. If he really cares about a career, he won't. Not after his abysmal performance this season. But then again, if he does, maybe it'll mark a new day for the secondary. If not, I hope JoePa whips him around and shows him what's what before August '08. Clark has shown promise at QB, but little else, as we haven't seen him too much on the field. However, I will say that he probably had more playing time before starting than Morelli did. Penn State's version of Jimmy Clausen (AKA "the answer to all our problems"), Pat Devlin, will still be still untested as our backup, despite the whole student section seemingly on his bandwagon. Not me. Until he can prove he deserves to be there more than Clark, I'm sticking with JoePa and his (assumed) decision to play Clark next year.

So, maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's get to Orlando, win the Champs Sports Bowl, and finish this season 9-4 ... again. And hey, if JoePa can't pass Bobby Bowden for most career wins, let's at least take another Bowden to the woodshed and hope we play Clemson. Although that Cullen Harper is a pretty good player.

This week, I hope to put a final update on my "Buy or Sell" predictions, and evaluate some of the performances by first-year coaches this year.

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