Seven hours after the game began in East Lansing, Penn State fans watched as the kick by Michigan State freshman Matt Goghin went through the uprights as time ran out. A sinking feeling permeated through the interior plumbing of the Nittany Lion faithful with the realization that the team had taken a second loss, more than likely ending all hopes of making the college football playoff. A song inside their heads began to play and the lyrics were ‘It’s all over now.’ But is it really the end of the mission?
Or is this a beginning of the next chapter? Looking at the big picture, the theme song inside Penn State football fans’ heads should more likely be Time Is On Our Side.
At the start of the 2017 season there were great hopes for James Franklin and his PSU football program. Some fans threw caution and in some regards reason to the wind and predicted an undefeated season. This is admirable and not a position too inappropriate for those who back the team with all of their hearts. In retrospect it appears that the team is still a year or so away from making a run at a national title.
Seldom does a team find itself in a position to claim ultimate superiority over its competitors while having players on the field that have obvious flaws. Linebacker University has the heart of a lion in middle linebacker and defensive leader Jason Cabinda. In the past two games, at critical moments, Cabinda’s one flaw, his range while covering his responsibilities in pass coverage, has been exploited. Once the dust has settled on this season, regardless of how the next few games turn out, Cabinda will be remembered as the heart and soul of this team. He is a great student and representative of the university and program.
Koa Farmer and Manny Bowen have also played admirably but they, too, are not prototypical linebackers that one would see on a national championship-contending team. Likewise, with two injuries on the defensive line and young backups filling in, the Penn State pass-rush has been inconsistent for the past two games. The result has been leaving the secondary hung out to dry, forcing them to cover for too long and too much space. The object of naming names and pointing fingers at position groups is not to detract from the contributions that these young men have made to the program, but rather to show that they and the rest of the team may have been playing slightly above their abilities in recent times.
In some regards, the theme song for the program, once at the top of national prominence and now seeking to return to that level, should be ‘Waiting on a Friend.’
It would be a shame if this were the peak of the team’s resurgence but it is not. Recruiting efforts in the past few years have all but stamped the destiny of the squad as being a national contender for the near future. There are friends on the sidelines growing and gaining experience and some in the pipeline in the form of top-line recruits close to seeing the field for Penn State. These are the type of players that have no obvious flaws and that on the eyeball test seem in place as fitting parts of a national champion.
Over the past 19 games, Penn State has lost three times, each on the road. Sure, we can call playing USC in Los Angeles a neutral game, but for all intents and purposes it was a road game for the Lions. In the past three losses the Lions have fallen by one point on the road to Ohio State and twice as time expired while a field goal went through the uprights. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but this team and program has shown that it is not far off from perfection, even while having imperfect parts.
The answer for getting over the hump, in addition to fortifying the lineup with higher-pedigree players, is becoming the type of team that can win tight games on the road. For this purpose, the team may want to take on the mantra of being a rolling stone; wherever they lay their hats is their home.
We fans also need to be understanding while watching this process unfold. We should try to avoid the temptations that come with a rising program; expecting too much too soon. We also would be advised to take a step back and appreciate where the team is at this moment, even though it is not where we thought it would be just a handful of days and two losses ago. There is season left to enjoy. It could be worse. The future looks bright. There is fight left in this team and we fans will regroup as well.