In the leadup to the Minnesota game, we discussed last season’s sixth game: the infamous nine overtime disaster against Illinois. I mentioned that game two weeks ago following the sloppy win against Northwestern. As game seven loomed large, I again wondered as I wrote last week if we could possibly conjure the 2016 team spirit and rally.
Turns out we weren’t the only ones remembering that demoralizing loss at Michigan followed by facing Minnesota at home vibe. Mike Gesiciki texted Franklin this week to say the whole season is still ahead of you.
The whole season is still ahead of us. The reminder we all needed to snap out of our post-routing funk.
The Michigan loss last week could have been a season defining loss, just like last year's game six loss to Iowa. Everyone would have been upset but no one would have been surprised if the rest of the season tanked. If Clifford once again suffered some unknown injury from which he couldn’t quite recover.
Instead, we turned it into a season defining win. A full team effort victory from the offense, the defense, the special teams, and even the fans who cost the Golden Gophers five false start penalties.
What started with two three and outs followed by an interception and an embarrassing exhibit of displeasure by our own fans, turned into a display of strife, resilience, and toughness. Listen, I may not be much of a Sean Clifford fan, but I’d never boo our own player. It’s well above my paygrade to decide who’s the best guy for the job and thank goodness. We all hope Clifford can start out much stronger against Ohio State next week, but he deserves a lot of credit for leading the offense to 45 points, the most scored in a White Out game.
Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton played to their strengths. Singleton has incredible speed while Allen just bulldozes whoever blocks his path. We were dazzled by Mitchell Tinsley’s one-handed grab down the sideline and Parker Washington’s play-of-the-week-worthy, full extension, leaping touchdown with a defender on his back.
Our defense, who worried us last weekend, bounded back in a convincing performance, featuring two true linebackers, Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter combining for over twenty tackles. Special teams was satisfyingly solid, though not perfect, they recovered their muffed punt with little to no damage and even blocked one to get us the stop we needed to start the second half with momentum.
Coach Franklin, in his post-game interview, thought the story of the game was third downs. Minnesota came into the game number one in third down defense and our offense converted 45%. The Gophers came into the game converting 66% of their third downs and our defense held them to just 15%.
There’s nothing like a White Out blow out to restore hope in the season. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, but even the announcers were giving us love on ESPN of all places. Underranked, I heard them say. Maybe, maybe not.
I’ve been hammering this phrase all season: cautious optimism. It’s so difficult to remain in that liminal space of not overexcited, not overly expectatious, but also not overly negative, not quick to toss the season in the trash. It’s a tough line to walk when you’re wearing your Penn State heart on your sleeve.
Here we go Lions in our toughest test yet. I’m holding myself back from expecting anything more than the very best we have to bring. No one believes we can win but I’m determined to remain as cautiously optimistic as ever. Remember that guy who said, “Keep hustling; something good will happen.” Yeah, me too. Go State! Beat the Buckeyes!