I’ll be honest, Penn State’s 39-38 defeat against Ohio State was the toughest loss to accept in quite a while.
Perhaps I am just naive, but everything seemed to be in place. Of course, the Nittany Lions weren’t without their faults, but this seemed like a complete team. One that was stupidly successful last season, but yet returned so many players with “unfinished” business. Andrew Nelson said prior to the season that there were too many guys in the locker room that said they weren’t leaving Penn State without a National Title, and by God, I believed it.
As magical as last season felt, this year felt similar. Laying waste to Pitt, pulling one out in Iowa, and clobbering Michigan in front of nearly 111,000 fans — this team just seemed to have “it.” Despite a shaky offensive line or a defense filled with former three-star recruits, Penn State was marching its way through the 2017 season, and the next stop was the National Championship.
That feeling only continued through much of Saturday. From the opening kickoff, the Nittany Lions were there to play. And every time it looked like the Buckeyes were mounting a comeback, Penn State seemingly always had an answer — until it didn’t. The magic ran out. The defense was shredded by J.T. Barrett over and over and over, while Joe Moorhead’s offense sputtered as well.
There’s so many parts to the game that people can point to: Racing out to a 28-10 lead. Being up 35-20 in the fourth quarter with the ball in Ohio State territory. Re-taking a two possession lead with just 5:42 to go. And heck, even getting the ball back at the Penn State 41, only needing 25 yards to potentially kick the game-winning field goal. The Nittany Lions had their chances, and that’s what makes it sting the most. It’s one thing to play your best game and lose — it’s another to just completely collapse down the stretch.
In some ways, that’s what most disappointing. Not the loss itself, but the way in which Penn State lost it. Despite so much being stacked against them — having to face a more talented team on the road coming off a bye — the Nittany Lions had this game won. Again I come back to the naivety, but I really didn’t think this team had a collapse like that in them. Whether it was the defense or the offense, one of the units was going to rise to the occasion at the end to seal the game...right?
There could be so much more said about Saturday’s game, but I think like most Penn State fans, I’m ready to turn the page and focus on what lies ahead. Despite seeing what was essentially a guaranteed playoff spot vanish away, the Nittany Lions aren’t out of this yet. Adam Collyer outlined what needs to happen, and we’ll certainly get a better idea once the College Football Playoff rankings come out tonight, but Penn State should have a legitimate chance to re-earn its spot back into the top four. Of course, it’ll need some help from the outside — hello Auburn, Stanford, Michigan, and Big 12 chaos — but the Nittany Lions playoff hopes didn’t die on Saturday.
People have counted this football program out so many times the past six years. But yet, every time, these players get up, brush themselves off, and get back to work to prove the #haterz wrong. Unfortunately, winning out doesn’t guarantee Penn State a playoff spot, but I truly think we see an inspired Nittany Lions squad the rest of the season. One that’s playing to earn a playoff spot it so badly coveted heading into the year, and one that knows it’s still in reach.