STATE COLLEGE — National rankings and bowl games didn’t matter a whole lot to Brandon Bell when the linebacker committed to Penn State, a program then under unprecedented NCAA sanctions.
Four years later, the usually stoic linebacker found himself considering his team’s sudden ascension Tuesday after its biggest win in front of more than 107,000 fans and a national audience.
“It’s great, definitely,” Bell said. “It’s definitely not over though.”
With five games left, No. 24 Penn State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) can make a run at a conference championship but faces plenty of hurdles.
Before considering they’d need No. 2 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State to lose some games, the Nittany Lions first need to find their game away from the friendly raucous of Beaver Stadium. They’ve lost seven straight true road games and eight of 10 since 2014 but can turn that around against Purdue (3-4, 1-3) with a win at Ross-Ade Stadium.
A player who enjoys being smack-talked and says he thrives on hostile energy, Bell has always liked the challenge of playing on the road. Bell’s played in all but two of those road games and said the trick is to maintain your energy level throughout the game, something that’s easier to do with an atmosphere like the one Penn State last played in.
With Ross-Ade Stadium less than half the size of their facility, Penn State coach James Franklin said players will have to “bring their own juice.”
Penn State players know they’ll need it. Some had already taken notice of Purdue before taking the field following a massive pyrotechnics display on Saturday night. As he waited to head over to the stadium, tight end Mike Gesicki watched parts of Purdue’s 27-14 loss to No. 8 Nebraska.
“I think that people are kind of disrespecting Purdue,” Gesicki said. “They gave Nebraska a very tough time in the first half and Nebraska is obviously one of the toughest teams in the country.”
And one that plays an offensive style Penn State hasn’t faced yet.
Different kind of style: Purdue quarterback David Blough has passed for more than 767 yards with seven touchdowns in his last two games. He completed nearly 60 percent of his throws against Nebraska working Purdue’s short and intermediate passing game in its first game since Darrell Hazell was fired.
“These type of teams, they kind of pass it to open up the run,” Bell said. “At the same time, definitely got to be more read-oriented on the wide receivers and tight ends. The team’s going to try to make you look this way and then throw it back this way. Definitely got to be able to keep your head on a swivel.”
Interim coach Gerad Parker will coach his second game after changing up the Boilermakers’ approach in the wake of Hazell’s Oct. 16 dismissal.
“Change has happened, so we changed a lot of things in our routine,” Parker said. “You need to demand out of yourself that you believe and think a different way, that the mind’s a powerful thing and then take off and move faster out on that practice field so you’ll move faster during the game.”
Despite its road woes, Penn State’s practice plan won’t change, although Franklin altered his schedule due to a funeral on Tuesday. He did opt for one adjustment earlier in the week, however. On Sunday, Franklin sat in on the offensive and defensive meetings to make sure the postgame excitement from the Ohio State win had died down.
“We don’t need to change our approach on the back end, and you know, it’s business as usual for us,” Franklin said. “It was a great game. It was a great environment and it was great to see our players go out and play well and it was great to see the fans enjoy it so much, and our alumni and Lettermen and all those things. But again, it’s on to the next game.”