Penn State is back. I can say that now right? Do I really have to complicate, nuance and criticize it? Can’t I just leave it at that? Okay fine I’ll elaborate.
That was unquestionably, undoubtedly, indescribably a huge win. No one who can read a box score was picking Penn State to win. Ohio State wins big games, Penn State doesn’t…at least since the sanctions. That was the narrative until now.
Saturday night at Beaver Stadium the Nittany Lions pulled off what many thought would never happen again. A win over a top 2 team, something they hadn’t done since Notre Dame in 1990.
After the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the football program, university and State College community was shaken to the core. It’s identity and source of pride stripped of its resources, the very name “Penn State” was met with scorn.
Joe Paterno was fired, followed shortly by his death. The football program was handed sanctions including a post season ban, reduced scholarships, and vacated wins back to 1998. The sanctions have been lifted in stages, this season they are now fully removed, but their effect remains.
After Bill O’Brien handled the initial storm, James Franklin took on the aftermath. O’Brien was almost universally loved, but Franklin, you could argue, took on the hardest task. He’s provided excuses…reasons is probably a better word. Youth, depth, and an overall sanctions era disadvantage. Everyone gets it, but everyone was waiting for a signature win. Saturday we got it, it was one crazy night.
When you look back at this season it’s funny how fragile it all is, that’s why I can’t really just proclaim “Penn State is back!” The Pitt game could have been a disaster, Michigan was an embarrassing injury plagued mess. Against Minnesota they looked lost at half time. Up until Saturday, Maryland was the most complete game under Franklin they ever won. Things very easily could have already gone south and this column could be about seriously starting the search for a new coach. Now the headlines are Penn State’s got one.
All that said they came back against Pitt, they learned from Michigan, the turning point of the season was against Minnesota, Maryland was impressive and then there was the “signature win” against The Ohio State.
Being back in the top 25 for the first time since the scandal is no small task. This was more than a win, this was catharsis. 107k celebrating as one, many of them on the field afterwards. Now we can look ahead and see a shot at going 10-2 with this schedule. We can say that next year with Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and increased experience and depth they could really make a run.
But if anyone should know success can come and go quickly it’s fans of Penn State. You’ve already made up your mind about whether the Paterno era’s culture got them into this mess. So I won’t say anything either way to convince you, but Franklin made sure to mention culture Saturday night. Garrett Sickles first half suspension was the example.
“There’s nothing more important than getting an education,” Franklin said. “There’s nothing more important than doing the right things day in and day out.”
He finished the press conference with a comment that sounded like a mission statement for program on the cusp of being back.
“Everybody knows that we are going to make the right choices for these kids and this program long term and we are never going to put winning ahead of it. We are never going to make it winning at all costs, we are going to do it the right way here at Penn State. Always have always will.”
Strong words after a strong win. But let’s not get too worked up over the big picture…as Franklin said let’s enjoy THIS win. Saturday night Penn State was back playing with the best, even if it’s just for one day.