The term collapse has been thrown around quite a bit the last two weeks. On the outside, it sure feels like the floor’s been swept from beneath everyone’s feet. But what we’ve seen transpire over the past two games might not be anomalies after all. Penn State has flaws, and those flaws have been exposed.
But despite the remarkable start to the year, perhaps expectations grew too high. After all, the youth sprinkled throughout Penn State’s starting ranks can’t be ignored. James Franklin knows that, and he also knows where Penn State’s been the last few years. After all, the College Football Playoff wasn’t in the cards until last year around this time.
“I would describe us as a young program,” Franklin said. “We haven’t been a part of these conversations in a long time, and we haven’t handled it well. That’s on me, and it won’t happen again because the formula that I know works… goal setting, I don’t believe in it.”
Marcus Allen’s comments after a loss last season have reverberated since the second he uttered the words. “When you win, problems become minimized. When you lose, they become maximized.” That can’t be more true right now. When Penn State was on a seven-game win streak, nobody really questioned the offensive line as loudly as it has. If memory serves well, Trace McSorley was running for his life against Iowa — but nobody cared as much, because the team won. Now? It’s one of many topics being discussed on message boards, in Twitter mentions, and at tailgates.
These weaknesses shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — and they sure as hell aren’t excuses. Rather, they’re realities of the situation at hand, and a reality is that a redshirt freshman, a redshirt sophomore, and a true sophomore all started along Penn State’s line against the Spartans compared to just one senior. Among experienced examples on Michigan State’s line? One senior and two redshirt juniors. Ohio State’s? Two massive seniors, a redshirt junior, and a true junior who’s played in lots of big games.
“We’re a mature team,” Grant Haley said. “But at the same time, you know, people feel like we have young guys who are coming in — and even some older guys — and listening to the noise.”
This loss will sting all week, no doubt about it, and yes, any hopes for a College Football Playoff berth have been dashed. But the sun will come up, and Penn State football will continue to build on the foundation it’s created. Because, just as we discuss the lofty expectations that might’ve been naively fueled by early success, we have to remember that this team has flaws. But this won’t be the last time Penn State football is in the College Football Playoff discussion.
In the end, it’s important to keep heads high. People will say not winning a championship is a direct disservice to the team’s elder core, but it’s not. It’s a missed opportunity for sure, but Penn State can blame nobody else but itself for the last two heartbreaking results. But those young players — namely the linemen who struggled against a talented Spartan front four — will learn from this. Just as a defense that allowed Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke to post the second highest yardage mark of his career (400 yards).
Penn State will be back in the Playoff mix — it might even come next season. But until then, we can all sit on the dose of humility we’ve all been dealt after witnessing the past two results.