A REST STOP ON THE OHIO TURNPIKE – To supplement the published notes, some more assorted thoughts after Penn State lost its second in a row at Michigan on Saturday…
A nothing-to-lose attempt to shake things up a bit? An act of desperation? Or a new strategical outlook?
Whatever the impetus, Penn State offensive John Donovan elected to carry out his in-game duties on the field for the contest at Michigan. Donovan previously expressed a preference to watch games from the pressbox.
“Just trying to change it up a little bit,” head coach James Franklin said. “On the sidelines… he can interact with those guys, talk, solve problems.”
The Nittany Lions’ meager 214-yard output against the Wolverines suggest not much was solved. At one point, TV cameras even caught Franklin apparently angry with Donovan.
One prominent player, though, wholeheartedly endorses having Donovan on the sidelines.
“I like it a lot more,” running back Bill Belton said. “I think he gets a feel for the game being down there and I think it makes the offense better too, in my opinion. With him down there we did some things different this week and I think that’s something that should be done from now on.”
Franklin acknowledged after the game that, “We have not been punting well.” Poor punting might not have been what cost the Lions the game Saturday, but it didn’t help.
The eventual winning points came after Michigan took over in PSU territory following a 29-yard Chris Gulla punt. That meant the Wolverines were in field goal range after executing one 24-yard pass play.
Gulla’s final three punts of the game went for 26, 29 and 34 yards.
Penn State ranks 13th in the Big Ten in net punting (33.1 yards) and last in gross punting (35.9).
Gulla has handled all but four of the Lions’ punts this season. Hackenberg has one quick kick, and freshman Daniel Pasquariello – a native of Australia – has averaged 42.3 gross yards on three punts. Franklin confirmed there remains a “competition” for the job.
Franklin had been emphatic throughout the offseason that special teams will be improved. So far, the statistics belie that: In addition to the punting woes, Penn State is 13th in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage, 11th in punt return average and sixth in kickoff return average.
**More on the lack of Lewis**
And finally… The notebook for the newsprint led with the great mystery surrounding Geno Lewis’ sudden disappearance from the offense. It’s downright bewildering not just because of Lewis’ obvious talents and remarkable production – but also because of how much the PSU offense is struggling and how unready the freshmen who are taking Lewis’ place appear.
So I personally find it inconceivable that the evaluation was made, for the gameplan, to elevate Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin above Lewis. The two talented freshmen have great futures… but it’s just not quite their time yet to stand out.
Assuming Godwin and Blacknall didn’t scale Lewis on the depth chart, that leaves three possibilities (albeit the latter two are parsing through some gray area):
- Lewis is injured
- Lewis was/is being disciplined
- Lewis is in the proverbial doghouse
The third seems most likely, although that doesn’t make it any less puzzling.
Option No. 2 seems the least likely… If Lewis really was being disciplined in the truest sense of the word, he’d likely have, what, sat out the first half? A quarter? The sitting out the first series fits that criteria perfectly… but then why have Lewis off the field for the 3rd and 10 and 3rd and 11 PSU had during the game (Hackenberg threw incomplete to Blacknall during such situations)?
Lewis being injured carries some weight, based on the in-game facts alone (It’s logical, in theory, Lewis’ snaps would be limited). But Franklin’s words suggest that’s not it.
Yes, PSU’s coach steadfastly refuses to talk about injuries under almost any circumstance (a shortsighted policy, if you ask me – but that’s a different discussion for a different time), so it’s exhausting trying to de-code any of his words when it comes to possible ones. Still, here was Franklin’s answer when asked point-blank Saturday night if Lewis was injured:
“I don’t get into injuries, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it – film grades, practice, a lot of things that went into it.”
Pressed even FURTHER… “Based on the games all season long, looking at the grades and how guys have been playing, missed assignments, execution, practice habits. There’s always some health things that get into those things, as well, this time of year. There’s a lot of factors. We also feel like some of those young guys deserved an opportunity.”
Who knows what to make of that? But, if I had to guess, I’d say the vast bulk of what I take away is that Lewis is NOT injured (or at least not injured to any significant degree).
So… that leaves a hybrid “discipline” – i.e., the “doghouse.”
Asked three times about Lewis, Franklin all three times used the word “practice.” Twice, he referenced “film.” Each answer included the phrase “a lot of factors.”
That leads me to believe the best theory is that Lewis must have shown some lazy tendencies either in his in-game performance or on the practice field (or both). (Which seems out of character for him, at least from my observations and in hearing from those who know him).
But if it’s true, it must be significant. Because Penn State really doesn’t have many other options at receiver right now. And the offense has so little margin for error that subtracting arguably its best receiver is a striking move.
Then again, if it’s true, do you have to respect the move? It’s a very principled one, you have to admit. If Lewis isn’t pulling his weight in some way, doesn’t this show a firm grasp of leadership of the team as a coaching staff?
If Lewis is, say, injured, though, and Franklin isn’t saying, isn’t it terribly unfair to him for media to be forced to speculate, even on some small level, that he’s some sort of locker-room cancer?
Lewis, as you might expect, was not made available to media after the game. His only public comment since Saturday postgame was a tweet that read: “My Lord Jesus Christ going to get me thru this”
Hopefully, clarity will come to the situation soon.
Have a lovely day…