Penn State senior center Brian Gaia couldn’t help but think about what he and his teammates could’ve done better.
Gaia, after he and the Nittany Lions returned to State College late at night following a 49-10 drubbing at Michigan, picked up the phone and started texting with some of the leaders on the team.
Guys like quarterback Trace McSorley, linebacker Jason Cabinda, defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, and a collection of other players expressed how they felt about where their team was at — 2-2 with losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan and less-than-convincing wins over Kent State and Temple.
“We made a decision that if we kept doing what we were doing, we’d keep getting what we were getting,” Gaia recalled Tuesday.
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From that point forward, Gaia and the rest of those team leaders agreed to take control of their respective position groups, watch extra film on their own time, key in on the day-to-day process wholeheartedly, and get Penn State back on track.
With a monstrous upset over then-No. 2 Ohio State still fresh and a road trip to Purdue on the horizon, the Nittany Lions are trying to keep that focus.
Penn State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) generated quite the scene Saturday night — McSorley’s perseverance, the defensive line’s dominance, and Grant Haley’s special teams heroics ousted Ohio State 24-21 and caused the White Out crowd at Beaver Stadium to storm the field in celebration.
The Nittany Lions, now No. 24 in the AP Poll, is ranked for the first time 2011, and according to Football Outsiders’ S&P+ Ratings, Penn State is favored in its remaining five games and have a 35 percent chance to win out, finishing the regular season 10-2.
Momentum is certainly building, as is enthusiasm surrounding the program, but the Nittany Lions are aware of the possible pitfalls of too much elation.
“Coming off a big win like that, some people can be caught up in that stuff,” Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki said.
“We have to make sure those younger guys don’t reminisce too much or get too big of a head,” the lineman said.
Especially with a perceived trap game this weekend.
The Nittany Lions host Iowa, arguably Penn State’s toughest opponent the rest of the season, for a night game on Nov. 5, but travel to West Lafayette to face the Boilermakers (3-4, 1-3) this weekend.
Gesicki watched some of Purdue’s game against No. 7 Nebraska in the team hotel before the Nittany Lions’ matchup with Ohio State, and he came away impressed.
“People are kind of disrespecting Purdue,” the tight end said of the Boilermakers, who led the Cornhuskers at halftime.
But it doesn’t seem like the Nittany Lions are those “people.” From Gaia and Gesicki to assistant head coach Terry Smith, the Penn State players and coaches aren’t looking past the Boilermakers and seem to have put the upset over Ohio State behind them.
“We’re going to approach (this week) as business-as-usual,” Smith, Penn State’s cornerbacks coach, said on Tuesday’s Big Ten conference call. “There’s just a little bit more excitement. Our kids have bought into the process all year, and after a game like this past weekend, the process becomes, I don’t want to say easier, but the buy-in becomes greater.”
To the Nittany Lions, dwelling on the win over the Buckeyes would be similar to not getting over the early-season losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan.
Gaia and his fellow team leaders worked too hard to allow that to happen.
“We’re looking forward to Saturday,” Gesicki said. “That’s the mindset the team has to have.”