Sometimes we put our own thoughts into the heads of the players and coaches when trying to understand what they may be feeling after a loss such as the 21-17 defeat at the hands of Michigan State on Saturday night. When you think about it, someone would have to do all the work and preparation that the team does, make the sacrifices, have all the things to gain and lose depending on the outcome of a game or season, in order to have a shot at understanding what it is like from their perspective.
Following the tough loss in the final moments of the game, we asked team captain Nick Scott to describe the emotions that were present in the locker room. Words such as ‘sad’ or ‘angry’ were suggested but Scott offered a more truthful answer. He also put the responsibility on the team itself for what it was feeling.
Scott was asked about what the loss meant to the team in terms of its overall trajectory this season. With the first loss to Ohio State, the possibility of winning the B1G Championship or making the College Football Playoff were not necessarily taken off the table. Now that seems to be the case. The team went from being on the cusp of contending for conference and national titles, to now having to field questions about how they will handle the rest of the season without that incentive.
Just a few weeks ago some people were singing the praises of the coaches and players. Now that tune will change in some cases, and for the near future, the team may be forced to muffle that noise with earplugs.
That theme was repetitive in the response from the players when they were asked to walk down paths that would have them speak negatively about the coaching staff. KJ Hamler spoke about his support for The Big Guy, coach James Franklin, and the entire Penn State coaching staff. Hamler said he would “ride with them to the fullest”, all of the coaches, from top to bottom, since Franklin will. Just a few weeks ago, the question of replacing anyone on the coaching staff would seem ridiculous.
Now, directly after the loss to Michigan State, the nineteen year old redshirt freshman was in a position that he felt he had to defend the coaching staff. And he was right. The wolves were circling in the press contingent and amidst the online anger outlets less than a half-hour following the game.
Here is what Hamler had to say about how the team will respond to the loss.
Kevin Givens was one of the first players to face the press after the game and he was still recovering from the emotions as he was asked to talk about them. Audrey Snyder of TheAthletic.com walked him through it as gently as possible, but Givens, from Altoona, had trouble holding in the remainder of the tears that fell on the field following the game. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer was seen with some of his pupils, massive in size but no less impervious to emotion than anyone else, on the field after the game.
To see players in such a down state, it is hard to imagine that anyone would criticize them for losing. There is no denying that there were plays that were not executed. At the same time, some of the plays that came up short involved players that have done a great deal for the Penn State football program and university. Every player that steps onto the field wants to do well, to be the best that they can be.
When they are, we celebrate them and the coaching staff are all geniuses. After two losses, some of the same people who wish that the team would do better are going to make it harder for them to do so. Negative vibes and feedback hinder the success of the program just as much as the cheers inside the stadium help.
One player that had a great game in spite of the loss, safety Garrett Taylor, deflected positive praise as he had Brian Lewerke passes earlier in the day. He spoke of the plays that he could have made to win the game instead. Taylor led the team with five solo tackles and also had a forced fumble, an interception, and five passes broken up. One of the passes that he was credited for breaking up could have been a second interception.
We should try to remember, while recovering from the loss ourselves, that the team is hurting much worse than we are. For those people who feel that there needs to be a change in the coaching staff, you should understand that none of those scenarios will play out until the season is over. So harping on it in the meantime is just a negative drag on the team and fans that will remain unified through this adversity.
Like Nick Scott said, we’ll find out quickly who is with them and who is not. To take the position that you support this team, while calling for the heads of certain coaches, is inconsistent. The players put their faith and support in the entire coaching staff, from top to bottom, as KJ Hamler said.
While it isn’t fashionable for a writer to declare an allegiance to the team or coaches, it’s much more hip to call them out or speculate who could replace them, it’s a good time to do so if that’s how you feel. I’m with you, Penn State players. I can’t say that I feel your pain because I haven’t lost anything or put in any of the work that you have. And I’ll continue to support the coaches just as much as I did three weeks ago. Fully. Completely. Without dissent or much thought about it. There will be no negative winds against your sails coming from this direction.