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Penn State working to regain confidence heading into Saturday’s Wisconsin matchup

A 42-7 rout last weekend at the hands of Michigan may have shaken the confidence of some Nittany Lions, but players and coaches are supporting each other.

The Penn State defense gave up a long run to Michigan's Karan Higdon during the thrashing at the hands of the Wolverines on Saturday.
The Penn State defense gave up a long run to Michigan's Karan Higdon during the thrashing at the hands of the Wolverines on Saturday.Read moreTony Ding / AP

The task facing Penn State coaches and players when their chartered plane touched down Saturday night after they were routed, 42-7, at Michigan, was to find a way to put the crushing loss behind them and move on to Wisconsin, another tough opponent.

It was easier said than done. And the players said a lot to each other the next day, as they met to review the film and hold their regular position meetings, seeking to boost the confidence of any teammate who wondered how a Top 10 team from earlier in the season could get thumped so soundly.

"We just talked about what we still needed to accomplish during the season and what needs to happen," linebacker Jan Johnson said. "I don't think anybody likes losing, and we don't want to lose. Our goal, obviously, is to win every game that we play. But that game's behind us, and we've put it past us, and we're just focused on doing anything we can to get a win this Saturday."

Miles Sanders, who rushed for a season-low 14 yards against Michigan, and his fellow running backs dropped in at the offensive linemen's meeting to give them some encouragement after a difficult day.

"I kind of did most of the talking … all of us really said something," he said. "I think they appreciated it. I don't ever want them to think that we're giving up on them when stuff gets hard. It's football; stuff like that happens. We just wanted to let them know we've got their back, we're in this together, and we will get the running game back on track this weekend."

The story of the Nittany Lions (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) during their 2-3 stretch has been either an isolated breakdown in an assignment on offense or a tendency to try to do too much on defense that allows an opponent, like Michigan's Karan Higdon, to break a 50-yard run.

Head coach James Franklin said that interaction is the key to helping players regain confidence.

"I think it's conversations and things you talk about and things you say," he said. "I think it's how you interact and how you talk to players, especially at times like that. I think that's really important.

"I think the biggest way to build confidence is to be able to have repeated success, and that doesn't necessarily always have to be in the game. That's in practice. That's through preparation. I think people are more confident the more prepared they are."

The preparation is continuing this week for Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2), which finds itself in a desperate situation, trailing  Northwestern by one game in the battle for the Big Ten West title, with the Wildcats holding the tiebreaker.

That doesn't matter to Penn State. Even with no chance at a division crown, the Lions still feel as though they have a lot to play for.

"I think we still have a lot ahead of us," safety Garrett Taylor said. Safeties coach Tim Banks "talks to us about making sure we're playing for ourselves, playing for the guys in the room, and playing for the guys on the team. We owe it to ourselves to go out and play hard these next couple of games."