Monday, September 24, 2012

Rides, Rain, Rainbows, Ridiculousness and Andy Reid

This past weekend, I traveled some 500-plus miles from the moment I left my house Friday to the moment I returned to my Philadelphia residence, heading to my first Penn State game with Bill O'Brien as coach, enjoying a birthday celebration and doing a little dog-sitting for my parents in the process.

My venture began by heading back to my parents' house to spend the night as the Phillies were taking the series opener with the Atlanta Braves behind yet another sterling effort from Kyle Kendrick, who has somehow miraculously transformed into a really good pitcher.

My old Penn State season-ticket partner Arkansas Fred lives close to my parents, so I figured I'd head up north and rest my head in my old bedroom before meeting up with AF to head out to the game. When I got to his house at 8 a.m. sharp, I was greeted at the door by a new addition to the AF household: a tiny bulldog-puggle puppy. Naturally, I spent the next half hour playing with the dog, which is about a tenth of the size if it's lucky of my nearly 80-pound black lab, as AF got ready for the road trip.

It was going to be a quick turnaround, just a day trip out to our alma mater to take in the game with another one of our college roommates and his fiancé, but a trip I was looking forward to nonetheless. Being the nice guy that I (sometimes) am, I procured tickets to the game at the request of my buddy, whose future bride had never been to a Penn State game.

So at around 8:30, AF and I began our journey, and shortly after we hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we encountered this:

Just a wall of fog encompassing the landscape as far as the eye could see. I sure am glad AF was driving instead of me, because it certainly wasn't the best visibility out there. However, we made it to State College in relatively good time, thanks to the scheduled 3:30 p.m. kickoff helping spread the traffic out. And shortly after we reached I-80, the fog began to dissipate and the sun started to shine through. Perhaps it wouldn't be the dreary, rainy day projected by the weathermen.

When we arrived in the place we called home for four — well four and half for AF — glorious years, we did the usual taking in of the scenery, found a place to park and searched out The Charles and his wife-to-be. We then proceeded to walk through downtown and our old campus, hitting up Canyon Pizza for some slices, strolling through the Old Main walkway, past the library and back to the car for a little light tailgating.

As the clock struck 2:30, we made our way toward the stadium, stopping by my buddy's dad's tailgate and quickly saying hello before entering the stadium. Now, I have been going to Penn State for literally more than 20 years to watch games, more times than not securing tickets from my uncle. The past few seasons, he's had 10 tickets to every game, with six seats near the 10-yard line and four seats around the 40-, 45-yard line. Minus the four years I was a student and the two years I had season tickets with AF, I've pretty much always sat in one of those two locations. But my uncle recently upgraded his pair of six, to right on the 50-yard line. Thus, we had basically perfect seats at midfield … seats that just so happen to be right next to my friend's dad's section — the same guy who we stopped to say hello to at his tailgate.

It was quite the pleasant surprise, both because of the view and because I got to see my buddy's father in action. Let's just say he gets incredibly into the game.

I can't say the same for the rest of the crowd Saturday afternoon. I don't know if it was the dreary weather — it rained lightly on and off all game — the opponent or the slow start and difficult circumstances surrounding the season, but there were a whole hell of a lot of empty seats at this Temple game. It was certainly the most lightly attended game I've been at in Beaver Stadium in a long while.

As for the game itself, it was frustrating for a while until Penn State finally came through with a touchdown late in the first quarter. All quarter long, we watched as Temple played Allen Robinson, the third leading receiver in the nation coming in, in one-on-one man coverage. Naturally, you would think Matt McGloin would be tossing him the ball every chance he could against man coverage, yet that wasn't the case the first few drives. Robinson was targeted so little that AF began to get incredibly irritated, asking why they weren't throwing Robinson the ball and demanding they do so.

Finally, on a  4th and 5 from the Temple 41-yard line in a scoreless game, Bill O'Brien decided to go for it and called Robinson's number. I didn't think the Nittany Lions should have gone for it, and if I was the coach I certainly would have punted given the way the defense was playing, but O'Brien's gamble paid off. McGloin hit Robinson on a quick slant, and the breakout wide receiver took it to the house for the opening score.

The rest of the game was fairly uneventful. A slew of penalties slowed down the game. The rains made for a light nuisance, and the competition was not up for the challenge. Penn State controlled the lines on both sides of the ball, with the Penn State offensive line creating huge holes that allowed Michael Zordich and Zach Swinak to both average five yards a carry, and the defensive line led by Jordan Hill put constant pressure on Chris Coyer, even if they did give up a few big runs. It was just another example of Penn State simply being better across the board than the Owls.

Matt McGloin had another impressive day, throwing for a career-high 318 yards, tossing the aforementioned touchdown pass to Robinson and adding two rushing touchdowns of his own in the 24-13 victory. Despite not looking to Robinson enough, he was effective all game, really relying on his tight ends, particularly impressive freshman Kyle Carter. Even the interception was not McGloin's fault, as it went right off the hands of Brandon Moseby-Felder.

The redhead isn't going to win any awards or play football beyond this year, but he has been much more impressive through four games in 2012 than he was in 2011, and this is coming from someone who is not exactly a Matt McGloin fan.

However, while I had no problems with McGloin on Saturday, I had a big problem with whoever the hell is in charge of the music at Penn State. Truthfully, this has been an issue since forever, something that irritates me to no end. Many times on Saturday, Penn State went to the no huddle with Temple on its heels. That means McGloin was making the calls at the line and trying to communicate with his teammates. In your home stadium, that means you want the place to be quiet until the ball is snapped. Yet time and time again, as has been the case for years at Penn State, there is pumped in music and crowd noise between plays, even with the Nittany Lions on offense and even with the home team trying to run the no huddle. It's so god damn counterproductive and flat-out stupid that I can't even handle it. I want the person in charge of that fired. I know wishing someone to lose his or her job is not a nice thing, but this has been going on for years. Whoever is the person who makes that decision is an incompetent fool who knows nothing about football.

But hey, at least Penn State won and there was a cool rainbow that appeared.

Oh, and the 1982 national championship team was honored at halftime, which is always nice.

Once the game was over, we said our goodbyes and then decided to head back east, seeing as both AF and I are old and tire easily, and because he had to get back to the family and help take care of this brand-new puppy.

The ride back was fairly torturous, as we both struggled to keep our eyes open. If it wasn't for a desperately needed McDonald's stop to nab a few double cheeseburgers — a tradition we started while college students — we may not have made it at all. The weariness was taking over, and as you know, the drive back is always worse than the drive there. All the anticipation and excitement are gone, and all you want to do is be out of the car and in your bed.

However, bed was not my next destination. On our way home, two of my friends said I should come out to a bar that was more than a half hour away from AF's house. For some reason, I decided, what the hell, and took them up on the offer.

Despite being ridiculously tired, it turned out to be one of the better recent decisions in my life. Not only did I meet up with my friends to celebrate the birthday of my one friend's girlfriend, but I wound up getting plenty drunk, meeting a very nice, interesting young woman, finding a nice place to rest my head and getting a ride back to my car the next morning. That's what you call a pretty full Saturday.

So full, in fact, that I barely had anything left in the tank for Sunday. When I reached my parents' house, I collapsed, slept until just before the 1 o'clock kickoffs and spent most of the day taking care of the dog and going in and out of consciousness until it was time for the Eagles-Cardinals game.

It would have been just as prudent to stay in my slumber, it turns out, given how awful the Eagles looked yesterday.

There's not much I can add to the game beyond everything I've been reading. It was a brutal game, with the Eagles simply getting beat by a very good Arizona Cardinals team that has an absolutely dominant defense through three weeks.

I will say that it makes absolutely no sense for Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg to come out and throw the ball 25 times and run it just 5 times to open the game despite: 1. having two ineffective backups starting for an injured offensive line; 2. playing against a ferocious defense with a dominant line; 3. having one of the best running backs in the NFL; and 4. having a quarterback who has struggled against pressure and cannot stop turning the ball over. It was a flawed game plan from the start, and shockingly, it exposed the team's flaws.

Daryl Washington and Kerry Rhodes were absolute beasts for Arizona defensively, with Washington flying all over the field and Rhodes destroying people and coming up with arguably the biggest play of the game. No, not the sack, fumble returned for a touchdown to close out the half, which obviously was huge, but the play before that sequence of plays at the 1 — the tackle by Rhodes to stop DeSean Jackson at the 1 and prevent a touchdown. It was huge, and wound up setting up that fumble return that sealed the game.

On the other side of the ball, Larry Fitzgerald did what Larry Fitzgerald does, giving the Eagles fits. That guy is good.

Of course, the game was defined by terrible clock management, wasted timeouts and turnovers … par of the course with the Eagles. It's maddening and inexplicable, yet it continues year after year after year. Reid and Marty are infuriating to watch call a game, and MIchael Vick is infuriating to watch play quarterback. Yes, Vick was poorly protected and running his for life per usual and got no help from his coaches, but he was also staring down receivers, holding on to the ball too long and taking unnecessary hits due his lack of awareness for the position. The man is an electrifying talent and still better than a large portion of quarterbacks in the NFL, but he just is not a very smart signal caller. When you compound that with poor play-calling, poor protection, neglecting the running the game and turnovers galore, you have a debacle like yesterday.

The Eagles are 2-1, which is a good thing, and the Cardinals are a lot better than anyone anticipated heading into the season. But the Eagles also have an offensive line relying on unreliable players and are averaging four turnovers a game through three games, with teams like the Giants, Steelers, Lions and Falcons on the way.

Yesterday's loss provided reason to worry, particularly if the line cannot improve against the pass rush of those teams coming up.

It was not a good Sunday for the Eagles … and the Phillies lost their second in row to the Braves, all but wiping away their postseason hopes, now a full five games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for that second wild card spot.

But hey, at least Penn State won, the scenery was great and I had fun while I could. Because god knows watching that game yesterday was anything was but.

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