Instanalysis: Times Change, But JoePa Just Keeps Winning

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The Year is 2011. Despite 20th Century science fiction’s predictions, we have no flying cars, jet packs, or reality game shows featuring humans hunting humans — though any of “The Real Housewives” would be infinitely improved were that the case. But perhaps more far-fetched a prediction from say, three decades ago is that not only would Joe Paterno still be the head coach at Penn State, he would still be winning.

Paterno’s 409 career victories will never be matched. Period, end of discussion. The sport simply won’t allow it, even with more games per season. The high pressure demands of fans and media render every Saturday a Judgment Day for head coaches. Forget yearly assessments. A coach’s performance is judged weekly. Aside from on-field Ws and Ls, the most reliable measuring stick of a coach’s success, they are now evaluated on facets once hidden from public scrutiny like recruiting and management of players.

That an 84-year-old man captains a 7-1 team in 2011 is indeed as believable as a Sci-Fi plot. Naysayers, or realists depending on your perspective say JoePa is nothing more than a figurehead at this point. That very well may be. Because of injury, he overlooks Nittany Lion games from the box high above the field. The boxes are typically a place one can find Coaches Emeritus lingering, which makes Paterno’s time there somewhat symbolic of this new era.

Yet even if Paterno is merely the Wizard of Oz’s visage with someone else at the controls, his fingerprints cover the program. No one on his current staff has fewer than seven years at PSU, and the longest tenure assistant is defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a Lion staffer since 1979. That’s noteworthy because the 2011 Lions are winning with defense.

No. 409 sure wasn’t pretty. All excitement of today’s PSU – Illinois game before the final minutes came from the oneupsmanship of Twitter jokes hurled at the utterly offensive offenses. But Bradley’s defense buckled down. The Lion offense could mount nothing before a shockingly efficient, final, 80-yard drive, yet the PSU D ensured the offense would get that opportunity.

A favorite cliche in the coachspeak dictionary is “if you hold your opponent scoreless, you only need one point.” PSU is certainly living that mantra. Wins over Indiana, Purdue and now Illinois tested the theory. Standing as the sole conference unbeaten in the Big Ten, the theory is ringing true.

PSU goes on a bye week before welcoming Nebraska to Beaver Stadium on Nov. 12, then closing out with road challenges at Ohio State (avert your eyes from that one if you like points), and at Wisconsin. Surely the Lions will be underdogs in at least one, if not all three of those contests. But JoePa’s continued winning has already defied logic. What’s a few times, and a few more wins in his untouchable record more?