Penn State's players know they can't afford hangover and 'let Minnesota beat us twice'

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
P.J. Mustipher

Penn State defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher threw on his headphones during Saturday’s flight back to Happy Valley and then mostly sat in silence. The entire plane ride was quiet.

That atmosphere carried over to Sunday, when Mustipher said the Nittany Lions’ team meeting remained hushed and muted. Usually, players dance to celebratory music, teammates revel in their big plays and the Nittany Lions enjoy the fruits of a big victory.

But there was none of that Sunday, after the 31-26 loss to Minnesota.

“We haven’t felt losing in a long time, so we don’t even know how to act on a Sunday now that we lost,” Mustipher said Tuesday.

The emphasis now, Mustipher added, is that, “We can’t let Minnesota beat us twice.” Penn State was clearly despondent Saturday and early Sunday, but this team knows it can’t let those emotions carry it through this week.

If they do, if they start to feel sorry for themselves, the veterans on this team know what’s in store. Last season, Penn State dropped a 27-26 heartbreaker to Ohio State and watched as that feeling bled into the next game — and resulted in another loss, a 21-17 upset to Michigan State.

“We’ll move on, and hopefully it doesn’t turn into a roll like that where you get on a losing streak,” linebacker Jan Johnson said Tuesday. “But I think we’ve learned from last year that the season’s not over and good things can still happen. So we need to go out and handle our business.”

Indiana, Indiana, Indiana: Penn State dropped five spots in the most recent College Football Playoff ranking to No. 9 as a result of Saturday’s loss. But, in reality, the goals haven’t changed for the Nittany Lions. If Penn State wins out, it’s still all but guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. If it doesn’t? The only difference now is that a berth in the Rose Bowl isn’t the floor; a New Year’s Six bowl might be out of reach with a second loss to Ohio State.

But, as James Franklin reminds players and fans every week, it’s one week at a time. It’s Indiana, Indiana, Indiana — and it’s important not to glance back but to focus forward on the Hoosiers, who are ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1994, when Franklin was still throwing passes as a senior quarterback at Div. II East Stroudsburg.

“It’s about moving on,” Franklin said. “It’s about, OK, here are the issues. Here are the things that we’ve got to get corrected.”

More urgency needed: Franklin and his players obviously wouldn’t discuss the specifics of their issues this past weekend. But Franklin said the team needs to play with more urgency, Mustipher said the defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, and both agreed with Johnson that the team moved on after practice Sunday.

“People’s spirits felt pretty good after we watched the film and looked at the game, saw the mistakes that we made and made the corrections during Sunday’s practice,” Johnson said. “And everyone felt OK about it. We moved on, and now we’re focused on Indiana.”

Mustipher could tell Sunday didn’t feel the same as it’s been. After all, Penn State (8-1) last experienced a loss 312 days before Saturday, in a 27-24 Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky on New Year’s.

“But I’ll tell you this,” Mustipher added, “we definitely got better on Sunday, and we learned from it. We didn’t win but, at the same time, we definitely got better from what we saw. And we’re ready to go now.”

Hoosiers offer challenge: The Nittany Lions will have to be. Although Penn State is a 14-favorite, according to Las Vegas, it was a two-touchdown favorite in 2018 — and had to overcome a third quarter deficit in a 33-28 win.

On paper, the Hoosiers will be the best passing offense Penn State has yet seen. (Indiana is ranked No. 15 nationally with 308 yards per game; the most prolific passing offense Penn State has played to this point is Pitt, which ranks No. 45 with 249 yards per game.)

Penn State knows Indiana isn’t a push-over. And it knows it can’t focus on Minnesota.

Now, it’s just a matter of executing that sentiment. After all, the best way to get over a loss to Minnesota is with a win over Indiana.

“In order for us to achieve our goals, we have to stick together,” Mustipher said, “and we have to get back to work quickly because we have an opponent coming into Beaver Stadium that’s very good.”

Added Johnson: “It’s not the end of the world. There are still things to do and, like I said, it starts with going out and beating Indiana this weekend.”