Will It Ever Be Enough?: Penn State Football’s Cinematic Season Ends Against Michigan
You’ve seen this movie before.
Penn State enters as an underdog at home against a top Big Ten team. It hangs in during the game against that team, but for the entire game, the Nittany Lions seem overmatched. Then it all falls apart in the fourth quarter.
You saw that movie last year, and a handful of other times, against Ohio State. On Saturday, you saw it again against Michigan as Penn State lost 24-15.
This movie isn’t just a loss. It’s what happens in that loss. It’s Penn State fans getting themselves excited before a big game just to be disappointed. It’s the Beaver Stadium crown getting misled by its own team into thinking that it had a chance. And then, when that crowd realizes what’s going on, it leaves early.
Those who stick around voice their opinions. As a horde of Michigan fans start making noise in the west end of the stadium, the students bring a chant that has rung throughout Beaver Stadium often over the course of nearly 10 seasons.
A security guard wearing Michigan gloves and a Michigan lanyard smirks at the student section. He was told to watch for a field rush if Penn State pulled off the upset. Instead, he’s watching his team win another game in Happy Valley.
“I’m feeling great,” the guard says. “My phone is buzzing like crazy. My buddies are texting me right now.”
After Michigan scores the game-sealing touchdown, water bottles rain down on the field from the student section. The same thing happens after what appears to be an interception thrown by Drew Allar as Penn State tried to drive downfield and save the day. Myles Dread and a few staffers pick them up in the end zone, trying to keep the field clean. By the time the PA announcer tells the crowd to stop, there were no more objects left to throw.
James Franklin jogs out for his postgame handshake with Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, who led the Wolverines in Beaver Stadium with head coach Jim Harbaugh suspended. Franklin then embraces Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft. When Kraft departs, Franklin stands still. He’s alone on the 35-yard line, seemingly waiting for someone. Ten seconds later when he realizes that nobody is coming, Franklin walks back toward his players.
A half-empty student section greets the Nittany Lions for the alma mater after the game, even if that greeting is made up of a series of curse words and dozens of students telling their peers that they aren’t good enough.
“Let’s go Steelers!” one yells as he stands near the Nittany Lion logo in the center of the student section. “You suck!”
“F— you!” another one screams.
“Take those f—ing gloves off,” a student yells at tight end Tyler Warren, who had two catches on four targets for 25 yards. Warren said after the game that he didn’t hear the student.
Fellow tight end Theo Johnson curses at the top of his lungs as he enters the tunnel. A second later, a staff member is picking his helmet off the ground.
Johnson, Warren, and their teammates walk past dozens of Penn State fans en route to their locker room.
“Just give us 30 seconds,” say the fans, often middle- and elementary-aged, trying to get their attention. The Nittany Lions ignore them.
You might not have seen that exact movie before. You might not have seen Franklin stare down a journalist for five seconds after the reporter challenged the coach on his play-calling. You might not have seen Drew Allar cry as he walks off the field. You might not have seen a Michigan team without its head coach beat Penn State in the Nittany Lions’ home. You might not have seen the spirit of a Penn State team go out the window with exactly 4:09 left on the game clock.
But you’ve seen the original movie. And you’ve seen the sequel. And you’ve seen the third, fourth, and fifth movies, all with basically the same plotlines. You’ve seen the ones that came after those, and you’ll see the ones that come in the future when Penn State football remains the little brother of the Big Ten.
This Penn State season once seemed cinematic. The program was eyeing its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance and a shot at the Big Ten Championship game. A win over Michigan likely would’ve put the Nittany Lions into a tie-breaker scenario for a bid to the conference championship game, and with that, a possible trip to the playoff.
But the show’s over.
A two-loss Penn State team will not make the Big Ten Championship game. It certainly won’t make the playoff.
Don’t worry, the show will be back next year. Penn State will still have quarterback Drew Allar, soon to be a third-year player in college football. It’ll still have Abdul Carter, Tony Rojas, and Dani Dennis-Sutton. Penn State’s tight end room will still be chock full of talent, as will the running back room.
The cinema will be back. Penn State will enter the season as a “dark horse contender.” It’ll win its first few games of the season against mighty West Virginia and formidable Bowling Green.
But what happens when Penn State hosts UCLA? What happens when it goes to USC? What happens when Ohio State comes to Beaver Stadium looking for its eighth-straight win against the Nittany Lions?
It’s the story of a program that cannot get over the hump. It’s the story of a program with no answers. No matter what the Nittany Lions throw at the Big Ten and the world, they come up short.
A five-star quarterback at the helm wasn’t enough. The nation’s best running defense wasn’t enough, as was one of the country’s most prolific tight end rooms. A coach on a 10-year contract with a base salary of $8.5 million wasn’t enough.
When will it ever be enough?
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About the Author
Diaz served at the helm of Penn State’s defense from 2022 to 2023.
There were a lot of Penn State fans who took to Twitter when Manny Diaz’s departure was announced. The consensus? They’ll miss him.
Diaz led the Nittany Lions to a No. 1 total defense ranking with 3.91 yards per play.