Sprawled out in the Ohio end zone, grasping for something well beyond his reach, safety Jacob Fagnano’s posture as the game-clinching Ohio Bobcat TD was scored felt like a fitting end to the first game of the post-Paterno era at Penn State.
Fitting because Fagnano hailed from the defensive side of the ball. Everyone expected a steep learning curve on offense—especially due to NCAA-applauded defections from two returning starters—but the defense was supposed to be the strength. Through the dark years, the defenses carried our putrid offenses and at least made scores respectable and got the Lions past most MAC opponents. Saturday’s defense just ended up grasping at straws. Even if Tettleton and Ohio wind up being undefeated BCS-busters, the defense still let us down in the opener.
Fitting because Fagnano reflected the football weaknesses of the final years of Paterno’s regime. While cultivating walk-ons into All-Americans was a badge of honor for Joe Paterno, this practice seemed to cost the Nittany Lions more frequently than it helped them in the past decade. Walk-on Matt McGloin fizzled in the second half, as QB recruits that Jay Paterno and the former staff went after—Tajh Boyd at Clemson and E.J. Manuel at Florida State—led their top-ten offenses to impressive victories. Talent gaps—like the ones presented by gutsy but average players Fagnano and McGloin—would have kept PSU from championships in normal seasons; this season they might cost Penn State a .500 record.
Fitting because Fagnano ended up face down in failure while celebration ensued around him. The entire Penn State community knows that feeling well. They were face down in shame, face down in anger over what our administrators allowed to happen a decade ago. Then they were face down in shame, face down in anger when the NCAA decided to cripple them and humiliate them for the next decade. College football will go on with the thrill of competition and the pageantry of a great sport, but Penn State will be mourning for a long time. ESPN will stop talking about the Lions. They won’t dominate the headlines. But still PSU will mourn.
Face down like Fagnano.
We will get up though. You can’t keep the Nittany Nation down. Not forever.
I predicted a loss to Ohio even before the sanctions came down. I still think this team can come together and win eight games. Yes, eight. But even if I’m wrong, Pen State will one day get up.