Penn State was ranked second in the country and was 7-0 last season when it visited then sixth-ranked Ohio State. The Lions led 35-20 through three quarters but the Buckeyes dominated the fourth quarter to win 39-38.
In 2016 the Lions were less than a month removed from a demoralizing 49-10 loss to Michigan when they hosted second-ranked Ohio State. With a loss to Pittsburgh on their record as well, the Lions were 4-2. The game entered the fourth quarter with the Buckeyes leading 21-7 and no reason to believe that anything would change. Seventeen points later, including a blocked field goal that no living Penn State fan will ever forget, the game ended 24-21 in favor of the Lions.
The victory in 2016 versus the Buckeyes continued what would become a nine-game winning streak that took the team to the Rose Bowl and included a Big Ten Championship. The loss last season seemingly ended any hope for the Lions to make the playoffs; a heart-breaking loss to Michigan State a week later solidified that outcome.
And while it would have been great for Penn State to have won all of its games last season, the 2017 team provided an enjoyable experience for the fans. A Fiesta Bowl victory put a stamp on an 11-2 season.
Since the loss to Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines in 2016 the Lions have a 24-3 record. Who would have thought that the team was poised for such a successful run as it made the trip back from Ann Arbor? James Franklin guided his squad to the brink of the playoffs after it looked uncertain that the team would qualify for a bowl game, sitting at 2-2 with one of the wins a tight 7-point victory versus Temple.
The journey of a college football season seldom unfolds as we fans expect it to; there are twists and turns, bumps in the road along the path, that make each trip memorable in its own way.
During the past two games between Ohio State and Penn State, momentum has swung drastically in the final quarter. What appeared to be the destination ahead in the windshield became a distant memory in the rear-view mirror in less than an hour.
Should the going get rough for the Lions during the game on Saturday night, the sound system inside Beaver Stadium may very well pump the encouraging words of one Stephen Ray Perry, Don’t Stop Believing. And while fans empty out of the packed arena later in the night, ready to take the midnight train to anywhere, the tune may have changed. The answer to the question Who’s Crying Now could have flipped from one side to the other late in the game as it has in recent years.
Regardless of what the result of the game is on Saturday night, it is not the destination for either team, just a stop along the way. A loss will not end either team’s hope of winning a national championship, a win will not secure a spot in the four-team playoff. It is a big game, but there will be other games between now and the end of the season that will be treated as the next biggest game of the year.
We should take time between now and Saturday night to bask in the memories of the recent past. Appreciate the road that has brought us here, there have been many prayers answered along the way. The overtime game with Minnesota sandwiched between the Michigan and Ohio State games in 2016, the game at Iowa last season, Appalachian State this year, have all gone in favor of the Lions. Twenty-four wins and just three losses in almost two years to the day since the loss in Ann Arbor.
The next two games will provide the opportunity to avenge the losses that the Lions suffered last season. We will take the games one at a time as the team and coach Franklin prefers. And along the way, we should take time to smell the roses and enjoy the scenery.
Shout-Out To A Young RB
With the injury to running back Mark Allen, redshirt freshman Journey Brown was bumped up to third on the depth chart behind Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade. While Sanders will be counted on to carry the majority of the load, and Slade there to fill in, Brown may be called on to play.
We may have a chance to enjoy the Journey on the football field on Saturday. He made his Penn State debut versus Kent State and got the first two carries of his career last week versus Illinois, including a 6-yard touchdown. While there have been higher-profile running backs on the roster since Brown arrived last year, he has impressed during practices and has worked into a position that may have his number called on a massive stage.
Brown’s journey from Meadville to State College was just three hours by car but where it leads from here is anyone’s guess. The 5’11 205-pound speedster first caught the eye of James Franklin and his staff when he ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash in the summer before his senior year of high school, while at a Penn State football camp.
It had been over a year since Brown carried the ball during live action until last week. He may be asked to do so this weekend if a third back is needed, in front of a national audience. For a back that has been buried on the depth chart until a week ago, he is now just a couple of players removed from the spotlight.
If he gets the chance to see the field, and Trace McSorley turns to hand the football to him, you know he will accept it with open arms.