PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Penn State coaches and players didn't spend a lot of time celebrating their rout of overmatched Rutgers, preferring to look ahead to a final regular-season game that could send this unlikely year rising to a level that no one saw coming two months ago.
As midnight drew near Saturday after the No. 8 Nittany Lions' 39-0 win at High Point Solutions Stadium, coach James Franklin wasted no time in stoking the fire to pack Beaver Stadium for next week's game against Michigan State, with special attention on one former player.
"LaVar [Arrington], I'm personally calling you out," Franklin said, referring to the former all-American linebacker from the late 1990s. "Fly in for the game. We need everybody back for the game."
In turn, Arrington said on Twitter that he would make the trip from Los Angeles and called on his teammates "and all that came after me, classes [of] 2000 and on," to come out.
"This will be the first game I've attended since Nebraska after everything happened," he wrote. "Glad Coach called me out; it's been way too long."
Nebraska was the first game Penn State played in 2011 after the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the firing of coach Joe Paterno. The Sandusky situation led to harsh NCAA sanctions that removed Nittany Lions football from the national spotlight.
Now the Lions (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) are on the upswing. They outgained Rutgers, 549-87, and limited the Scarlet Knights to five first downs Saturday night in posting their seventh straight victory. Tyler Davis kicked a career-high four field goals and Trace McSorley threw a touchdown pass for the 12th consecutive game.
Saquon Barkley rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown before leaving in the third quarter with an injury. After the game, Franklin said Barkley was fine and could have returned if needed.
Penn State moved up one spot, to No. 8, in the Associated Press poll Sunday. The Lions were ranked eighth in last week's College Football Playoff rankings and could rise after Thursday's loss by Louisville, but No. 9 Oklahoma had an impressive win Saturday at West Virginia and could vault over them.
Michigan State (3-8, 1-7) may be having an off-year, but the Spartans got the attention of everyone associated with the Penn State program Saturday after coming within a failed two-point conversion of upsetting No. 2 Ohio State.
"Everybody saw what Michigan State was able to do," Franklin said. "They're a tough team. They've been a tough team for a long time. Coach [Mark] Dantonio does a tremendous job and they've got talent. So we're going to have to have a great week of practice."
McSorley said the Nittany Lions will have the same approach, calling the next game "the most important game of the year" as Penn State has had all season.
"All the outside factors, we'll let that take care of itself," he said. "We know that we've got to take care of our job, which is to win on Saturday. We have to come in this week and prepare as hard as we can and come out on Saturday for the last time in front of the home crowd and perform the way we know we can."