Penn State Football: It's Time to Say Bye (Week) Michigan, Hello Ohio State
Both sides of College Avenue were so quiet over the weekend, you would’ve thought it was an ultra-rare Penn State Football Bye-Week #2 and THON Canning Weekend #2.
And you’d be right.
It was the calm after the storm. And before it.
Saturday, Oct. 12, 9:16 p.m., Beaver Stadium -- Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT). Relive it here.
Saturday, Oct. 19, 9:33 a.m., inside the Starbucks at College and Burrowes, next to Noodles -- Mathlete John Urschel has taken over a four-top, his headphones on, his papers out, his laptop open.
Partially incognito under his full beard and a furrowed brow, all hunched over, Urschel didn’t look 6-foot-1 and 301 pounds. And he wasn’t wearing his No. 64 (the number 4 cubed) either. Still, zero of the approximately 25 people (the number 5 squared) in Starbucks (store number 7822) recognized Urschel. Except me.
“Hey, John,” I said. He smiled. We chatted a bit, then I mentioned how much I enjoyed watching The Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” piece the night before. It featured Urschel and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, and closed with a trademark wide Urschel grin in the winning locker room. Very touching.
Urschel didn’t see it. “I try not to watch that stuff,” he said matter-of-factly, yet sincerely. Too focused on books, too focused on football.
“It’s like Joe Paterno said,” I told him: “You’re never as good as you think are when you win, and never as bad as they say you are when you lose.”
Good advice, I think, when you lose to Indiana, then beat Michigan, then are getting ready to play Ohio State.
While Urschel was booking it at Starbucks, many of his teammates had already booked town. Going home was primary for most players, like these two guys who play in the secondary. Punt returner and safety Jesse Della Valle headed out on Megabus to Pittsburgh, where he spent Saturday "watching the other teams' games and hanging with family."
Starting corner Jordan Lucas went the opposite direction to see family and friends in New Rochelle, N.Y. "It felt great just to get away from the area and refocus myself," said Lucas, the team’s No. 4 tackler overall and first non-senior on the tackle chart, to go with a pick, a sack, two forced fumbles and 4.5 tackles for a loss. "I watched a lot of film and just had a very relaxing time home."
Over the weekend, with no game of their own at hand, most of the Nittany Lion assistant coaches spread across the Commonwealth and beyond, to watch Penn State prospects under Friday Night Lights. Their portfolio of Penn State stocks was at a two-year high: There was the win over Michigan, a full five more scholarships (and 10 overall) to offer compared to just a month ago and the panache that comes with getting a verbal just the day before from Mike Gesicki, the nation’s top high schooler at tight end, who picked Penn State over Ohio State.
And what of Bill O’Brien?
The second-year head coach didn’t hit the road recruiting. His forte is going one-on-one with recruits and their families, shooting straight and selling a mix that is part ex-Pat and full-on Penn State Experience – academic prose and coaching pros.
Besides, the heady elixir that is Nittany Lion football for this bye week can certainly be sold by his assistants. So Bill broke out more Buckeye film, tended to those growing to-do piles on his Lasch Building desk, allowed for some R&R with his wife and sons, and continued his fall foliage tour of Central PA, a.k.a., watching his son Michael play Little League baseball.
Saturday, Oct. 26, 8 p.m., The Horseshoe, Columbus, Ohio – Penn State vs. No. 4 Ohio State.
For Penn State, last Saturday was the first of consecutive games against what used to be called the Big Two. (For good reason: They’ve won 1,753 games and 76 Big Ten Conference titles between them.) Now the Ten is 1G. Still, they are quite the formidable 1-2. Michigan entered its game with Penn State at 6-0. Ohio State, tight 34-24 winners over Iowa, is 7-0 and winner of its last 19 games.
Penn State’s historic victory over Michigan was its sole game in a 20-day stretch in the middle of the season and a shining beacon of what Penn State football, still, is all about. It was the second such run of 20 days that featured only one game; the first had that 44-24 loss to Indiana.
In total, from Sept. 22 -- the day after PSU defeated Kent State, 34-0 -- to this Friday, Oct. 26, the Nittany Lions will have played just two football games in 34 days. That’s almost akin to the 1892 Penn State squad, which opened with a 20-0 loss to Penn on Oct. 1, then came back on Oct. 27 to beat Wyoming Seminary, 40-0. In between the Dalton Gang was killed, the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was recited in public schools for the first time and the first commercial long-distance phone line opened, between Chicago and New York.
The only thing that happened during Penn State’s 2-for-34 2013 stretch was that the U.S. government closed and opened. And That Four Overtime Thing Against Michigan. Not much. What's past is prologue. On to Penn State vs. Ohio State.
Heading into Columbus, the Buckeyes now look eminently beatable after trailing the Hawkeyes 17-10 at halftime and entering the fourth quarter tied at 24. The Nittany Lions should be happy and healthy. It’s their coach’s job to make sure they are wise as well.
“The players did a phenomenal job in the Michigan game,” O’Brien said on Thursday, after his squad’s last practice before giving them the weekend off. “Now it’s time to move on. But it’s hard to do that, because many people are patting you on the back.”
Somehow, I bet O’Brien will solve that problem. Butt, meet Kick.