Monday, October 14, 2013

A Fabulous Football Weekend

There was plenty to look forward to this past weekend for football fans in Philadelphia/Pennsylvania. Saturday evening Penn State hosted undefeated, 18th-ranked Michigan, looking to rebound from an ugly 44-24 defeat at Indiana, the first time the Hoosiers have ever beaten the Nittany Lions. Then on Sunday, the Eagles traveled to Tampa Bay looking to build off of their win over the Giants the previous week and knowing that a W would leave them no worse than in a first-place tie with the hated Cowboys.

Now I was hoping to write a bit more of an in-depth piece, perhaps even dedicating a piece to each game, but work sucked today and the man is holding me down and I really just want to get into relaxation mode, so instead I'm just going to touch on a few things from each game. As we all know, Penn State used an improbable comeback and four overtimes to upset the visiting Wolverines. And Nick Foles played a stellar game in leading the Eagles to a second straight win on Sunday.

I'll start with Penn State. What an amazing game. As a fan, just the excitement level and the roller coaster ride of a game that it was was just fantastic. Penn State builds early momentum and a lead at the half, only to see all of that completely reverse on the opening drive of the second half with a Zach Zwinak fumble that got returned for a touchdown.

And that brings me to my first point. I am tired of Zach Zwinak running the football. He is big and slow and in my opinion should be a fullback, only touching the ball a few times a game. Instead, he leads the team in carries. He is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, but it really seems like the majority of his runs are for 2 or 3 yards, especially in recent weeks. Bill Belton is far more explosive and has more characteristics of a prototypical halfback, and I would like to see him start to get the majority of the carries. I would also like to see promising sophomore Akeel Lynch get some more action. He showed some good things when he got some time early in the year, but has all but disappeared as of late.

Anyway I had to listen to the third quarter and a bit of the fourth on the radio because I was heading to the Rev's house, and the reception was shoddy at best. I managed to hear Michigan take a 10-point lead. I got to Rev's in time to see Sam Ficken hit a field goal to cut the lead to 7. And then Penn State has the ball, still down 7, with only 50 seconds remaining and no timeouts, and a true freshman quarterback playing in his first home Big Ten game. Rev and I were prepared to move on with our nights activities, figuring there was no way they would be able to mount a touchdown drive in that situation. But then they did. If I remember correctly, it took four plays, two incredible catches by Allen Robinson and a QB sneak by Christian Hackenberg.

The second thing that stood out to me was the play of Hackenberg. He is playing in his first Big Ten home game, in front of 108,000 people, on national television, against an undefeated rival. After navigating a successful first half, how would he respond to a miserable third quarter that saw Penn State get outscored 17-3 and saw the halftime lead turn into a deficit? He kept making throws, kept his team in the game, got enough to get Ficken into field-goal range to cut the lead to 7, then lead one of the most incredible and exciting drives I've  ever seen. Sure, he's made some mistakes, some misreads, some poor throws, some poor decisions. But overall he has been very good, showing a good arm and, most impressively, incredible poise. As he continues to mature, he gives Penn State fans a lot to be excited about.

And finally, the play of Allen Robinson. I can't say enough about this guy or what he means to this team. He has consistently been one of the best players on the field this season, and continues to work his way into the conversation about the best receivers in the entire nation. Not only does he consistently put up big numbers, but his two catches on the Nittany Lions' game-tying drive were epic. First, an incredible, somehow-keep-a-foot-in-bounds-as-the-rest-of-your-body-dangles-over-the-sideline beauty that was initially ruled incomplete. Then another beauty jumping over a defender and falling in bounds at the one-yard line to set up the game-tying sneak by Hackenberg. Just incredible plays in their own right, not to mention the circumstances under which they took place. Kid is a stud, and it's a pleasure watching him week in and week out.

After the Nittany Lions' instant classic, it was on to Eagles-Bucs on Sunday. Like I said, the Eagles looked to build off their win in the Meadowlands against a struggling Bucs team. Other than trying to get a second win in a row, evening their record a 3-3 and try to remain atop the NFC East with the Cowboys, the story line was Nick Foles making his first start of the season.

Foles did not disappoint. All he did was go 22-31 for 296 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions, while adding another touchdown on the ground. He was decisive with the ball and spread the ball around, hitting eight different receivers. He managed to help Riley Cooper actually be a factor in the game, and DeSean Jackson continued his stellar season. Shady did what we have come to expect Shady to do, and the offense was in rhythm pretty much all afternoon. It was a very impressive performance from the second-year QB.

The defense stepped up as well. Sure, the Bucs started Mike Glennon at quarterback and were missing Mike Williams due to injury. But the Bucs still boast playmaking type players in Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson. The defense allowed only 3 points in the second half, and one player really stood out to me. People expected players like Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks to have good seasons, and they both played good games on Sunday. So to did DeMeco Ryans, who was all over the field while rounding up 12 tackles. But the player whom I was most impressed with was one who no one really talked about during the offseason and one who plays for the Birds' most beleaguered unit, the secondary. That player was Bradley Fletcher. Fletcher had several nice pass deflections and added an interception as well. It was really nice to see someone step up on what has been an absolutely atrocious secondary for two years now.

All in all it was a great football weekend for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania — hell the Steelers even won. While expectations will remain tempered at Penn State as the program navigates the NCAA sanctions, the team provided its fans with a all-time great win and a reason to hope as things go forward.

For the Eagles, they moved their record to 3-3, and have set up a huge match-up with the hated Cowboys that will end with one team gaining a leg up in the standings and taking sole possession of first place as we approach the midpoint of the season. Nothing is better than an Eagles-Cowboys game that has meaning, and it should be a fun week leading up to it. Dallas Sucks.

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