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Penn State Football’s Finish To 2020 Season Shouldn’t Be Forgotten

With its decision to opt out of a bowl game, Penn State football’s 2020 season is officially over.

It was hardly a pretty year for the Nittany Lions. Thanks to a couple of opt-outs, season-ending injuries, and Journey Brown’s medical retirement, it felt as if Penn State’s roster depleted before it even played a snap.

All of that, along with several other understandable issues that came with the coronavirus, combined to give the Nittany Lions their first 0-5 start in program history.

Now looking back at this season as a whole, it could be argued that a majority of those games should’ve been Penn State wins. Some clock mismanagement and a questionable game-ending call gave the Nittany Lions a heartbreaking loss to a solid Indiana team to begin the season. The subsequent loss to Ohio State was understandable, to say the least.

Outside of those losses, however, Penn State’s play was quite simply embarrassing through the midpoint of the season. Brutal losses to Maryland and Nebraska highlighted the ugliest moments of the campaign. Will Levis was named the starting quarterback against Iowa in week five, but that didn’t change much as the Nittany Lions stumbled their way through 60 minutes of football yet again.

As tough as this season got, James Franklin’s group deserves credit for how it battled through these last four weeks of the season. No matter the level of competition left on the schedule, there was some serious chatter about the possibility of a winless season in mid-November.

“I’m very proud of everybody for battling through,” Franklin said Saturday night. “It’s hard to do this under normal circumstances, and even more now.”

As easy it was to be negative on this group, the Nittany Lions bounced back with four straight victories, including a win at the Big House for the first time since 2009.

A 4-5 record is hardly up to Penn State’s standards, but the finish to this year couldn’t have been any better. Saturday’s win over Illinois was the cherry on top, highlighted by 580 total yards of offense, the first and only 50-burger of the year, and a solid defensive performance after an ugly first quarter.

No matter your record, a win is a win, and Penn State did a whole lot of that these last few weeks.

“0-5, man, I said it a few weeks ago, nobody had slept right in months. It was hard,” PJ Mustipher said. “I don’t think people on the outside really know how difficult it is to lose five games in a row. That’s something we weren’t accustomed to around here. It was really we were in foreign territory.”

As difficult as it got, Mustipher credits Franklin for helping lead the team through some extremely tough days.

“Coach told us, ‘It starts with you guys, this family. It’s not gonna be any magic thing that turns this around, it’s gonna start with the people in this building,'” Mustipher said. “That’s what we did. We stuck together and we improved every day in practice, it started to show on Saturdays.

“It’s like we’re back to what we know. We’re winning, we’re having fun playing football. It’s just Penn State football right now,” Mustipher added.

While it may be frustrating to see the Nittany Lions finally hit their stride just as the season ends, it’s also an extremely positive sign for next year’s campaign. Outside of star wideout Jahan Dotson, plenty of Penn State’s production on either side of the ball came from young players.

True freshman wide receiver Parker Washington finished his season with a dazzling 36 catches worth 489 yards and six touchdowns. Fellow first-year Keyvone Lee was a constant for Penn State’s rushing attack with 438 yards and four scores.

On the other side of the ball, sophomore linebacker Brandon Smith showed plenty of promising signs throughout this season, including a team-leading eight tackles against the Fighting Illini Saturday.

There’s plenty of other young members of this team that certainly had to pay their dues this season, including the freshmen who have yet to play with a normal Beaver Stadium environment.

There’s no getting around the fact that this season sucked on multiple occasions, but the four-win finish is a great reminder that this is still Penn State football. Several of this year’s bright spots will be back for another season, and the Nittany Lions proved that they can still hang around in the Big Ten.

Most important of all? Penn State still knows how to beat Rutgers.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]


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