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Penn State Football: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

by on October 13, 2018 10:05 PM

Mark Dantonio’s actions spoke louder than words.

He came to Happy Valley to win.

A fake punt proved it. So did a halfback pass.

And so did a fake field goal attempt that failed.

But in losing the field goal — from 40 yards, it would have tied the game at 17-17 with four minutes to play — and failing to get a TD, the veteran Michigan State head coach certainly maintained the trust of and showed his confidence in his players.

Dantonio was not leaving without a victory.

“We came here to win,” Dantonio said in a post-game TV interview as he walked off the Beaver Stadium field Saturday night, a 21-17 victor over the Nittany Lions.

You may think it was the 25-yard TD pass from Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis with 19 seconds left — capping an eight-play, 76-yard drive in 66 seconds — that won Michigan State the game.

It wasn’t.

It was Dantonio’s determination that, despite a slew of injuries and a rash of criticism after a 3-2 start, his team could beat James Franklin’s eighth-ranked, pointsapalooza, 4-1 team.

History tells us he’s right. Again.


Dantonio is now 4-1 against Franklin, Saturday the second of a pair of essentially walk-off victories over the Nittany Lions in the past 343 days — both home and away, come last year's hell-and-high water win in East Lansing and this year’s #106k StripeOut.

Sparty closes. In the big games, recently, Penn State does not.

Give the Nittany Lions big credit for being on the Big Game Stage, and even for being ahead in the closing minutes and seconds. Again.

But even credit comes due.  With interest. And Franklin — again to his credit — has generated plenty of interest. Sometimes, though, you have to pay cash money.

Penn State has lost its last four games against Big Ten East division rivals — and yes, they are rivals; Kent State and Akron are not — by a total of nine points. As Herm Edwards says, “You play to win the game.”

Ohio State 39, Penn State 38.

Michigan State 27, Penn State 24.

Ohio State 27, Penn State 26.

Michigan State 21, Penn State 17.

(Folks like to throw in USC here, that 52-49 walk-off Rose Bowl loss, as another last-second defeat. But let’s just keep it in-house, in-division.)

That makes Penn State 0-4 vs. Brutus and Sparty over the last 50 weeks. Overall, since the start of the 2016 season, Penn State is 3-5 against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. And 3-11 against the Big Three since 2014.

Rightfully, Franklin was defensive about those close losses after Saturday night’s defeat.

“But, for everyone that you’ve shown me that we’ve lost,” he said, “I can show you example after example of ones that we’ve won like that. Obviously, all you can focus on right now is the present.”


The fact remains, Penn State is back. (OK, almost. From 2008-11, under Joe Paterno and then Tom Bradley, Penn State was 7-2 against OSU, MSU and Michigan. With a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth.)

And with its return, in large thanks to Franklin, expectations are higher. And close losses or not, the Nittany Lions are 8-4 in their last dozen games.

They cannot get over the hump. 

Franklin is an emotional guy, and one of his main responses to the loss was offering his unconditional love and support to his players in the locker room and in the post-game presser.

His players appreciate that. After the game, Michal Menet said so, Trace McSorley said so. And K.J. Hamler said so — with feeling.

“I’m going to ride with the Big Guy,” said Hamler, referring to Franklin. “I don’t care what none of you all say about him. You can bash him all you want. But he’s still here. He ain’t going nowhere. As long as he’s on our side — offense, defense, special teams, coaches — I’m going to ride with him to the finish.”

Franklin loves getting love like that back. For him, the losses hurt and the criticism lingers. Perhaps too long. But that’s who he is.

“I want our team and our players to know that whether they’ve experienced unconditional love in their lives or not, they have it from me and the coaching staff and they’ll have it forever,” said Franklin, wrapping up his press conference with the following: “We’re going to continue to invest a high-level of effort, a high-level of emotion, a high-level of passion. We’re going to continue to invest.”

In his tenure at Penn State, the Nittany Lions are 7-9 after a loss and 2-3 after a loss to Ohio State. (Since 2016, the numbers are 3-2 after a loss and 1-2 after losing to the Buckeyes.)

He said there were residual effects after the Ohio State loss, exacerbated by the bye week. Penn State safety Garrett Taylor, who had a big-time pick and also thwarted Michigan State’s fake field goal attempt, disagreed.

“I wouldn’t say so,” Taylor said. “I think we moved on. Our goal is to be 1-0 each week, and I think we were focused in on Michigan State. We were way past the Ohio State game. We just didn’t do enough to win this one.”


So, what about this loss?

Will it linger, now in tandem with Ohio State for the second consecutive season, at least for some?

Will the head coach and his staff and his players rebound after their latest last-second defeat?

That it’s at Indiana is a blessing. The Hoosiers are 4-3 and eminently beatable. And the game is on the road, in Memorial Stadium, which is the deadest Big Ten stadium I’ve been to — and I’ve been to them all.

In addition, the Nittany Lions will be away from the pressures of a large home crowd, even larger expectations, and a town and campus that don’t know what to make of this spate of close losses. 

More than a long walk from the busses, heading into the stadium to the cheers of 6,000 fans. More than visiting scores of recruits in seemingly dozens of states during the bye week. More than a renovated Lasch Building.

More than anything else, Penn State fans — and Franklin and his staff and players, obviously, as well — want this:

To win.

And that includes the close ones.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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