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Huskers vs. Nittany Lions: The Goal Line Fumble Dissected, Frame by Frame. Almost There…

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While it occurred with more than seven minutes to go, Matt Lehman’s goal line fumble was critical to the outcome. The immediate outcry was obvious: many Nebraska fans brought up Penn State’s McCloskey reception in 1982 that appear to be out of bounds and were complaining that ABC kept showing the play. (That controversy generates big advertising dollars, Husker fans.) Then this morning, the Penn State sites were full of articles claiming conspiracy and saying that the Big 10 doesn’t want Penn State to be successful because of the Sandusky scandal. Given that many Penn Staters read the Sandusky report and said we needed to “wait for the facts”, it is hardly a surprise that even Penn State journalists rushed to play the conspiracy card.

When I watched the play live, I couldn’t see what happened, although I thought that it was more likely than not that Lehman had scored judging by where the ball came loose. When I watched the replay the first time, I wasn’t as quick to think it was a touchdown, which admittedly was what I wanted to hear. After watching the replay a few times, I judged a couple of things. Lehman moved the ball within his hands from where he caught as he extended toward the goal line. If you watch his hands from where he caught it to the goal line, he carries it loosely. While his hands and the ball seemed to be moving forward, the ball seemed to jiggle and rotate in a way that was not consistent with the way his hands were moving, as if he was fumbling the ball forward. It seemed that Lehman’s grip on the ball was on the back third of it, and you could see a lot of the rotating ball outside of his grasp. The image of the ball was before his hands, not in his hands. I wouldn’t have argued had the call been overturned, but as I sat there and watched the play, I feared the overturn, but I feared that the evidence to overturn the call was not complete.

To me, this is an instance where 98% of the evidence to overturn a call was there, but it just wasn’t enough to change the call because of the slight bobble. The right call was made, if a fumble begins at the first bobble of a football and if the bobble continues through to the ball’s dislodging via contact with another player. I will concede something else: if the play had been called a touchdown on the field, it likely would have stayed a TD as well. Let’s not forget something else: when a fumble occurs, officials more often than not will swallow the whistle, because it’s harder to make a non-fumble a fumble than it is to make a fumble a non-fumble. Nebraska got a huge break, as the official were erring on the side they were trained to air on.

The Big 10 is not out to get Penn State. The NCAA leveled severe penalties against PSU, not the Big 10. Given the conference’s lack of quality (and depth of quality teams behind Ohio State), they need Penn State to be viable so that all the TV screens in Pitt and Philly keep watching Penn State and the Big 10 and not ACC or Big East football, aside from the fact sports conspiracies just don’t exist (NBA included).

To Penn State fans who are arguing, I’d point out that you lost more on that play than Nebraska gained. If Penn State had scored, Nebraska fans don’t panic. There’s seven minutes to go, and the Huskers have the wind at their back, only needed a field goal to tie, and a team that’s built to come from behind. The game wouldn’t have been over for them. In addition, Penn State got two more possessions when they were behind by only a score. This wasn’t the final decision maker in a game you lost by 9. This was game between two teams that were pretty evenly matched and swung on many key moments. That play wasn’t even close to the only deciding factor, and it just happened late in the game.

Matt McGloin’s behavior in the post-game press conference was horrible, as well as his actions on the field. He should have been flagged for taking his helmet off on the field after he was called for the safety (he also took his helmet off after the Lehman fumble). Couple with his tweet of the play, I’m guessing there are a lot of NFL teams taking him off there draft boards.

Unfortunately, this may not be the final officiating controversy Nebraska finds itself in this season. While I don’t think the Big 10 will put in the fix for the Huskers in the Big 10 Title Game, consider the following: Wisconsin looses their last two games and is 7-5, a reasonable assumption, given that Brett Bielema may save Montee Ball’s carries for the Title Game. Everyone assumes the Big 10 wants Nebraska to win as the conference has had enough bad publicity and doesn’t want to see a 8-5 team in the Rose Bowl. Not saying it will happen, but fans will put the dots together.

Compared to what we’ve seen, this Nebraska comeback wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the ones on the road at Northwestern or Michigan State. When Nebraska’s offense took the field after Penn State turned the ball over in the end zone in the fourth quarter, I had to remind myself that this was the first time Nebraska had lead in regulation since the Michigan game two weeks ago, other than the six most important seconds against Michigan State. As the teams went in at halftime, there were some signs that hadn’t been there in the previous weeks. There was the argument on the sidelines between Pelini and Stafford; another exchange showed a despondent Will Compton talking to his head coach on the bench. It’s no wonder that Pelini said at halftime that he thought it might take until the fourth quarter for his team to make up the deficit.

This win wasn’t a comeback for Nebraska so much as it was a series of little moments between two pretty evenly matched teams. Nebraska won because, quite simply, Nebraska had more ways to win, was at home, and forced Penn State into poorly timed mistakes. In a way, this may have been the most important of Nebraska’s come from behind wins because you know that the crowing from Columbus will start the second Ohio State beats Michigan. At least Penn State can’t claim they beat Nebraska, in spite of the fumble that may not have been.

As we saw last year with Penn State, this series is bound to be a chippy affair year in and year out. After their comeback came up short in Happy Valley, Penn State has to be steaming about letting the Huskers off the hook. Three out of the next four years, Nebraska and Penn State will met in their penultimate games of their seasons, except in 2014 when Nebraska will open their home conference schedule against the Nittany Lions.

Nebraska burned through a lot to be 5-1 after a daunting stretch of conference games: Ameer Abdullah’s 35 touches today were a lot to ask, and Rex Burkhead may have to come back. But Pelini deserves a lot of credit for going to Imani Cross in short yardage situations, and bringing Braylon Heard off the bench. Burkhead was ridden into the ground last year, and let’s hope there’s still something left with both him and Burkhead. But Abdullah does do a better job of getting out of bounds; part of Burkhead’s physical breakdown now was that he sought out contact, a death knell to a running back’s career in the Big 10.

So Nebraska’s through with the toughest part of their schedule. All they have left are Minnesota, who already has their bowl eligibility in hand, and Iowa, still reeling. We’ve seen Pelini stub his toe against teams like this before, so yes, there’s some reason to be cautious, especially playing at Iowa on a short week in an early game (I do know it’s Iowa). This team has relied on magic for the past couple week, even when they’ve been good. Perhaps for the next couple of weeks, they can just be good.

Paterno Was Who He Appeared to Be

One of the things that didn’t bode well for Joe Paterno when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke last November was that Paterno’s management style was very hands-on, to point Penn State president Graham Spanier felt he had to run academic matters by him. While it wasn’t conclusive, Paterno claiming he just passed up Mike McQueary’s reports didn’t fit the profile the legendary coach created for himself. Reading Sally Jenkins interview of Paterno and Lavar Arrington’s response to it, I kept wondering for myself about the McQueary incident and the 1999 Sandusky-shower incident that was reported to university police which Paterno said he didn’t know about. Not knowing a coach had a run in with campus police? Paterno advising someone else to take early retirement and just passing an incident up the chain of command? This was the coach who, three years later, would kick Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley out of his house when they came to suggest to him that he should retire.

So when CNN reported that Curley consulted with Paterno about the 2001 incident, I wasn’t really all that surprised. Granted, I had theorized that Spanier and the other officials at Penn State may have worked to prevent Paterno from finding out every single detail about Sandusky, wanting to protect Paterno’s legacy by giving him “plausible deniability”. But what really looks bad is that Curley and Spanier first thought about going to the authorities and then changed their minds after Curley talked to Paterno.

My most significant conclusion from reading the Jenkins interview was that Paterno should have retired ten years before the 2001 incident even happened; now it seems that Paterno may have indeed been more active in keeping Sandusky at large. I wanted to believe what Paterno was saying at the time; he was, after all, a eighty-five year-old man with lung cancer. He had no reason not to tell the truth, but even then, I was skeptical that he hadn’t been more involved in 2001 or known about the 1999 incident (Paterno telling someone else to take early retirement?). Sadly, we may never know the full truth of how involved he was.

I don’t know that I would go as far as Gregg Doyle has suggested, writing that Paterno’s statue should absolutely be taken away, although I could understand if Penn State did so. Ultimately, they know what is best for their community.But Louis Freeh has not filed his full report, and until then, we don’t know exactly what Paterno’s role was in deciding how to deal with Sandusky. It is still possible some people in the Penn State community will feel compelled to protect Paterno’s legacy, even though there is a sense in the community that Sandusky’s shame has stained everyone and the truth needs to come out.

Did Curley take the fall for his former coach?

Thoughts as Paterno Has Passed from this Life, and a Few More on those Errenous Tweets

It used to be, before the Penn State scandal broke last falll, I would always get sick of those BTN tributes to Joe Paterno, but now that he has died, I really do feel like all those things have some extra meanings. Jonathan Franzen wrote that when his father died, his memories of him froze in his head. Now that Paterno is gone, I watched all those tributes on ESPN and heard everyone talking about what a positive influence Paterno had on them, I kept thinking to myself, wow, his life really meant something.

(This image comes via the twitter feed of Tim Gilbert [@TimGilb] and was taken Sunday night as fans gathered at the Paterno statue to pay their respects. Gilbert writes for The Daily Collegian, an Independent Student Newspaper at Penn State, and his feed provided some great moments from Paterno’s statue on Saturday night. Thanks, Tim.)
I’m a Lutheran Christian person, and I believe that God works in spite of our failures. As I’ve said yesterday, I have been critical of Paterno’s inaction in the Sandusky case, but that doesn’t have to blur out the positive contributions he made to the people around him, especially his own family. Jay Paterno said to Tom Rinaldi (in the ESPN inteview two posts down from this one), that in his final days as he suffered from cancer, Joe Paterno urged his children not to feel sorry for him and to care for their matters. It must not have been easy for him to give Sally Jenkins an interview, but he did that too, and those two things are the marks of a selfless person.
As a fan of college football, while I am sad today, I am grateful that today, we are remembering Joe Paterno’s best memories, and hearing from many coaches who he made better coaches. Yes, there will be days when we have to judge Paterno’s record, and I will undoubtedly be back here in this space to share my thoughts. But until then, I will be remembering the positives about Paterno.

It was very disappointing yesterday when errenorous reports of Paterno’s death leaked. After my post yesterday, I continued to monitor twitter. Up until 8:45 P.M. Eastern , there continued to be random tweets that referenced that Paterno had died, until finally at 8:45, many news outlets began to go with stories of Paterno’s death (and of course his Wikipedia page was update), until other tweets began coming out at 9 from official sources that Paterno was indeed still alive and fighting.

Here’s a good story that has a timeline of the most important tweets in the false reporting, to its correcting: Link

Ironically, this shows both the power of twitter to get things incredibly wrong and to correct them quickly. As I noted yesterday, there was some simmering on twitter that Paterno had died, which undoubtedly stepped up the pressure on the news organizations to find out if he had indeed passed or not. But twitter also allowed Paterno’s family to get out in front of the story easily, and stop it before it got too far, and saved the family and other news organizations from embarrassment. I’m guess Joe Schad and other ESPN reporters are very grateful now that they can’t break stories on twitter before they are broken on ESPN the network.

Either way, Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde tweeted it best when he said that Paterno’s death was just something any news organization could get wrong, at all.

Lavar Arrington and Penn State’s Moral Highground: Overlooking the Weak

After Joe Paterno’s interview in the Washington Post, noted Penn State alum LaVar Arrington offered his perspective in a separate Post column. He basically confirmed everything that was Paterno said, including about Sandusky’s early retirement in 1999 (Arringtons’s senior year), denying that it had anything to do with a campus police investigation into Sandusky the previous year. About half of Arrington’s interview dealt with Parerno’s comments in a thoughtful perspective, but the second half of the piece turned into a biased, propaganda based platform, where Arrington pities his former coach for being the “sacrificial lamb” and blasts Penn State’s board of trustees, referring to their actions as “evil”. This is the best evidence I can find of Joe Paterno being worshiped. Arrington concludes that he hopes time will bring out the truth about Paterno.  (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/hard-hits/post/joe-paterno-interview-a-former-players-reaction/2012/01/16/gIQATXfZ3P_blog.html

Only once in his opening does Arrington mention “sexual abuse”, and never says anything about the victims in the case.

Underlying Arrington’s attitude is an air of moral superiority, that the true Penn Staters would have waited for Jerry Sandusky’s trial to determine whether Joe Paterno did or didn’t do the right thing. Jay Paterno also exhibited such an air in his interview with Tom Rinaldi of ESPN a few days after Bill O’Brien was hired to replace Jay’s father. repeatedly, when he was asked about how he would respond to the questions, Jay Paterno repeated there needed to be time for facts to come out, even mentioning the Duke lacrosse case. He was not asked what he would say to Sandusky’s accusers.

Granted, Jay Paterno will take up for his father, as any son would. But I don’t know what it’s fair to expect of Arrington and other former Penn State players who are now in the media, but I do know this: when they speak on this moral platitude, saying “we are better than you, because we wouldn’t have fired Coach Paterno until it was declared in court that Jerry Sandusky is guilty), likely, they are ignoring the fact that many victims of sexual abuse (especially Sandusky’s) are looking at Penn State and seeing place where maintaining a faith in fallen figure is more important than protecting young children from harm.

I’ve already written about how the grand jury report is enough (Link: http://wp.me/p1ZYxe-3c ). But let me state some facts that have come out: Joe Paterno, as admitted in the interview with Sally Jenkins, listened to Mike McQueary’s reports of Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, and did nothing but report it to his superiors. He did not report it to police or confront Sandusky himself (a fact Sandusky confirmed in his interview with Bob Costas). That is enough for him to be fired; even if Sandusky did not abuse the boy, Paterno had to make sure he hadn’t. Companies and universities reserve the right to do this in many instances, fire employees for conduct embarrassing to the company or university. Paterno’s moral responsibility meant that he had to make sure a child was not being harmed

Even if Paterno had been told that Jerry Sandusky was showering with a boy, that in and of itself is a position of compromise. As I have learned from my home congregation, in whose school a sex abuse scandal broke out ten years ago, people who deal with children have to be above reproach and cannot be in situations where accusations can arise. An adult showering alone with a child is certainly a situation of comprise, whether or not anything happens.

The comparisons to the Duke lacrosse case, while similar in nature, bear almost no weight. Duke lacrosse was about a single night and involved questionable witnesses. Jerry Sandusky has eight victims and over fifty individual accounts, plus multiple independent witnesses. That’s a lot of people who have to be wrong, and Jerry Sandusky clearly has terrible judgment.

But all this belabors the point. Somewhere, there are many children who are hurting because of what Sandusky did do them, and until Sandusky has his day in court, the public needs to support them and stop getting up in arms because Joe Paterno was fired over the phone. Their lives are damaged, and they are the ones who need to be in our thoughts and prayers. Joe Paterno has a devoted wife and children, and many other people who support him. It isn’t wrong for the Penn State fan to say that he or she supports Paterno, but to yell for his honor while young men are struggling with the issues from being abused by Sandusky? That is tragic.

Ultimately, what I hope happens is that one of the victims comes out and tells his side of the story. If they wish to remain silent, that is their prerogative; there will undoubtedly get eaten alive by the sick Paterno worshipers.. But, if some of these victims come out and shared their story, maybe people would realize how pointless it is to be taking up for a coach who should have been retired anyway. Will it change the minds of every rioting, screaming Penn State fan? Probably not, but at least it would Arrington’s comments seem more petty and trivial than they already are.

As anecdote, here are a couple of the more thought-provoking articles I’ve read in the last few days on Penn State. First one, that is more ridiculous pro-Paterno than Arrington’s piece:

http://www.mcall.com/opinion/yourview/mc-joe-paterno-penn-state-cole-yv-0120-20120119,0,2045128.story

And a more well, a thoughtful, balanced piece by Penn State alum Janine White (@phillyjanine on twitter) on the meetings where Rodney Erickson faced the brunt of Penn State criticism.

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2012/01/16/honoring-joe-paterno-answer-penn-state/

Enjoy, and thanks for the great response to all my Penn State posts. Please share them.

Reaction Sally Jenkins’ Interview with Joe Paterno: He was the Last One to See It Coming

Given how much I’ve written on the Penn State scandal, I was quite interested to hear Joe Paterno’s interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/joe-paternos-first-interview-since-the-penn-state-sandusky-scandal/2012/01/13/gIQA08e4yP_story.html ). Upon reading the interviewthere is one specific point that I am even more confident in:  Paterno should have been coaching Penn State at the age of 84, as evidenced how he responded to Mike McQueary’s report of Jerry Sandusky’s actions.


I do not doubt what Paterno said about how he handled McQueary’s report. But what is telling is when Paterno said he didn’t know what to do with that report, so he waited a day to call his superiors. As I theorized in my earlier posts, I believe that this was an issue that Paterno didn’t have a full understanding of given his generation. That isn’t his fault. But there in lies the problem: Paterno was in a place where he was the one who had to know what to do.

Paterno’s explanation mirrors that of Jim Tressel’s, who said he was scared when he first got an e-mail that his players were connected to a shady tattoo artists. Major college coaches do not have the luxury of passing the buck, and if Paterno did not know how to deal with this situation, he needed to step aside. In the situation he was in, Paterno at least needed to his personal attorney or one of his sons, to make sure what was needed to be done was done. And certainly, the most gaping hole in the story is why Paterno never asked Sandusky himself about the incident. Even if the two had drifted apart, Paterno should have known Sandusky well enough to confront him.

This failing on the part of Paterno is really a failing of leadership. Leadership is not the blind wielding of power out of one’s right to do so; it is doing what is best for a group or an institution, even when it means asking for help in a tough situation. That real leadership comes out of humility.

When I read this story in the Washington Post, I wondered to myself if Paterno asked himself with any kind of honesty, if I don’t understand what it means for a man to rape another man, should I really be in a position where I need to deal with it? Sadly, the world had passed him by, and Paterno was the last to know.

What if Nebraska could play them every year?

Given the realignment  that college football has gone through and the rivalries that have gotten left behind by it, I began to think to myself, what is it college football should look like in an ideal universe? I thought that, in an ideal universe, every school would have a set of about six or seven teams that they played every year, the situation in most major conferences, as well as with Notre Dame. Then there would be about another three or four teams that you would play two out of every four to six years. And you should have at least a couple of once-in-twenty years, or lifetime opponents.

To experiment with this, I took the team of my heart, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and devised a such a schedule for them. Here are the six teams I think Nebraska should play every year.

Oklahoma-the classic game-yes, it has lost its luster from 1960-1980’s, but this was one of the most influential games of a generation. Let’s get this every year.

Colorado-Over my life and memory, Colorado was the opponent, other than Texas, that generated the most passion on the Nebraska side. While Colorado doesn’t have the passion for football that Nebraska does, when both schools are good, it’s a culture clash between the hippie Buffs and the conservative Cornhuskers.

Iowa-It is debatable how Iowa should be on this list, given that they haven’t met regularly since the 1940’s. But Iowa is only school that really has a strong following in Nebraska (almost a cult following in Omaha); Colorado is the only other fanbase who Nebraska fans intermingle with regularly.

Kansas-Notre Dame plays Purdue every year. Up until Nebraska joined the Big 10, Nebraska-Kansas was one of the longest rivalries in college football. It should go on.

UCLA-if Nebraska is going to be a national university, it needs to play a west coast opponent every year for its substantial California-Arizona fan base. Arizona State would also be a great fit in this spot, but nothing would match a bi-yearly date in the Rose Bowl.

Penn State-this rivalry, while not in plum recruiting territory, is more about the shared rural, family-first culture of both Penn State and Nebraska. They’re also the two teams who’ve kept virtually the same uniforms the past fifty years.

So there’s your six yearly opponents. Later, I’ll introduce some of the regular rotating rivals that I’d love to see Nebraska play

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