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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: Penn State

Penn State couldn't seem to put it all together in 2014.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

You spent the better part of four months meticulously dissecting the 2014 college lacrosse season. You shouldn't stop now because cold turkey is a bad way to go through life, man. College Crosse is providing decompression snapshots of all 67 teams and their 2014 campaigns, mostly because everything needs a proper burial.

VITAL SIGNS

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 7-6 (3-2, THUNDERDOME!) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 53.85% 28
2013 Record 12-5 (6-0, THUNDERDOME!) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 70.59% 12
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 64.18% 18
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 71.66% 10
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -7.48% 51*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation -8* 47*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 31.24 33
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 30.23 33
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +1.01 32*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +1* 31*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 27.84 14
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 24.61 6
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency -3.23 50*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency -8* 45*
Downloadable Team Profile (.pdf)

*These ranking values consider only the programs that competed in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Accordingly, Boston University, Furman, Monmouth, and Richmond are not considered.

"ATTA BOY!" FACT

There were two moments in Penn State's season last spring that stand out as special: The team's late-February upset of Notre Dame and the Nittany Lions' almost-shutout of Towson at Johnny Unitas Stadium. Both dates offered a glimmer of the potential that Penn State held in 2014 and provided isolated moments of mainlined "After this we're going to colonize the moon!"

The Lions had little business going into Indiana and pulling out an 8-7 victory against the Irish. Even though both teams were ranked at the time of their meeting -- Notre Dame sat fourth in the media poll; Penn State was hung in the 12th position -- a year-end analysis shows that the Nittany Lions uncorked a pretty massive upset on the eventual national finalist:

ONLY LIARS AND THE INSANE BELIEVED THIS TO HAPPEN
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF.
at Notre Dame 8-7 (W) 35.44% 20% -3

LaxPower's system ranks Penn State's defeat of Notre Dame as the 11th craziest upset of the season, in the vicinity of Bryant's win over Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Even though the Nittany Lions weren't able to participate in a May adventure last year, the team earned a May-quality win in its campaign.

The team's near shutout of Towson remains one of the soul-crushingest results of the 2014 season. The Nittany Lions kept the Tigers off the board for the game's first 59:06, yielding a bucket to Towson with 54 seconds remaining in regulation to break the Lions' almost perfect defensive performance. The details of what Penn State forced Towson into doing looks like the police report from a violent massacre:

  • The Tigers shot 4.35 percent (1-23) against Penn State. Four. Point. Three-Five. Percent. The team's raw shots on goal shooting rate was 8.33 percent (1-12) and Penn State's team save percentage against the Tigers was 91.67 percent (while also making saves on around half of Towson's offensive opportunities).
  • Towson scored on around 4.54 percent of their offensive opportunities. At that scoring rate, the Tigers would have needed approximately 175 offensive opportunities against the Nittany Lions to score eight goals and knot the scoreboard. Based on the pace at which Towson played in 2014, that's about six games worth of offensive opportunities. In other words, the Tigers' offensive performance against Penn State was so bad that it would have taken a universal impossibility for Towson to tie the Nittany Lions, never mind win (the Tigers would have needed about 200 offensive opportunities to score nine goals and actually beat Penn State based on the rate that Towson was scoring against the Lions).
  • Towson turned the ball over on just over half of their offensive opportunities against Penn State, two-thirds of those giveaways being of the unforced variety. This is essentially pouring gasoline on a nuclear fire.

It was complete and total dominance from a Penn State defense that finished the year among the nation's strongest.

"YOU'RE GROUNDED UNTIL YOU QUALIFY FOR THE AARP!" FACT

Penn State was in decent shape heading into the team's mid-March date with Denver: At 3-1 with wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State, the Nittany Lions appeared ready to tackle the bulk of their remaining schedule and avoid any issues -- relative to earning an invitation to The Big Barbeque -- associated with being excluded from the THUNDERDOME! Tournament. That situation, however, would rapidly change: Losing five of the team's next six games (the only victory coming against Dartmouth), Penn State's season was essentially over and set for hibernation after a disastrous four-week stretch. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions' slide could have been mitigated:

". . . AND THAT'S WHEN I KNEW DRIVING A BUS MADE OUT OF DYNAMITE WAS A BAD IDEA."
OPPONENT RESULT LOG5 MASSEY WIN PROBABILITY LAXPOWER PREDICTED GOAL DIFF.
at Denver 11-15 (L) 27.76% 13% -4
Massachusetts 6-8 (L) 63.00% 71% +2
Dartmouth 10-6 (W) 84.36% 94% +6
Albany 10-17 (L) 36.01% 35% -1
Villanova 7-9 (L) 60.87% 66% +2
at Drexel 12-13 (L) (3OT) 53.36% 46% 0

Based on projections built on Penn State's output on the field, the Nittany Lions were predicted to finish somewhere between 4-2 and 3-3 in that stretch. Instead, State went a gruesome 1-5 in that stretch, cratering any hopes that the team had to make to its second consecutive and fourth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance. That's a brutal, unforgiving way to watch a season spin into the sun.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

Penn State loses 45 percent of its starts from a season ago, including Shane Sturgis (the team's offensive combustion plant at attack), Austin Kaut (the Blonde Satan was a stalwart stopper in the crease for the Lions during his career), Tyler Travis (an all-CAA selection in both 2013 and 2014), and Kessler Brown (a versatile long-stick midfielder/defensemen that did solid work for Penn State). In their place steps a host of contributors, only three of which -- TJ Sanders, Michael Richards, and JP Burnside -- started at least nine games for Penn State last year (James Burke, Drake Kreinz, and Mike Sutton earned some manner of all-CAA honors last season despite the fact that none of the three started in at least nine games last year for the Nittany Lions). This is an important season of transition for Penn State, and the early returns from the Capital Lacrosse Invitational paint the picture of a program trying to find its place ahead of 2015:

The Nittany Lions graduated 12 players from their 2014 squad, of which at least 10 were significant contributors and five were multi-year starters, including offensive and defensive focal points Shane Sturgis and Austin Kaut.

Coach Jeff Tambroni said when his team’s day was done that he was disappointed in the emotion they came out with, and put the burden of teaching his seniors how to lead on he and his staff’s shoulders.