STATE COLLEGE — His team narrowly avoided the fate no less a program than Michigan hasn’t been able to in a decade.
Saturday’s 45-38 overtime triumph for Penn State over Appalachian State, he insisted, will be seen later in the season as a big moment for his young team. The moment, perhaps, when it all started to come together. Every season has games like that, he adds. Maybe this season’s just happened to come right out of the chute.
“They seem to do this against everybody,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said more than once of the Mountaineers during his postgame press conference, a reminder to everyone of what happened in Ann Arbor when Appalachian State came to town 11 years ago to the day. These Mountaineers, after all, are major college football’s answer to Jerry Quarry. Good enough to throw hands on any given day with the heavyweights. And every once in a while, they’ll land a right to the jaw that staggers the champ.
Every so often, they won’t get up.
The job Penn State’s coaching staff has now is an easy one: Come to understand why they couldn’t keep their hands up as the fourth quarter dawned with a seemingly comfortable 14-point lead and what appeared to be all the momentum. Learn how they went from streaking to hapless, to a relentless machine again when it mattered most.
Was it the inconsistency brought on by their own youth? A lack of preparation? Or, is Appalachian State just that good?
Penn State knows it has to answer the questions.
“I think our inexperience showed up a few times,” Franklin conceded after the game. “We didn’t play the way we are capable of playing. I did not think we played well on special teams, which is usually the story across the country early in the season like that, in college football. We have typically been pretty good, but obviously weren’t (Saturday).
“We got a win, and we’re going to enjoy wins around here. But we’re really going to critique this thing hard (Sunday).”
What will they find? Inconsistency.
On offense, plenty of open receivers, and some dropped passes. Plenty of times where the blocking up front dominated, and other times when the Appalachian State pass rush overwhelmed it. Plenty of times when the front seven appeared to have just the right adjustment to corral the Mountaineers offense, and then a fourth quarter when its defense somehow allowed 266 yards and 28 points, far more on both counts than it allowed in the first three quarters combined.
“We’re still learning a lot about this team,” said cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who was beaten for a few big plays in that fourth quarter before rebounding to haul in the game-sealing interception in overtime. “Being able to fight through that, we could tell that we’re a team that is going to be resilient throughout the whole fourth quarter and overtime. Nobody was putting their heads down on the sideline.”
As the Mountaineers jogged off the field following their postgame gathering at midfield, the Penn State fans that engulfed the tunnel on the north side of the field rose to their feet and offered a respectful ovation to the players as they went by.
These fans had seen this happen to Michigan on their home field, and they knew they were a play or two away from it happening to them on theirs.
“There was not any doubt in our minds that we could come in here and get this win,” Mountaineers coach Scott Satterfield said. “That was the one question mark that I had about our team: Would your team fold? Would they lay down whenever adversity hits? I think that question was answered.”
And their week one opponents, if they are to get anywhere near their goals this season, will have to answer them, too.
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