There was a prevailing sentiment from a searching-for-answers James Franklin and his players, worn and weary, in the Michigan State visiting media room last weekend: Getting back to “our formula” is necessary.
In Franklin’s mind, the College Football Playoff expectations swallowed Penn State whole. The hype was not handled properly. He even said Thursday during the Penn State Coaches Show that the loss at Ohio State lingered into the defeat at Spartan Stadium.
But at this point, the Nittany Lions feel like they’re over it. Their back-to-back shortcomings are behind them. They’re refocused and refueled to finish the 2017 season on a high note.
“The fact that we’ve lost by a total of four points in the last two games just doesn’t really mean much to us,” wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins said. “The games are in the past. Losses are in the past. Wins are in the past. What matters now is Rutgers.”
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The Scarlet Knights could provide what Penn State really needs: A confidence-building blowout.
The Nittany Lions are 31-point favorite over Saturday’s noon opponent with reason. The Scarlet Knights have four wins this season — a resurgence of sorts for the New Jersey program — but they’ve come against an FCS team, hapless Illinois, struggling Purdue and a Maryland team that’s on its third-string quarterback.
Against ranked opponents (Ohio State, Michigan and Washington), Rutgers has been outscored 121-28 this season. That bodes well for the No. 14 Nittany Lions. So does getting back to Beaver Stadium, where they’ve won 12 straight and 18 of their last 19.
This is an opportunity for the Nittany Lions to get their mojo back — and prove that those two losses at Ohio State and Michigan State aren’t hanging over their heads.
“I’ve been pleased,” Franklin said of his team’s focus this week after Wednesday’s practice. “I like where we’re at.”
A day earlier, Franklin said that his postgame message, centered around getting back to that “formula,” was received well — judging by the feedback he got from players, coaches and the administration. Franklin reiterated that his team hadn’t “gone far off that model.”
“But we cracked the door open and when you do that, you start to kind of hear more of it than you should,” the coach added.
By his players’ own admission, that door is firmly shut. Practice has indicated as such.
“Coach Franklin’s right in saying that we need to take it one week at a time and focus on the game ahead,” tight end Jon Holland said. “We’ve been business-like at practice. We’ve had great energy and great focus. I feel like the practices that we’ve had this week will pay dividends on Saturday.”
Holland’s not the only one who believes that, either. Franklin does, too, along with the rest of the team.
The Nittany Lions are no longer dwelling on a pair of season-altering defeats. Despite an easier stretch run, they really can’t afford to do that. And Franklin’s guys understand that.
“It’s already done,” Thompkins said. “Nothing you can do about it and just attack the next week, one week at a time.”
Added defensive end Shareef Miller: “Everybody’s focused. Everybody’s working. We’re just focused on Rutgers.”