Friday, October 1, 2010

The Chance at Payback

There are two pretty big games going on for the two football teams I root for above all others, and both come with a storyline of potential payback.

The first chance at revenge comes Saturday night, when Penn State travels to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes.

Ever since Kirk Ferentz took over the reigns at Iowa, the Hawkeyes have been the biggest thorn in Penn State's side. Under Ferentz, Iowa has beaten Penn State in seven of nine match-ups. There was the worst football game ever played in the history of the universe, when Iowa came to Beaver Stadium and defeated the Nittany Lions 6-4 my junior year. Penn State was so bad that Iowa took a safety on purpose to make it two-point game, knowing full well Penn State couldn't even get in field goal range.

Then, there was the four-loss Iowa team that completely ruined then-undefeated Penn State's chances at getting to the National Championship two years ago, winning on a last-second field goal thanks in large part to a horrendous performance by Darryl Clark. And of course there was last season, when Iowa again gave Penn State its first loss on the season, again with Darryl Clark sucking it up.

In those games the past two seasons, Penn State was the favorite, yet Iowa pulled off the upset. This year, it's Iowa that is the favorite, playing the game in prime time at home. Now it's Penn State's chance to turn the tides. While Iowa does already have a loss (at Arizona), it would be great to see Penn State ruin Iowa's chances at a Big Ten title.

Sadly, I don't expect that to happen. These games are almost always close, so I do expect a close game and do think Penn State has an ever-so-slight chance at pulling this off. But Iowa simply is the better team. They have more experience, and the best player on the field, Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn, more than anything else, is the biggest reason I think Iowa will win. Penn State's offensive line has done a pretty good job at pass-blocking for freshman quarterback Robert Bolden, but they've been atrocious at run-blocking. It would be shocking if Clayborn didn't overpower Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli pretty much all game long, putting even more pressure on the running game and the most pressure Bolden has seen. As great as Alabama's defense is, no player on Bama's d-line is as good as Clayborn right now.

Then you look at the quarterback position, and you have to give the edge to Iowa as much as I hate to do it. Ricky Stanzi isn't the prettiest quarterback you've ever seen, but the man is a senior that has found a way to win a lot of games, including two against Penn State. He won't be overwhelmed by the atmosphere, and he already knows he can beat Penn State. Bolden, on the other hand, will be starting his very first Big Ten game of his life. On the road. At night. Surely his experience at Alabama will help him, so he won't have the nerves you might expect, but it's still a tough task.

One thing I do know: If Penn State wants to win this game, they're going to have to open up the play-calling even more and let Bolden loose. He has a stable of talented receivers. Time to take off the training wheels and let him get the ball to Derek Moye, Justin Brown and company.

I hate Iowa so very much. It would be all sorts of sweet to win this one.

That's probably what Donovan McNabb is thinking as well, that it would be so incredibly sweet to get this win on Sunday perhaps more than any other.

For 11 seasons, McNabb was the face of the Philadelphia Eagles. He broke every passing record in franchise history. Won a ton of games. Went to five NFC Championship games, one Super Bowl and numerous Pro Bowls. But he never could quite get this team over the hump, and after back-to-back horrendous losses to the Cowboys to wrap up last year, McNabb — who has always stated his desire to play his entire career in Philadelphia and retire as an Eagle — was unceremoniously traded to the division rival Washington Redskins.

No matter what McNabb says publicly, you have to think he felt slighted by this. After all he's done and accomplished for the Eagles, they weren't just trading him, but trading him within in the division? Talk about a shocking development.

Now it's No. 5's chance to prove he still has something left in the tank, that he's still the player who won all those games in midnight green. He has a chance at paying back the Eagles for choosing to go with Kevin Kolb over him. You have to think he'll be amped up more than ever, coming back to the Linc as a visitor for the first time, and facing a familiar foe in Michael Vick, the man he helped bring to Philadelphia in the first place.

I'm upset that I won't be at this game. The atmosphere should be electric. The Eagles and the Redskins plain don't like each other, and adding the McNabb drama into the fold only heightens the intensity. There will no doubt be some boos — he is wearing a Skins jersey after all — but there will also be plenty of cheers for No. 5 before the game starts. Don't let the media and the reputation fool you, Donovan McNabb received more than his fair share of support in Philadelphia. Yes, there was a loud contingent of haters, but on any given Sunday over the past 11 seasons, there were more McNabb (and Dawkins) jerseys than any others, and when the offense was introduced at first the Vet and then the Linc, McNabb always received the biggest cheers. I expect the same on Sunday, albeit to a lesser degree. He will be cheered and booed simultaneously in the intros. Then once the ball is kicked off, all bets are off. He is the enemy now, after all.

I can't wait to see what McNabb has in store for the Eagles, and what the Eagles have in store for McNabb.

And seriously, I hate Iowa so much.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Why aren't you going to the game, brother? You would be the only person to cheer him. Too many of those idiot fans that will be in attendance are ungrateful.

  2. I have some family obligations I have to attend to. But rest assured, I'll be watching the entire thing.