Progress is a word that’s been thrown around a lot at Penn State. After two 7-6 seasons under James Franklin the word “progress” has carried little weight. Promises of a better offense and increased depth felt hollow after a dismal loss to Michigan. So empty that the proverbial “seat” got metaphorically “hot”. But since that game Sandy Barbour gave Franklin a vote of confidence and since that game Penn State has turned it around.
They came back from a 13-3 halftime deficit to beat Minnesota in overtime. A game many called, myself included, the best win under Franklin. Saturday they beat undefeated Maryland. An upset if you look at the point spread, but if you watched the game it was anything but. Penn State controlled the game from the opening possession. Afterwards players like Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley said they left points on the board. That’s why this team is different. They’ve got two leaders that know how to win and aren’t satisfied even when they do.
McSorley said one of the biggest differences with this team is the locker room chemistry. You can feel it when you talk to the players. No one is telling you what you want to hear when they praise McSorley or Barkley. I don’t want to disparage Christian Hackenberg or belittle what he meant to this program in its darkest hour. But given the unique situation he was in, it felt like it was Christian and everybody else. They have two stars now and I think it helps.
Saturday Franklin was emphatic about the progress. He said two years ago the team wouldn’t have been able to sustain the injuries this one has faced. Two years ago they weren’t this mature up front. In both cases he’s right, but the real difference is leadership. As long as they have McSorley and Barkley healthy this team will continue to progress.