Let's start off with a brief story, which I promise has a point. The BSD staff communicates via Slack to plan stories, collaborate on breaking news news, etc. We also use Slack to discuss Penn State and tell bad jokes. Earlier this week, Dan had a horrifying idea: watch the Temple game again. By about the sixth sack, the updates became fewer and farther between, and to be honest, I started to worry about Dan's health.
I tell you that story, to tell you this one. The inconsistencies of this team, not just from game-to-game but from series-to-series, have been frustrating at best. Against the Owls, who incidentally have proven to be quite formidable this season, the Nittany Lions went up 10-0 in almost dominant fashion, only to give up 27 unanswered points in defeat. It was almost as if the first sack suffered by Christian Hackenberg triggered some sort of relapse among the team, and the season-ending injury to Nyeem Wartman-White pushed them over the edge.
The Temple game is only a microcosm of this season. The Lions followed up a 28-3 performance over Rutgers with a disjointed win against San Diego State and a narrow escape against Army. Just when things seemed lost, there was the emphatic victory over Indiana. Whatever the Maryland game was, a 39-0 victory over a better Illinois team followed. Pardon the phrasing, but what gives?
Penn State's two deep is littered with freshman and sophomores with practically no seniors to be found. Those underclassmen are not only being relied on for their play on the field, but they are looked upon to be leaders as well. Yes, PSU's captains (Hackenberg, Anthony Zettel, Jordan Lucas, Angelo Mangiro, and Von Walker) are all upperclassmen, but leadership obviously comes from more than just those named to positions of power. Players like Jason Cabinda and Mark Allen have been thrust into bigger roles with injuries and are being counted on to lead. That is not to take anything away from either guy, but that is no easy task for any player, let alone sophomores.
When the going gets tough, coaches certainly have a role to play in not letting things spiral out of control, but the players do as well. During that Temple game, the lack of emotion on the sideline, save for Zettel's late game huddle, was readily apparent. The energy that was sapped from the Nittany Lions following injuries to Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch against the Aztecs was just as obvious.
Anyone who has played competitive sports at practically any level knows that there are ups and downs within a season. Hell, these exist within every game. Young teams seem to relish the high moments more and wallow in the depths of the lows for longer. Every emotion, good or bad, is magnified. As Penn State goes through these final three regular season games and a yet to be determined bowl game, those underclassmen will be counted on even more to provide those highs on the field, along with rallying themselves and their teammates from the inevitable lows.