Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Hits Keep Coming for Penn State, This Is What Sanctioned Football Looks Like

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Hits Keep Coming for Penn State, This Is What Sanctioned Football Looks Like

Article excerpt

Penn State receivers Eugene Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton combined for 19 catches in the season-opener against Central Florida. The last three games, they've had 14, including one each in Saturday's loss to Illinois.

After the game, quarterback Christian Hackenberg (a team captain who takes this postgame punishment after his on-field punishment every week) was asked about the struggle to get his top two receivers involved.

"I don't really know," the quarterback said quietly.

Inside, Hackenberg likely was seething over the answer ("Look, I can't rightly find receivers who aren't open in less time than it takes to tie a shoe, and I got torched this year for trying to thread needles so I'm trying to avoid that now") but settled on deflection.

And that's OK. Because what Hackenberg was trying to say - what most everyone at Penn State has been trying to say - is that this is what sanctioned football looks like. Games like Saturday's 16-14 loss at Illinois, which celebrated a senior-day win over a weary and depleted Penn State team.

It sounds like an excuse, and maybe it is against a team whose recent Big Ten record under coach Tim Beckman was 2-20. But it's also reality that a team with fewer scholarship players - many of whom are playing with unannounced injuries during six consecutive games late in a season that included a trip to Ireland - has built- in disadvantages other teams don't.

So as a result, for example, you see two receivers who combined for 338 yards receiving in the season's first game struggle against teams that watched that tape later in the year. You see sloppy tackling from a defense that held its seventh opponent to under 70 yards rushing. You see special-teams mistakes magnified situationally.

In sum, you see inconsistencies consume a team that better, deeper rosters can withstand.

"We prepared well," Hackenberg said. "I thought we had a pretty good game plan coming in. It goes back to execution. The common theme we've had is consistently being able to execute."

It's not common just to this season. Before ending his two-year term at Penn State with a win (as a 24-pount underdog) at Wisconsin, Bill O'Brien presided over a 20-point loss to Indiana and a 49-point loss to Ohio State. …

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