Game Ball and Helmet Stickers: The Never-Say-Die Nittany Lions
The beating heart of those “Never-Say-Die Lions” has been called too short for his position far too many times. He’s had questions surrounding his arm strength all season long, and yet, we lead the Big Ten in plays over 30 yards or more. He was banged up, beaten and bruised on Saturday afternoon but refused to give in. When he was given the opportunity to rest, he waived it off and stayed in the battle instead. He’s resilient, he’s gritty, and despite an offensive line being down four tackles, he managed to lead Penn State to 38 offensive points. Every week they find a new way to win, and every week the kid who won three state championships as a high schooler in Virginia and is now 8-2 as starting QB for Penn State is at the center of it all. Trace McSorley, this week’s game ball, as well as some much-deserved time in the training room hot tub, belongs to you.
As for helmet stickers, we begin with a name we haven’t heard yet this year, redshirt sophomore Steven Gonzalez. Pressed into duty for the first time this season at left guard after Ryan Bates moved over to replace injured left tackle, Paris Palmer, Gonzalez admittedly had a rough go of it against a blitzing Indiana defense hell bent on stopping our superstar Saquon Barkley. And yet, late in the game, as Barkley carried Hoosier defenders on his back, there was Gonzalez out in front leading the push. Moving forward with an O-Line as decimated by the injury bug as our Linebackers were to begin the season, it appears it is now his turn to carry the Next Man Up flag that has been a testament to this squads resiliency all season long. Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall continue to be bona-fide studs on the outside and the forgotten man, DaeSean Hamilton, was there when needed on the receiving end of that 54-yard flea-flicker. Tight end Mike Gesicki gets stronger as the year goes on and had his most productive day yardage wise by gaining 88 yards on the afternoon. Heisman-hopeful, Saquon Barkley, spent most of the day behind the line of scrimmage but still managed to gut his way to tally two more TD's on the afternoon.
Defensively, Garrett Sickels continues to stake claim to the title Alpha Dog and combined with senior Evan Schwan to make life hell on the edge on Saturday, while Kevin Givens turned in another stud performance inside. In total, the D forced five fumbles overall and put an exclamation point on the road victory as Brandon Bell forced the final fumble late in the afternoon and Torrance Brown scooped it up and rumbled into the end zone. On special teams the athlete who happens to be a punter, freshman Blake Gilliken, receives today’s final helmet sticker for once again being able to avoid disaster by chasing down a wayward snap and still managing to get the punt off to avoid the certain turnover.
The hard-fought victory over the scrappy upset-minded Hoosiers was deep in the rear-view mirror by the time all hell broke loose across the college football landscape. No. 2 Clemson fell to our nemesis Pitt, No. 4 Washington got stomped by USC, and to cap off the night, No. 3 Michigan got beat by a game-winning field goal against Iowa. Combined with losses by No. 9 Auburn and No. 8 Texas A&M, the team that stood to gain the most? You guessed it, those Never-Say-Die Nittany Lions. The road to a shot at the Big Ten Championship and (hopefully) more just got clearer. The irony is, to reach Indianapolis and most likely a date with Wisconsin, we have to root for the Evil Empire as they end their regular season against the Wolverines. If we win out and they handle their business on their own home turf, Penn State holds the keys to an East Division Championship by virtue of beating them head-to-head. Of course, all of that becomes a moot point if we don’t handle business of our own Saturday against a struggling Rutgers team who wants nothing more than to make a statement under the lights. I’ve been throwing the word destiny around just a little these past couple of weeks. As much as we control our own, destiny is usually unattainable without a little outside help. On Saturday night, that help came from an Iowa squad that, in the past, has slammed the door on all of our hopes and dreams. Along with destiny, we now have a bit of karma in play as well. It could prove to be a lethal combination as the regular season winds to a close and the real fun begins. With all that said, the only thing I know for certain is, don’t ever count out those Never-Say-Die Nittany Lions!