Let’s get right to it..
Marty: 2018 will always be a season of ‘what ifs’ for me. What if Penn State doesn’t blow a two touchdown lead in the final 8 minutes against Ohio State? What if they get one last first down or stop in the final 2 minutes against Sparty? What if Trace doesn’t get hurt? What if they didn’t make so many special teams mistakes in the Citrus Bowl?
A 9-4 season as your low water mark is awesome for any program sans Alabama and Clemson. However, the Nittany Lions were two or three plays away from 11+ wins for a third consecutive season. Therefor, 2018 was a season of ‘what ifs’ to me.
Jared: I’d hate to go negative after a 9-win season, but the 2018 season will always bring back to mind the steady stream of mistakes that plagued the team all season. The dropped passes were bad enough, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt a sense of dread whenever a well-thrown ball was in the air to an open receiver. But it was so much more.
Each time the defense gave up a big play, you could go back and seeing a few players make terrible cuts, followed by multiple missed tackles. The special teams blunders were constant. Inopportune penalties and fumbles regularly killed promising drives and allowed opponents second chance after second chance. By the midway point of the season, it seemed painfully obvious that the team was loaded with talent, yet just wasn’t good at actually playing football for 60 minutes. It was certainly a symptom of youth and inexperience in key spots, and the inability of not being able to put mistakes behind them, leading to more mistakes down the line.
What struck me most about the 2016 and 2017 teams was how disciplined they were, often playing mistake-free football and not giving opponents any unnecessary advantages. That’s the hallmark of an outstanding coaching staff and leadership on the field. So the silver lining may be knowing that this is what we can come to expect moving forward, with 2018 hopefully being a blip on the radar.
Lando: It’s old hat for me, but I’ll remember what could have been in 2018. After the nail-biting win against App State, Penn State put together three straight offensive explosions, only to implode against Ohio State and Michigan State in the final minutes. Whether it was poor game management or lack of player execution, the Nittany Lions couldn’t close the deal against these two teams for the second year in a row. What happens if Hamler and McSorley are healthy all year? What if Felton Davis doesn’t wake up in the fourth quarter of the MSU game? That’s a little too painful to think about, even in spring 2019.
My instinctual thought is that the Nittany Lions, especially the receivers and tight ends not named Hamler, Shorter, Freiermuth or Dotson, wasted an unbelievable performance by Trace in his senior year. He was nowhere near perfect, but you can make the argument that he had to do too much (or at least he thought he did) due to the failures of his pass catchers. Although 9-4 is nothing to sneeze at, I can’t help but think that Penn State should have been better in 2018.
Clay: I’m glad we’re doing this in March rather than January. That being said, it’ll always feel rather underwhelming to me. Penn State getting spanked by Michigan aside, the Nittany Lions could well have (and maybe should have?) won every other game they played in. Ohio State was dead in the water with eight minutes to play. Michigan State was beaten with two minutes left. Kentucky had to hold on for dear life to win the bowl. The play was frustrating and the coaching as well. While it’s nice that a disappointing season still nets nine wins, it would’ve been cool to see what happened if the season wasn’t disappointing.
Chris T.: I’ve always said that football is a game of yards. Just a few yards can make the difference between a team winning all but one game or losing three, which the Lions did during the regular season. Expectations for the team were too high, in retrospect, with the group of linebackers and wide receivers that PSU had. There were some great players, but not enough were ready to play at the level needed to be a great team. Had Juwan Johnson played more like he had the previous season, things would have been easier for Trace McSorley. If Micah Parsons and the young wide receivers had been able to play at the level that they will in the coming years, it may have been enough to win a game or two more. There were veterans that seemed to take a step back in their growth, and combined with young talented players that were not quite ready, it showed that the team was not as close to making a playoff run as we thought heading into the season.
For that reason it will be remembered as a transition season, between the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl teams that had a dozen memorable players in their prime, to the next generation of players that are heading toward their best days in a Penn State uniform.
Patrick: It was obviously a frustrating season, but three things I’ll always remember:
1. Watching Trace with the entire team gathered around him before the Ohio State game. He was giving a pump up speech, and was slamming his helmet on the ground because he was so fired up. The way he went onto play -- where he was literally throwing his 205-pound body into linebackers to pick up extra yardage -- is something I’ll always remember. It sucks that the game was loss, but Trace’s passion during that game was otherworldly.
2. This is a little obscure, but Shareef Miller’s reaction to Isaiah Prince holding him on a third down in the second quarter. This was after the two had been jawing (and flagged) so when Prince held and ripped Shareef to the ground, Shareef just got up, stood still, and stared at Prince while flags were being thrown. I don’t know why, but it was just such a perfect reaction.
3. Mo Bamba throughout the fourth quarter of the Iowa game. Duh.
Tim: I’m going to remember the 2018 season like I remember the 2006 and 2007 seasons. That is to say, I don’t fondly recall much except for going 9-4 while (mostly) beating the teams they were supposed to beat and failing to win any of the toss-ups or games where they were underdogs. Like the ‘06 and ‘07 squads, the 2018 squad had numerous chances to get a statement win and to finish with a more impressive record, but inconsistent play, particularly on offense, ultimately did them in. Truly a shame, since it was Trace’s final year, but thankfully we will have plenty of highlights from the 2016 and 2017 seasons for which to look back upon.