Immediate emotional reactions to a loss like today’s are:
1) Everything is over and this is 1999 all over again
2) Barkley won’t win the Heisman
3) Penn State is still very far away from being a playoff-caliber team
4) The Big Ten is no better than the Pac 12
Exhale, now for measured perspective.
There were factors (not excuses) that made the field tilt decidedly in Michigan State’s favor. The soggy conditions always favors the slower, less talented team. The 3 hour weather delay impacted both teams, but clearly affected Penn State’s mental readiness coming out of the extended break. They looked totally disinterested during the remainder of the first half, allowing Michigan State to tie the game.
However, this game came down to the fact that one team executed its critical plays, and one team did not. Yes, rain made it hard to catch the ball, but Felton Davis didn’t seem to drop anything and made several terrific catches. It was a lot to ask for Penn State to beat the Big Three in the division in a row, but they should have won all three games if they were the team they were supposed to be. They had OSU dead to rights as we know, and Michigan State provided ample opportunities for Penn State to simply take the game from them.
Championship teams make the plays, get their defense off the field on third down and close the game after getting a late lead. They find ways to get their best players the ball, out-adjust their opponents and maintain resolve no matter what. Maybe, then, the lesson from today is only that Penn State is not yet a championship team. Only two years ago this team was 7-6, barely able to score and uncompetitive against the conference’s best teams. In hindsight, for we as fans to put the expectations of playoff glory on this team were premature. USC seems to be enduring the same reality.
Now that we know Penn State’s 1’s are as good as the best teams’ 1’s, it is important to acknowledge that they are not yet deep enough to truly be a perennial top-5 program. The injuries to the offensive line showed that. If the Ryan Bates could have played, maybe things go differently. Depth is not an overnight thing, it takes time to build it. James Franklin has been doing a great job recruiting to ensure Penn State has skill players to make it competitive now, and is building for long-term success in parallel. The coaches did not have a great game, but it doesn’t mean the sky is falling either. Someone actually posted after the game that it was time for Tommy Stevens. Unreal.
At least now, we don’t have to watch games of teams we don’t really care about (could you stand to watch a game where there is no defense? Maybe we’re just accustomed to Linebacker U). The Lions can still win 11 games and have a solid year on which to build. But the most important thing on which we should focus is that these are likely the last 4 games we’ll see Saquon Barkley in Penn State blue and white. He is one of if not the best running back in program history, and it will be a treat to watch him rip through the last three conference opponents. The coaches should make sure he can make a concerted run at the Heisman, which has become decidedly more difficult with national relevance now gone.
After trudging through 2012-15 and the apathy we felt after losing every other game, we have to remember how nice it is for a loss to be able feel this bad. Penn State is getting there; they’re just not quite there yet.
About the Author:
Adam Kimmel is the founder and Principal at ASK Consulting Solutions, a technical writing firm specializing in engineering content writing. A 2003 graduate and avid fan of Penn State, Adam has followed Penn State football for over 25 years, attending nearly 50 games and researching historical players and teams. He is also a Manager of R&D, and can be found on LinkedIn