Monday, January 5, 2009

My Rose Bowl commentary

Another year, another USC Rose Bowl win. It hurt more this year for me since it happened at the expense of my beloved Nittany Lions. USC didn't just beat Penn State, they pounded them during the entire first half, then put it on cruise control midway into the 3rd quarter. I'm hearing it already. Penn State's offense was overrated; Big Ten doesn't deserve to be a BCS conference; USC should be in the national championship game; etc., etc.

Let me first critique how Penn State played in the game. It can be summed up in one word: atrocious. I haven't seen Penn State play as bad as they did on New Year's Day in a long time. And here's why: defensive coordinator Tom Bradley should be ashamed of himself with his stupid playcalling on defense. In the first quarter, Penn State had USC right where they wanted them. They were shutting down QB Mark Sanchez, and while the USC run game had some nice gains, they were forcing them to punt. For some reason, that changed from the second quarter on. For the rest of the game, the Penn State secondary sat back in a soft Cover 3 zone and let USC's talented bunch of wide receivers have their way with them. We aren't talking Big Ten receivers here. We are talking 6'5" 230-pound, 4.4-40 receivers. The corners were giving the receivers at least a 5-yard cushion on every play. I probably could have thrown for 300 yards against them. Lydell Sargeant and A.J. Wallace, along with most of the rest of the secondary, with the exception of Drew Astorino, looked useless out there. But I can't heap too much blame on them because of the horrid playcalling by Bradley. If he's next in line for the head coaching job, I don't want to see how the program turns out after JoePa.

On to the offense. The offense played... well... ok, really. They moved the ball early and really only started to struggle once USC started getting their offense moving and thus gained the momentum in the game (keep in mind, it's basically a home game for USC). Still, Daryll Clark looked ok, and the offense still moved the ball some without starting running back Evan Royster, who went out early with a knee injury. Two plays that really sent the momentum in USC's favor: 1) Aaron Maybin jumping offsides on a 3rd and short in which Penn State stopped the USC offense. The penalty resulted in a first down and USC scored on the drive; 2) on Penn State's final possession of the first half, Stephfon Green fumbled the ball after a great catch and run on a screen pass. Penn State would have had the ball in USC territory with the clock ticking down in the first half. The ensuing USC possession led to a touchdown and put them up 31-7 going into the half. Take away those two mistakes and the game could have been 17-14 or even 21-17 Penn State going into the half.

Instead, the sloppy play left the commentators calling the game at the half, announcing USC had already won the game. Which is something else I want to talk about. Aren't commentators supposed to be non-biased? Now, I usually have nothing against Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit, but they were all over Penn State before the first half clock even ran out. Musberger, with 2:23 left in the 2nd quarter, said "we are about to see the Pac-10 win the bowl season among conference." Sure, Penn State was down by a few scores, but Brent: stranger things have happened. Kirk was saying, with under 2 minutes to go in the half, that Penn State just needed to play for pride in the 2nd half, dismissing any chance of them coming back. Then Musberger went on to call USC, under coach Pete Carroll, a "dynasty." I thought I dynasty was about winning championships. Since Pete Carroll took the head coach job at USC nine years ago, he has won two national championships. Not to take anything away from Carroll because I think he's a great coach, but I would think that 2/9 (22%) wouldn't be defined as a dynasty by most people. Now, if you define a dynasty by most Rose Bowl wins, then USC has and always will be a dynasty. They have the most Rose Bowl wins in their history than any school in college football, but really, how impressive is that anyway? They play in the Pac-10, which is usually a pretty weak conference. And don't argue with me; the Pac-10 features powerhouses such as: Washington (0-12 in 2008), Washington State (2-11, one win came against Washington), UCLA (4-8), Stanford (5-7), and Arizona State (5-7). The winner of the Pac-10 conference always goes to the Rose Bowl, so their chances of at least getting there are pretty high. The fact that they only have to travel 11 miles to play in the game makes it, pretty much, a home game for them. Their record is 24-9 all-time in the Rose Bowl, which seems pretty good to the outside observer, but I'm not impressed. They have lost 9 times in the Rose Bowl (27%) and they only have to travel 11 miles to play in the game. Every Big Ten team has a 1000+ mile trip and yet they still have beaten them. It's almost embarassing for USC to ever lose this game. What I would love to see the most is for the Rose Bowl to switch off between a Southern Cal location and the competing Big Ten school's home field. Then we would see who really was better. Imagine making USC play in 19-degree weather in Happy Valley. I think the tables would be slightly turned in that situation.

Unfortunately, that won't ever happen, not with the tradition of the Rose Bowl parade and playing bowl games in warm locales. Hey, if teams like Penn State have to suffer through sub-freezing temperatures and nasty weather conditions through over half of their season, why shouldn't their bowl opponent? It would just be an interesting twist, is all.

The last thing I want to talk about is the embarassment USC made out of this game. Their actions on the field are inexcusable, in my opinion. I don't know how other people feel about this, but everyone that was at my house watching the game was disgusted with their behavior. After every touchdown, they not only performed multiple-player celebrations in the end zone, but then proceeded to huddle around near their sideline (but still on the field of play) and do a little dance. Now, I'm not a professional on the rules here, but I'm pretty certain that it's not legal, in college football or even the pros, to perform a team celebration on the field, which is exactly what they were doing. I heard from a friend who went to the game that the USC players on the sidelines were actually imitating the onsides kick performed by Joe Paterno in a practice a while back that injured his hip and required him to have hip surgery. I wonder if they realize they are mocking the best coach in Division 1 college football history. I would love to see Pete Carroll try to coach until he's 82 years old. (Actually, I don't; there's no way I could stand to watch him in the Rose Bowl every year for that long).

Another thing that pissed me off was Carroll's attitude on the sidelines. Not only would he run onto the field to argue almost every call that was made, but after Green's fumble late in the first half, he actualy ran onto the field and grabbed the game ball and took it back to the sidelines with him. Again, I'm not pro, but I think that would warrant a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. USC wasn't flagged in any of these situations. To compound the matter, for every Penn State penalty that was called, the referee threw the flag well after the penalty occurred, almost as if they were waiting to see the outcome of the play. Twice, on the Maybin offsides and on a 45-yard reception, the flag came out well after the play. And while I'm at it, how about calling a goddamn roughing the passer penalty on USC? A big part of the referee's job is to protect the quarterback and Clark was getting hit late on almost every play, but no flag was ever thrown.

The referees' actions came to a head in the second half after a scary play involving USC safety Taylor Mays and Penn State WR Jordan Norwood. Norwood was going over the middle to catch a pass when Mays launched himself headfirst into Norwood, creating a helmet-to-helmet hit that looked scarier than it turned out. A hit like that in the pros would have drawn a 15-yard penalty, a $10,000 fine from the league, and a possible ejection from the game. The hit was made without Mays looking for the ball and with intent to injure. The fact that he only drew the 15-yard roughing penalty amazes me. This guy is projected to go top-10 on most draft boards and he goes and makes a play like that. NFL scouts, take note. This guy is a headhunter and will draw fines every week.

In summary, yes I am a bitter Penn State fan that watched the game with disappointment and hatred for USC. However, the actions of the USC players and coaches, and the referees were inexcusable. I thought Notre Dame was at the top of the list when it came to classless programs, but I think we may have a new #1. I can tell you one thing: if Penn State was up 31-7 at halftime, they wouldn't have been dancing on the field and mocking the other team. Penn State is a program that wins, and loses, with class.

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