THE SITUATIONAL: Merchant of Venom

By Ramzy Nasrallah on October 25, 2023 at 1:15 pm
marvin harrison jr scores against penn state

A holding penalty killed a Penn State scoop-and-score.

Conspiracy theorists were in shambles, as refs flagged it while the play was still developing - prior to Kyle McCord's fumble. Broadcast replay confirmed the hold on Penn State was authentic and that it produced the double-clutch which directly led to the turnover.

Cause and effect. Nothing odd about the sequence except that it felt strange to be impressed officials actually did their jobs on a consequential play. Hey great work, team.

It was a textbook demonstration in how football is supposed be governed. We're just a couple of weeks removed from a field judge openly jawing with Ryan Day prior to throwing a pre-snap motion flag on Xavier Johnson but not until after Marvin Harrison Jr. had caught a touchdown pass.

Maybe you're new to physics but that's not how time works. Even Ted Valentine gasped.

2009 100th/120
2010 100th/120
2011 55th/120
2012 62nd/120
2013 81st/125
2014 96th/128
2015 117th/128
2016 116th/128
2017 70th/128
2018 56th/130
2019 90th/130
2020 69th/127
2021 125th/130
2022 102nd/131
2023* 77th/133

That sequence was the opposite of how football is supposed to be governed. In the possessions that followed Penn State's canceled fumble-six, JT Tuimoloau wore his beleaguered Nittany Lion blocker like a cape without any recourse. He wasn't fighting borderline holding on Saturday - it was egregious holding. Felonious holding. Holding-refs-shouldn't-be-allowed-to-ignore holding.

Ah yes, poor wittle Ohio State. Persecuted by refs, like there's a years-long conspiracy to undermine their championship aspirations. Reader, the Buckeyes have finished in the top half of the FBS for most penalized opponents twice in 15 years. And those two years, they were barely in the top half.

Thinking objectively, maybe offensive tackles didn't need to resort to holding to contain Cameron Heyward, John Simon, Noah Spence, Tyquan Lewis, any Bosa brother, Sam Hubbard, Chase Young or JTT. And perhaps [generic Ohio State wide receiver goes here] wasn't quite as unguardable as we were led to believe.

Maybe that's why the Buckeyes' opponents have been consistently under-flagged for the past 15 seasons. As for the current guys, Tuimoloau cannot buy a holding call despite thriving in the NIL era. There isn't a tackle with feet fast enough to stop his speed rush - and Penn State's Olumuyiwa Fashanu learned this in gruesome fashion on Saturday.

Fashanu won't be available when the NFL Draft hits double-digits in April. But here's the twist, and the homers among you won't like it: Refs are not actively engaged in a scheme to impair Ohio State football success.

Officials mildly handicap games to avoid an outright ref show, because eight holding calls benefiting JTT would feel that way. Cops don't pull over everyone driving over 65. But inaction compounds like interest - play over drive, drive over quarter, quarter over game over season over decade. That 15-year stretch is the result.

It's an officiating dynamic stronger programs are forced to accept. If that sounds like rationalizing, look up who else is consistently and curiously facing chronically under-penalized opponents in each of the past 15 seasons. Any guesses? Oh Alabama? Wow, good guess.

The Crimson Tide's opponents are under-penalized too. By the way, those two years when Ohio State's opponents were among the top half for penalties? The 2011 and 2018 seasons - the worst team of the millennium and that Alex Grinch defense USC is currently enjoying, respectively. Cause and effect.

So challenge a referee's authority at your peril, as Day found out during that Maryland game. Expect your awesome football program to get fewer calls than you think it deserves. Bitching about the officials is whining. Great teams are expected to transcend lucky bounces and moody middle-aged men making judgement calls.

It requires a championship-level margin for error, and only Bama has done that with consistency over the past 15 years. Week 9 already? Too fast, slow down. Let's get Situational.


get in loser we're going losin
James Franklin has brought everything to Penn State football except reliable strategy against equal-or-superior programs.

I'll never have better seats for a big game. Straddled the 50, ten rows behind the Ohio State bench. For four wondrous but painful hours, I tasted the Connor Stalions' Friends and Trusted Agents stadium seating lifestyle. No choice but to recommend it - it's great.

This was for the 2007 BCS Title - basically a home game for the LSU Tigers in the Louisiana Superdome. I was treated to an incredible view of Beanie Wells gashing the LSU defense for north of seven yards a carry.

The problem - and hoo boy did it feel obvious all night long - was Ohio State's offense didn't run through Beanie, its best player. They were splitting him out wide most of night, like a decoy. The offense, the strategy and the plan to win the BCS title ran through Todd Boeckman's hands.

I've always told myself Jim Tressel was seduced by something on LSU's tape that consumed him that night. His offense finished the game with 35 Boeckman plays to just 20 Beanie ones. Two interceptions and a QB fumble made that questionable strategy even worse - the Tigers got the ball back faster and more often than they needed to.

Keep-away should have been the strategy. That night should have been Tempe all over again. It could have been Ohio State's second BCS ring. Instead, Tressel abandoned Tresselball.

they could have done this a l l  n i g h t  l o n g man
Beanie Wells rushed for 146 yards on just 20 carries against LSU in the 2007 BCS Title Game in New Orleans.

Beanie had 39 (!) carries in Ann Arbor for what was the de facto Big Ten title game, yet only half as many against LSU. It was mystifying. Anyway, on Saturday I thought about that night when I got called TIGAH BAIT for close to six hours (Bourbon Street postgame, it was earned) after Penn State's Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for six fewer carries than Miyan Williams had by himself.

Those two normally share north of 26 touches a game, which doesn't even account for their early exits due to the excessive garbage time Penn State's garbage schedule had produced. I think Franklin got seduced by something, similar to what got Tressel over Christmas in 2007.

The Athletic published one of those anonymous scouting articles during the week and I couldn't help but wonder if Penn State's staff might have accidentally read it? (Ohio State's staff definitely read it).

“(Ohio State's) secondary as a whole probably is not what people are used to seeing,” one coordinator said. “They’re going to play a ton of man and expect the guys up front to get home and protect the guys on the back end, but when they don’t, I think that’s where they’re vulnerable. I wasn’t blown away by the back end.”


“Their safeties and corners are actually average, maybe even below average,” one assistant said. “I know that’s a crazy thing to say about Ohio State, but I think the corners are overrated and the safeties are average. ... You can stretch them down the field vertically.”

Well, none of that is true at all. Not this year. Ohio State's entire secondary has been excellent.

Drew Allar starting the first big road game of his life was given 49 plays in a game that was never out of reach. Meanwhile, Penn State's two seasoned running backs combined for 18 carries. Saturday was Boeckman vs. LSU on amphetamines.

Ohio State's defense is pretty good against both the run and the pass in 2023, but it didn't take four quarters to see what kind of afternoon Allar was having. Penn State's wide receivers - whom I still cannot name, despite having spent four hours with them Saturday - are totally forgettable.

And yet they were instrumental in James Franklin's plan to win. The lesson is sometimes it's important to have a trusted advisor in your ear giving you a second opinion - preferably someone without a subscription to The Athletic. The good news for Penn State is Singleton and Allen will be fresh for Indiana this Saturday.

They'll both sit in the 4th quarter with IU down 35. Gotta rest up for the next big overthink.


The Solo

CONTENT NOTE: This season Situational enthusiasts are controlling the Intermission jukebox, and as is the case in your local tavern - nobody knows who's choosing the songs. You have the right to get mad. If this goes off the rails, good.

Major movie awards are tedious and divorced from the primary swath of reasonable and average human appreciation for the arts. They're useless in helping identify holistic cinematic quality, over-politicized and only useful for mockery. Oscars, if you're reading this please continue to eat shit.

Look no further than recent Best Picture winners and count how many you could consider rewatchable. Nomadland. The Shape of Water. The Artist. They show these uppity clunkers at Guantanamo when waterboarding feels too humane. And yet, gold statues for all of them.

Entertaining and "unserious" films are routinely ignored during award season, like School of Rock in 2003. It was sweet, charming, nuanced and appropriate for all audiences - one of the most rewatchable movies ever produced.

I saw it in the theater shortly after seeing star Jack Black's band Tenacious D perform in Chicago, where I was introduced to an absolute banger I mistakenly thought was called The Greatest Song in the World. It's not. It's just a tribute.

Tribute features a scat duet, yeah yeah #phrasing. Let's answer our two questions.

Is the scat duo in this video actually scatting?

The scat duet is our School of Rock protagonist and star of a million other things before and since, along best friend Kyle Gass, who was in Elf (another timeless classic ignored by awards organizations due to being a Christmas movie) among other films and projects. VERDICT: Yes, Tenacious D is scatting.

Does this scat duet slap?

We must acknowledge Dave Grohl, who handles drums on this version of Tribute and also pulls double-duty by playing the demon in the video. This is a strong scat effort, though not quite Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme-caliber. So it's not the greatest scatting in the world.

But that was never their intention. This was just a tribute. VERDICT: Slaps

hey kids looks what's back in stock in all sizes

The Bourbon

There is a bourbon for every situation. Sometimes the spirits and the events overlap, which means that where bourbon is concerned there can be more than one worthy choice.

Panty melter. You're welcome.
Smoked Calvados Old Fashioned at Stone House

Smoke is bad for just about everything on this planet, with exceptions. It elevates a pork shoulder into the highest tier of consumable food, for starters.

The humble incense stick is quiet prior to ignition, but its lit amber fragrance masks your disgusting flatulence and recreational drug use. Smoke also propels the greatest cocktail ever conceived - the Old Fashioned - into an opulent realm of whimsical, labor-intensive potations.

On Friday I pre-gamed for a concert with the Stone House Smoked Old Fashioned, comprised of Boulard Rye Cask Calvados, St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur, Spiced Bitters and a healthy dash of nutmeg. So, no bourbon. But it was excellent.

That extra pyro step, kind of like a pork shoulder, is worth the effort and wait. No concerns that smoke overpowers the experience - it only enhances the cocktail. I've had innumerable smoked old fashioneds and still have a weird tendency to try and find the flaw every time, because let's face it - the spirit world is teeming with dumb gimmicks.

Smoking a well-constructed cocktail isn't one of them. You can pick up a sturdy-enough cocktail smoker at Target, any cocktail supply purveyor or Amazon if you prefer to play the home game. Otherwise, whenever you see a smoked old fashioned on the menu at a reputable bar, it's a take. Try to find the flaw if you're into playing games.


Oct 14, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Luke Fickell leads the football team onto the field for warmups prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin head coach Luke Fickell leads his onto the field for warmups prior to the Iowa game earlier this season. © Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This week has been uniquely distracting, with Michigan football's multi-year, on-campus, season-long, highly-orchestrated sign-stealing scheme unraveling in real-time.

The Wolverines are on a bye and can't divert the biased, ravenous media with actual football. That's tough, ouch. Meanwhile, Ohio State has a night game in Madison facing one of its most beloved hometown heroes of all time.

It's been a tumultuous week in college football, but not because of the Badgers - or the vanquished Nittany Lions, for that matter. This is to say allowing Michigan to beat Ohio State a third straight time - this weekend in Madison - would be the Buckeyes' own fault. Jim Harbaugh would be blameless.

It's not great timing, though - especially for a program like Ohio State's whose entire locker room is a shrine to the Michigan game. It's just hard to look away from what's happening in Ann Arbor. But we can do it. They can do it. Wisconsin week!

So, Michigan appears to have had local agents at multiple if not every Ohio State game over the past 2.5 seasons, recording play callers for all four hours - that's grueling work, right? - then matching their signals, the dummy ones and real ones, against game tape, for several games, synthesizing the season and then creating in-game assets to diagnose exactly what the Buckeyes would do from the 1st drive on.

connor stalions was here
Wisconsin (in red).

Is this one of those everyone does it things? I feel so naive. My bad, Wisconsin week. Badgers. Focus.

That amount of work, the logistics, that level of effort - it's a commitment to winning The Game that's hard to dismiss, especially coming off two lost decades of Michigan football and Ohio State having command of the rivalry for every current player's lifetime. I get why Michigan would do this, allegedly. Harbaugh started 0-5 in that game and had to restructure his contract following several unsuccessful attempts to leave for the NFL. Wisconsin has an NFL team. It's the Green Bay Packers.

This week we were treated to moving pictures of Connor Stalions, a real person and not a fictional Boogie Nights character standing next to both coordinators and Michigan's head coach during last two Ohio State games, focused on the opposite sideline and barking instructions like he was running operations for both sides of the ball.

Will he have agents in Madison? Possibly. Ohio State plays Wisconsin. Michigan is off.

Stalions is suspended with pay, and it's unlikely Michigan lost its appetite for not-losing to Ohio State every year, which it did prior to having every single one of Ohio State's signals from all of its play calling packages printed on giant laminated cards on the sideline in full view. Again, every program could do this. Nothing is impossible.

But does every program do it? Wisconsin might, but there's no evidence. No one has found a low-level staffer bragging about it on LinkedIn, which, oopsie Connor Stalions. At least not yet. This could just be the beginning. So who is Ohio State's Connor Stalions?


Is it Brent Zdebski? He was caught red-handed on Venmo making a transaction the weekend of the Buckeyes' game in South Bend. Why would an Ohio State staffer be in South Bend during the Ohio State-Notre Dame game? Hmmm...very suspicious behavior. Ah shit, WISCONSIN. Wisconsin.

Wisconsin won't have giant laminated cards of coach silhouettes matching Ohio State's signals, diligently paired against plays they ran earlier in the season while those signals were being sent in, but - and this is important - no one knows the Buckeyes like Wisconsin's head coach does. Not even Stalions.

Michigan appears to have been collecting recon on its conference opponents every weekend, based on ticket records pulled by B1G schools. Timing for this strategy coincides with two incredible championship seasons in a row. Absolutely dominated Ohio State in the 2nd halves of both games.

But the Wolverines still can't win a bowl game under Harbaugh. Weird. It's almost as if both sides of the ball operate differently after growing accustomed to pristine intelligence accumulated over the course of an entire season. That sudden change in game cadence might impact performance, reaction time, and overall efficacy. Dizzying speculation. Ron Dayne fanning himself dot gif #wisconsin.

not connor stalions
Giannis Antetokounmpo plays in Wisconsin.

This is reckless conjecture which has nothing to do with Wisconsin's star running back Braelon Allen. Wow, TCU scored 51 points? Against that Michigan team? They must be really good. They'd probably give Wisconsin a hell of a game.

The Badgers are both rebuilding and changing their identity, which is reminiscent of Michigan since the pandemic. The Wolverines went 2-4 in 2020, but fans weren't allowed in stadiums that year. Couldn't cheer, couldn't videotape sidelines - it was a tough time for the whole world.

Empty stadiums made procuring seats across from future opponents' benches impossible. Ohio State playing Michigan was impossible that season too. Michigan practiced amidst a covid outbreak instead of improving its record to 3-4 by beating the undefeated Buckeyes. Hey, let's just assume.

Michigan's reversal of fortune since the pandemic is the most impressive and abrupt turnaround in American sports since Barry Bonds' head grew three sizes after his 37th birthday and he began doubling the number of home runs he had been hitting over his previous 14 seasons.

If you cannot find inspiration in that level of resilience, that's a you-problem. By the way, Bonds had 22 homers against the Milwaukee Brewers in his career. That's Wisconsin's team.

Fortunately I won't be playing Wisconsin this week, because I'm super distracted by all of this. I can name exactly two Wisconsin Badgers - Allen and their quarterback who is in all of Jaxon Smith-Njigba's high school highlights because he threw him the ball. That guy. Two Badgers. There are others. I hope Ohio State beats them.

Thanks for getting Situational today. Go Bucks. Beat Wisconsin.

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