Same Old, Same Old

Expecting changes in the aftermath of the Penn State football program's second-straight loss?'s Mark Brennan says to forget about it.

So Joe Paterno, how will your 3-2 Penn State football team respond to Saturday's disheartening 27-20 loss at Illinois?

“We just gotta go home and regroup. Take a look at everything.”

OK, Coach, but considering that starting quarterback Anthony Morelli was a disaster for the second straight week, this time with three interceptions and another killer fumble, might there be a change at the position?

“As I said, I'm not gonna answer anything about what I may do, should do, will not do. I'm just gonna wait until we get home, look at the tape, spend a little time with the staff, spend a little time with some kids on the team.”

OK, Coach, but can you at least comment on your senior QB's play?

“You know, I'm not gonna talk about anyone's performance. I just said that. I have to look at the tapes. I have to look at a lot of things. We just didn't do some things we had to do to in order to beat a good football team. Simple as that.”

Alas, the once-mighty Penn State football program has officially become a cliché.

Another loss to a good but not great opponent. Another sorry performance by the most dysfunctional offense in the Big Ten. Another post-game press conference where a philosophical Paterno promises to take a big-picture look at his program and hints that major changes may be in the offing.

And, of course, the ever convenient excuse about withholding comment on anything of substance until after a thorough analysis of “the tape,” as if further review might reveal Morelli's three picks and fumble to have been someone else's fault.

Hmmm, I wonder where things go from here?

I kid, of course. Because if you've been paying attention the last several years, you know EXACTLY how things will unfold.

A refreshed Paterno will meet the media Tuesday and say:

• His dissection of “the tape” revealed that the Nittany Lions really were not so bad against Illinois. A break here or there, and PSU would have won. “We just can't be as loosey-goosey with the ball.” He does not expect any significant changes to the depth chart.

• People aren't giving the Illini enough credit, because “the other guy” plays to win, too. “Last week, I tried to tell you guys how good Illinois is, but no one would listen.”

• Everyone else may be panicking, but he won't. “I have this saying you may have heard: You're never as good as you look when you win and never as bad as you look when you lose.”

• Morelli is a “good, solid quarterback” who will be fine, and the coach refuses to give up on him, no matter what everyone else is saying.

• Galen Hall and Jay Paterno continue to do a fine job with the offense. Of course, those members of the staff NOT named Galen Hall or Jay Paterno will receive zero credit for anything.

• By the way, without a couple of questionable officiating calls against Michigan, Penn State could be 4-1 right now.

Behind the scenes, things will be slightly different. Staff discussions will be had about what — if any — changes must be made, including at quarterback. And at practice Monday, Paterno may proclaim certain starting jobs as open.

But the media spin and behind-the-scenes talk will both lead to a confluence. By Thursday night, when Judy From Muncy calls Paterno's weekly radio talk show to ask some fluff question, the entire program will essentially be right back where it was before the Illinois game. That is unless Jerry from Philly beats her to the punch.

Oh, you might see a token change to the offense, perhaps a new face on the offensive line. But don't expect anything serious.

Because the Penn State staff, at least the triumvirate (Paterno, Hall, Paterno) in charge of the offense, is incapable of making necessary adjustments on the fly. The operation is like an aircraft carrier, requiring vast amounts of time and distance to change course, especially when it comes to the quarterback. Nothing of substance ever happens during the season, especially not when the Lions are playing 12 games in 12 weeks, with no bye.

The thing is, it doesn't have to be this way.

Did you happen to catch unranked Florida State's win over No. 22 Alabama Saturday night? Veteran Drew Weatherford — yes, the same guy who started and played well against Penn State in the 2006 Orange Bowl two seasons ago — was pulled from the game in the second quarter in favor of Xavier Lee. Lee went on to toss two touchdowns in the victory.

The Associated Press account of the change: “[Lee] replaced Drew Weatherford, who couldn't produce any first-quarter points despite having good field position and the wind at his back.” Does that situation sound familiar?

Meanwhile, Illinois coach Ron Zook had no problem yanking touted quarterback Juice Williams in the fourth quarter of the win over the Nittany Lions, going with fresh-legged freshman Eddie McGee. McGee promptly ripped off a 53-yard run against the PSU defense, setting up an important field goal.

Television shots of the sidelines showed both Weatherford and Williams rooting their teammates on, even as they resided on the bench.

Meanwhile, Paterno and company have steadfastly refused to go away from Morelli, even as he has shown no ability to perform in the clutch against top opponents. That's a fact now. Against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Tennessee in 2006, and then Michigan again this year, the Morelli-led offense scored a TOTAL of two touchdowns (along with a handful of field goals).

In Ann Arbor two weeks ago, his early fumble led to a short-field Wolverine score and put the Lions in a hole from which they never escaped. He also connected on less than 50 percent of his passes in that game. Blame some of that on Joe Paterno's inexplicable last-second dummying-down of the offensive game plan, which no doubt confused the senior QB as much as it did the rest of the Nittany Nation. But what does it say about Morelli that he was so flustered by the way the day unfolded that, near the end of the game, he was spotted arguing with Wolverines fans?

Against Illinois, even after Morelli had taken four sacks, thrown two interceptions AND let go of the senseless fumble, the staff never even told backup Daryll Clark to warm up. Almost on cue, Morelli was picked off on State's desperation attempt to tie in the closing seconds.

And if you are expecting changes this week, again, forget about it. Here's why:

• Clark, while more mobile than Morelli and clearly a more dynamic personality, has been even more inconsistent than the starter in practice. People close to the program wonder if he would be an improvement at all on game day, though one allowed, “I doubt he can be any worse.”

• Redshirt freshman Pat Devlin, who appears to be the ultimate answer at QB, has resided on the third team all season. The way Penn State practices, the first- and second-teamers receive the bulk of the reps. As one source told us, “starting Devlin now would probably get him killed” because he has not seen enough action in practice.

• Morelli is not only a senior, but also a captain. The team is already struggling to find leadership, and one can only imagine what kind of shell he might slip into if he is pulled from the lineup.

• Penn State's quarterbacks coach is Jay Paterno, the head coach's son. And for some strange reason, ever since the younger Paterno took over the QBs in 2000, his dad has handled the position with … ahem … kid gloves. It's as if Joe Paterno is concerned that acknowledging the struggles of a particular player will be viewed as a tacit indictment of the position coach.

So expect the same old, same old this week. And expect Penn State to bounce back with a home win over a struggling Iowa program, after which there will be more than a few “I-told-you-so” smirks from the key figures in the Nittany Lion offense.

But two weeks from now, when a Wisconsin outfit ranked in the top 10 comes calling, the offense will revert to its big-game blues and the Badgers will escape with a close win. Then a philosophical Paterno will say he has to take a long, hard look at the program.

And the thinly veiled threats of change will be as empty as ever.

Yes, the Penn State program has become a cliché, its “Success With Honor” motto having been swapped out for a more fitting replacement.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks.


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