What Comes Next After A Frustrating Loss To Pitt
Saturday felt like rock bottom for many Penn State football fans. This is an exaggeration, of course — many other losses have looked significantly worse. But with all that was riding on this game, admittedly, this one hurt.
It was a tough pill to swallow, especially after such an impressive comeback. However, it’s certainly not the end of the world. There are even a few positive takeaways to be had.
Trace McSorley proved critics of his arm strength wrong when he accounted for 330 yards and a touchdown. He showed he can throw the deep ball with accuracy and that he’s capable of making good decisions. Saquon Barkley was the Saquon Barkley we’ve grown to love with 80 yards and 5 touchdowns, once again proving he’s one of the best backs in the nation. Wide receivers stepped up huge when the run game stagnated with Deandre Thompkins and DaeSean Hamilton both having productive games.
While stats look good on paper, the overarching theme of this game is this: Penn State never quit. Down 28-7 after the first quarter, many of us thought this would be a blowout and even more embarrassing than it was — but that’s not what happened.
Instead, the offense proved it can consistently put points up on the board while the defense stepped up big when it needed to late in the game, specifically on the three and out that gifted the Lions that crucial final possession.
Safety Malik Golden said that while people did speak at halftime in an attempt to boost morale, most of the determination to come back was innate. “We just need to keep fighting, it was all about pride,” he said.
Pride motivated the defense significantly in the second half. It gave up only 14 points (seven of which came after the long kick return) and forced a momentum-shifting fumble.
Mike Geiscki summed it up perfectly. “We have more heart than I think at my three years that we’ve ever had. We got a bunch of dudes that are not gonna give up, we’re not gonna to quit, and we’re gonna do whatever it takes to come back and win.”
Though the comeback was commendable, the team’s slow start proved to be an Achilles Heel. Starting the second quarter down three touchdowns is an uphill battle, and it’s one the Lions can’t afford against a team like Michigan. Injuries certainly played a role as well, with starting middle linebacker Jason Cabinda and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall sidelined. While Manny Bowen is a very capable replacement, losing a player like Cabinda is a big blow.
So the question is — where does Penn State go from here? How does it take these lessons and turn them into something tangible?
Saquon Barkley said after the game Franklin told the team it all depends how they take it. “We can be upset, cry about it, we can let it affect us for the rest of the season, or we can grow off it and become a better team,” he said.
The team will grow from this. Penn State showed a lot of heart, and that the offense can come in and score 30+ points on good defenses. So don’t get too discouraged — Penn State should still beat teams it’s supposed to beat like Indiana, Purdue, and Rutgers, and although anything could happen, wins against Minnesota and Temple don’t seem far-fetched.
This team’s heart will play a big factor in many games still to come, but the rest of the season is no cakewalk, with games against Big Ten foes Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State. Will the newfound heart of this team be enough for Franklin to finally get the signature win that’s eluded him thus far?
Franklin’s policy on signature wins is no secret, he says it every week: “We’re just focused on (insert team name here) and going 1-0 this week.”
He wouldn’t even acknowledge Pitt as a big rivalry game (to be fair, neither did we). No matter how vehemently he denies it, he has to know beating Army isn’t the same as beating Ohio State, Michigan State, or Michigan. Penn State is 0-9 versus those big three programs, and 0-6 versus ranked teams since Franklin’s debut season.
Of course, to give him some credit, the loss to Ohio State in 2014 was certainly aided by some questionable calls, but it was a loss to a ranked team nonetheless — something that’s become commonplace during his tenure.
Yes — Penn State had to deal with crippling sanctions, yet the program remains competitive despite its youth. But this is a tired excuse, and its overstayed its welcome. The talent is here, Franklin’s guys are here, and fans are growing tired of waiting. It’s time Franklin delivers that signature win, or his seat will be very warm after this season.