Q & A with Black Shoe Diaries
I had exchanged some emails in the past with Penn State blog Linebacker U. Late this summer, they merged into SB Nation’s Black Shoe Diaries, and I took the opportunity of this weekend’s game to pose several questions to Chris Grovich, one of the blog managers, about the state of the program.
1. Joe Paterno. I know what the rest of the world thinks of him — that he’s a college football icon who doesn’t realize his time is past, that he’s more a figurehead/mascot than an actual coach. What do Penn State fans think about him?
Depends which Penn State fan you ask. Penn State fans have had a circular firing squad on the Paterno issue for a long time — even decades, in some instances. If you pick a Penn State fan at random, there’s an equal chance of you hearing that Paterno needs to retire after the season, should be permitted to coach as long as he wants, should move to an “ambassador” type position similar to what was offered Bobby Bowden, or should have retired after the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, 1995 Rose Bowl, or 2006 Orange Bowl. It’s the issue that supercedes all else at Penn State, and we’re all just spitting into the wind because it’s become apparent that the Penn State administration has no motivation to remove him against his will.
2. Keys to watch. What are 3 key positive factors for Penn State’s 2011 season? What is one key negative or area of concern?
The defense is very talented, if a little thin along the front line. Defensive tackle Devon Still is a total monster, and you should expect to see plenty of him in your backfield Saturday. The linebackers are also excellent, led by the intense and athletic Mike Mauti. Over on offense, Silas Redd has the makings of the next great Penn State running back, but he’s not getting a lot of help from the playcalling or offensive line lately.
The negatives? Just about everything else, to be honest. The quarterback situation is the most convoluted it’s ever been in my lifetime. The playcalling has been beyond putrid — one long-time PSU reporter noted that Penn State essentially used slight variations of 8-10 base plays against Temple. There’s no pre-snap motion, no multiple formations, nothing to make the defense get out of its comfort zone. Oh, and the special teams play has been too comical to even describe.
3. What are your expectations for this season?
I predicted 8-4 before the season, with losses at home to Alabama and Iowa, and at Ohio State and Wisconsin. I honestly thought the offense would be at least serviceable by this juncture, however, and I can’t see this team beating Nebraska at home anymore. Frankly, if things continue on the current trajectory, Penn State will have a tough time beating Illinois at home and Northwestern on the road. 6-6 appears to be a rather likely landing spot right now, although the Big Ten has been rather unimpressive as a conference in 2011.
4. Who is/are Penn State’s biggest rivals? I know about the thing with Temple, but when the all-time record is 36-3-1, it’s hard to call it a rivalry. It was clever what the Big Ten tried to do with the Land Grant Trophy, but I know that — at least from a Michigan State perspective — that’s the rivalry equivalent of Sweetest Day. So who do Penn State fans get really pumped up for, and conversely, what other team(s) consider(s) Penn State a primary rival? (Or, if this is something largely lacking from Penn State football, what are your thoughts on that?)
We always thought the Michigan State thing was contrived and dumb from the very beginning, and that 7th grade shop project called the Land Grant Trophy only solidified that. Pitt was Penn State’s traditional end-of-season rival for many years, but that went away when Penn State joined the Big Ten for football in 1993. Pitt has appeared on the schedule for brief stints since then, and the teams will play a pair of games later this decade, but the magic is long gone from that rivalry. Truth is, Penn State doesn’t have a rival anymore. Ohio State is the natural geographic rival, but they’re obviously preoccupied with That School Up North. Really, Penn State just has a few “big games”, essentially dependent on how good Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and (now) Nebraska are in any given year. As far as having a team on the schedule for which a win against them would totally redeem a 1-11 season, we don’t have that anymore. Nebraska is our new Michigan State now — a protected cross-division rival — and I think both sides have high hopes for that game given the intense, if rare, heat between the programs.