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NITTANY NOTES: Conspiracy! Edition of Around the Big Ten


February 19. 2013 5:25PM
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At the risk of beating a dead horse...

My first instinct on Matt Lehman's shoulda-been-a-touchdown when it happened live was that it was a fumble. Maybe that's because Mike Mauti had just knocked a ball loose from Taylor Martinez and into the end zone on the previous drive for a huge turnover.

Two things that can't be denied in this case.

1) Lehman did, in fact, reach the ball over the goal line for the score before having it jarred out. It should have been a touchdown.

2) The call was incredibly close. Lehman had it out over the goal line for less than a second.

So for me, it's hard to fault the on-field guys for calling it either way. As for the replay officials, well, this just seemed like a textbook case of not wanting to spend too long on a review, so they just sided with the call on the field. Happens all the time. I was surprised how quickly the decision from the booth came, given the circumstance.

It was a blown call. But I wouldn't call it a conspiracy against Penn State as many have insinuated, including the quarterback. If it had been called a touchdown on the field, it would have stood as a touchdown.

I would like to see replay officials made available for comment in circumstances like these. All we got was a statement from the head ref delivered to the AP reporter in Lincoln. All he could say was that it was up to the replay officials. Thanks, pal.

It's expected that fans -- especially Penn Staters in the aftermath of July's NCAA sanctions -- will hold a long grudge with these things. Matt McGloin and his teammates, however, can't afford to do the same.

—derek

 

WEEK 12


IOWA (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten)
 at No. 21 MICHIGAN (7-3, 5-1 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
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Noon, Saturday

Michigan Stadium,
Ann Arbor, Mich.


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LINE: OFF. The oddsmakers aren't touching this one because it's not at all clear what will happen with Denard Robinson, whereas last week it seemed likely he would not play against Northwestern. In this case, I'm not sure it matters. Devin Gardner has shown some of the talent that led to him being rated one of the country's top-rated high school quarterbacks. The fact that he threw for 286 yards last week in pulling off a near-miracle overtime win against the Wildcats is even more impressive given that he has spent all but the past week of the season playing wide receiver. But at this point, Michigan could probably trot out fourth-string walk-on Jack Kennedy under center and beat a suddenly fragile-as-glass Iowa outfit. This has quickly become one of the most embarrassing seasons in Kirk Ferentz's long tenure in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have now lost four in a row after somehow knocking off Michigan State on the road and two of those losses are to Indiana and Purdue. The offense was already known to be stagnant but now the defense has been uninspiring as well. Top rusher Mark Weisman likely won't be available again in this one and a fifth straight loss will stunningly seal Iowa's fate. No bowl game this season.

NORTHWESTERN (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten)
at MICHIGAN STATE (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
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Noon, Saturday

Spartan Stadium,
East Lansing, Mich.

 

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LINE: MSU by 7. Northwestern has fully earned its reputation as a team that can't finish. Not at the end of conference games and not at the end of seasons. Pat Fitzgerald gets a deservedly high amount of credit for the job he's done in Evanston in making this program a consistent threat. But he also must take the criticism along with that, as the Wildcats continually slump in November and still haven't been able to break that drought without a bowl win. Last week was a perfect example, as a BCS-ranked Northwestern team had a double-digit lead over an ailing Michigan team in the Big House and collapsed in spectacular fashion. Michigan hit (an admittedly fluky) Hail Mary in the final minute to set up a game-tying field goal. Naturally the Cats lost it from there in overtime. All three of their losses this season -- at Penn State, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan -- involved blowing a lead of at least 10 points in the second half. The Spartans are the bigger disappointment, falling completely off the national radar after a win over pesky Boise State. With Northwestern and Minnesota closing out their schedule, it's hard to imagine the Spartans losing both and missing a bowl game. But this one won't be easy. MSU's stout run defense was shredded by Nebraska two weeks ago and Northwestern throw a lot of the same looks with Kain Colter and Venric Mark playing the roles of Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah. I get these MSU games wrong basically every week, so my pick of Sparty to pull this one out almost certainly means a Northwestern win. 

INDIANA (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten)
at PENN STATE (6-4, 4-2 Big Ten)

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Noon, Saturday

Beaver Stadium,
State College



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LINE: PSU by 18.5. Full breakdown tomorrow. And we were so close to extending that Indiana-to-the-Rose-Bowl talk all the way to the game against the locals. Darn. Even with the technicality of one-third of the Leaders Division being ineligible to reach the Big Ten title game, the Hoosiers showed just how far they are from contending for a spot in Indianapolis -- much less Pasadena. Though the results have been a bit better this year, the Hoosiers defense remains a crime against the sport. Wisconsin humiliated the Hoosiers for a third straight season last week, scoring over 60 points against them yet again, racking up over 500 yards of total offense. Indiana knew exactly what was coming -- Wisconsin is on its third different starting QB of the season and attempted only seven passes -- and yet it never mattered. The Badgers ran all over IU. It would hardly be a surprise to see Penn State try a similar tactic, especially with Zach Zwinak turning in two straight career-highs on the ground in as many weeks. If there's a way to lose to the Hoosiers, it's by missing too many passes and giving the ball right back to Kevin Wilson's ridiculously fast-paced offense, wearing out the defense. The scheme is a double-edged sword, as three-and-outs for the Hoosiers also drain their own defense's energy, getting little time to rest. Indiana figures to rack up some points in this one, especially with the Lions looking shorthanded in the secondary with safety Malcolm Willis either limited or out of the game completely. But there's very little evidence that Indiana's defense can hold up its end of the bargain for an upset.

MINNESOTA (6-4, 2-4 Big Ten)
at No. 14 NEBRASKA (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
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3:30 p.m., Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Lincoln, Neb.

 

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LINE: UNL by 20. Last week was my first trip out to Nebraska, and the atmosphere was as strong as expected. Outside of the bizarre 50-degree drop in temperature from kickoff Saturday afternoon (85 degrees) to a Sunday morning drive from Lincoln to the airport in Omaha (27 degrees), it was a great trip. Nebraska fans are largely polite, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. With plenty of Penn State fans making the journey, it was common to walk past groups from both sides chatting about the game on Sunday at the airport, with Huskers fans practically apologizing for that whole touchdown-turned-fumble drama. A strong addition to the conference from most every angle. Those same Husker fans, however, will be a bit less polite if this 8-2 record doesn't turn into a BCS berth, namely a trip to the Rose Bowl. With Michigan playing Iowa this week, the Huskers likely won't be able to lock up that Legends Division title this week, but it would be truly stunning if it doesn't end up happening for them. A rematch with Wisconsin in Indianapolis in two weeks should be awaiting. The main drama for the Huskers Saturday will be if senior I-back Rex Burkhead is able to finally return to play on senior day. All of this glosses over the fact that the Gophers are now bowl-eligible in just Jerry Kill's second season cleaning up the toxic waste dump that was the Tim Brewster regime. So kudos are in order for Coach Kill and his team. The Gophers will be looking forward to the Meineke Car Care Bowl or whatever the hell the TicketCity Bowl is called now while getting steamrolled by Taylor Martinez and company on Saturday.

OHIO STATE (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten)
at WISCONSIN (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
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3:30 p.m., Saturday

Camp Randall Stadium,
Madison, Wis.


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LINE: UW by 2.5. Yes, the undefeated Buckeyes are actually underdogs, speaking to the power of the crowd at Camp Randall. Of course, the Badgers lost their last home game -- something that has happened just four other times since Bret Bielema took over in 2006 -- when Michigan State knocked them off in overtime. A lot has happened since then, namely an injury to starting QB Joel Stave. But the Badgers didn't go back to Maryland transfer and former Penn State target Danny O'Brien, instead choosing the oft-injured Curt Phillips to take over. Phillips barely broke a sweat last week as the Badgers spent all of the Indiana game handing off to various running backs for points and general carnage. It's a formula that won't work half as well against the Bucks' intimidating defensive line. Still, there's an acknowledgement out there that this Ohio State team is good but not great. In the one poll the Buckeyes are allowed to appear in -- the AP top 25 -- they have hit a ceiling of No. 6 in the country, still trapped behind three superior unbeateds and two one-loss SEC squads. So it goes. It would nonetheless be an excellent accomplishment for Urban Meyer to pull off the 12-0 season, an improvement of six wins from last year's lame duck squad under Luke Fickell. But I think the Bucks will lose just one, and this seems more likely than dropping to Michigan.

PURDUE (4-6, 1-5 Big Ten)
at ILLINOIS (2-8, 0-6 Big Ten)

AWAY DETAILS HOME
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3:30 p.m., Saturday

Memorial Stadium,
Champaign, Ill.


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LINE: PU by 6.5. Mother of God. Well, I knew this day was coming in the back of my mind, but that doesn't make it any easier to prepare for. What is there to say in the face of such mediocrity? Actually Purdue managed to take some of the utter despair out of this matchup be snapping that five-game losing streak with a win at Iowa last week. Yes, the Boilers not only won a league game, but they did it on the road. But there are many Purdue fans who view that win as a bad thing. With speculation already swirling that athletic director Morgan Burke is sizing up replacements for Danny Hope, the Boilers suddenly have a better-than-even shot at rallying for a bowl bid, facing Illinois and here and then an Indiana squad next week that could already have seven losses and no postseason to play for. Even a three-game win streak and a backdoor bowl invite (I stopped being lazy and looked it up -- the TicketCity Bowl is now the Heart of Dallas Bowl) probably shouldn't be enough to save Hope's job. But ADs will certainly look for excuses to save a buck, and rationalizing another season for Hope by not shelling out that buyout cash isn't too farfetched. If there's one thing ADs hate more than spending extra money, it's admitting that they've screwed up. Which is why Tim Beckman will probably still have his job next season despite the very real possibility of a season-ending nine-game losing streak coupled with a 1-10 record against FBS teams. The Illini managed just a measly field goal last week at home against Minnesota. Attendance was somehow listed above 45,000. The numbers don't particularly matter. This Illinois season just needs to end. Here's another loss.



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