That didn’t go as planned.
In this same spot last week, I predicted a Penn State victory over USC in the Rose Bowl. Well, I always admit when I’m wrong.
Boy, was I wrong.
The Trojans manhandled the Nittany Lions, 38-24, in a game that wasn’t even that close. If you didn’t see the game, you didn’t miss much. It was truly men versus boys.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll review the Rose Bowl, take an in-depth look at coach Joe Paterno’s “day after” news conference and look ahead to next season.
Let’s start with the debacle in Pasadena.
Needless to say, USC’s 24-point second quarter doomed the Nittany Lions (11-2), who simply looked lost as the Trojans piled up the points and put the game out of reach.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of interesting tidbits to come out of Pasadena. Here are some random thoughts:
1. Penn State’s secondary was exposed.
During that now-infamous second quarter, it became clear that the Nittany Lion secondary didn’t get a real test all season long. A.J.
Wallace played worse than Justin King, and safety Anthony Scirrotto was a step slow on every play. Secondary play must improve if the Lions are going to better this season’s 11-2 record.
2. Rose Bowl rocks.
I have to admit, I loved everything about the historic venue. Just walking on the same field where Terry Bradshaw hooked up with John Stallworth in Super Bowl XIV gave me chills.
It’s a very picturesque stadium, lined with trees and grassy fields, which were filled with tailgaters. Definitely worth the trip, despite the ugly loss.
3. Unsportsmanlike conduct.
I am all for having fun, but USC went above and beyond with its sideline behavior. Following a couple of scores, the Trojans celebrated by dancing on the sidelines, sometimes spilling onto the field. How were they not flagged for this behavior? Who knows? It was certainly worthy of a 15-yard penalty, but that never happened.
The Trojans also planted a USC flag in the Penn State end zone at the start of the game and before the start of the second half. It was completely unnecessary. I think Pete Carroll is a great coach, but the way his team behaved was an insult to the game.
4. Mark Sanchez is the real deal.
I was extremely impressed with the USC signal caller, who single-handedly picked apart Penn State’s defense. With the Trojan ground game stuck in neutral, Sanchez went to work through the air and tore the Lions apart.
He has the potential to be a better pro than Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
5. D-Wheels gets a D.
Once again, Derrick Williams failed to step up in a big game. The former No. 1 recruit in the nation failed to make plays with the spotlight on him. He finished the game with four catches and a touchdown. He’s highly overrated, and he proved it again on Jan. 1.
Derrick Williams failed to step up with the spotlight shining brightly.
(Photo courtesy of Blue White Illustrated).
Joe Meets the Press
Penn State coach Joe Paterno met with the media on Jan. 2 for his annual “day after” news conference at the team hotel in Century City, Calif. During the 40-minute session, Paterno touched on a myriad of topics.
Here are some of the highlights:
Coaching Legends Stop By
Just a few minutes into the session, coaching legends Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson came into the conference room to glad-hand with the coaching icon.
Paterno immediately got out of his seat, walked over to the pair and exchanged pleasantries. Switzer told Paterno: “To hell with those bastards (members of the press). You keep doing what you’re doing.”
Somewhat ironic, considering that Switzer was one of the outspoken critics of Penn State on FOX Sports’ weekly BCS rankings show. Both Switzer and Johnson were in the area because FOX studios are located nearby.
Addressing the Loss
Paterno was able to reflect on the 38-24 loss.
“We let it get out of hand,” Paterno said, “and then we had to fight like dogs just to make it respectable. We didn’t play well. It’s as simple as that.”
The Nittany Lions were 10-point underdogs entering the contest.
“In a game like that, you gotta play well,” Paterno said.
Paterno said that he was disappointed in the logistics of travel from the team hotel to the practice facility.
“I was disturbed with the logistics of coming out here. We were 45-50 minutes in a bus, maybe more coming home from practice. We had to curtail some things that we might have done,” Paterno said.
The Lions had been in southern California since Dec. 20.
But Paterno refused to use the travel issues as an excuse.
“I don’t think it had any effect,” he said.
Paterno said that he wasn’t aware that he could be fined for failing to give ABC a pre-game interview. He also didn’t open the Penn State locker room for the media following the game.
Instead, Penn State Sports Information treated it as a regular season road game and brought select players out to reporters waiting for interviews.
If Paterno was worried about being fined, he certainly didn’t show it.
“Who’s gonna fine me? ABC? I don’t have the slightest idea and I don’t care,” he said matter-of-factly.
Paterno said that Evan Royster (knee), Dennis Landolt (knee) and Stephfon Green (ankle) would be evaluated when they arrive back in State College.
“Royster’s banged up, Landolt played hurt. Green’s hurt. We won’t know until we get back. … We’ll see them back (in State College) next week,” Paterno said.
Paterno fielded several questions about whether or not defensive end Aaron Maybin will forego his final two seasons of eligibility to turn pro.
“I don’t care. Maybin’s gotta do what Maybin’s gotta do,” Paterno said.
There are also rumors that Maurice Evans may turn pro.
“I knew about Maybin. I know a couple of other kids have tried to get some information (about going pro),” Paterno said.
In the past, Paterno has counseled players about whether or not they should turn pro. But he only does that, he said, when a player comes to him and asks for advice.
“If one or two of them come to me and say ‘what do you think?’ I’ll try to give them as honest of an answer as I can,” Paterno said.
Paterno was asked about who might step up since the Nittany Lions lose so many seniors to graduation.
“You’re asking me questions I really haven’t thought about. We tried to concentrate on getting this game won. I haven’t had a lot of sleep,” Paterno said.
The lone captain returning is linebacker Sean Lee.
Joe in the Box
Paterno coached the Rose Bowl from the press box and was unable to address the team at halftime. However, he’s hopeful that he can return to the field next season.
“I don’t know if it’s important for the team, but it’s important to me,” Paterno said.
Penn State opens the 2009 season on Sept. 5 against Akron at Beaver Stadium.
Daryll Clark appears to be a candidate for captain next season.
(Photo courtesy of Blue White Illustrated).
There are many question marks facing the Nittany Lions, who are eight months away from their season opener. First and foremost, they will have to find three wideouts to replace Williams, Jordan Norwood and Deon Butler. Graham Zug, Brett Brackett and Chaz Powell appear to be the likely candidates.
Since Pat Devlin transferred, they will have to find a backup for QB Daryll Clark. Kevin Newsome is qualified, but Paterno will have to give the true freshman some work.
Finally, this team will need new leaders, new captains. Sean Lee will be back for his senior season. Clark is also a sure bet. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
Chris Morelli is the award-winning editor of Blue White Illustrated, a weekly publication devoted to Penn State athletics. He is also a regular on “Front and Center,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at email@example.com.