Penn State players not dwelling on last visit to Michigan’s Big House
The Nittany Lions' 49-10 loss in 2016 touched off a spark that saw the team win nine straight games and the Big Ten championship. But most players have put the experience behind them.
When Penn State plays at No. 5 Michigan on Saturday, it will be two years – two years, one month, and 10 days, to be exact – since the Nittany Lions' last visit to the Big House, where the Wolverines laid a 49-10 licking on the Lions and got people to wondering whether James Franklin was the right man to lead the team.
However, the loss, which quarterback Trace McSorley called "an embarrassment," became one of the defining moments of Franklin's tenure. The Nittany Lions went on a nine-game winning streak and won the Big Ten championship.
So, it's almost like visiting a fixture in the history of the Penn State program, even if some of the players have pitched the experience like last month's trash.
"That was two years ago," defensive end Shareef Miller said. "That was a different team. Now, we've got a new year and new team. Even last year, that team was a different team."
"It's two completely different teams," agreed wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins. "I can't really speak on two years ago, but I can speak on now. I think our mindset is to go into this game and try to come out with a win. We know it's going to be tough. We know it's going to be gritty, and it's not going to be pretty. But the Big House is the Big House."
As for Franklin, he called the time between the 2016 game and Saturday "two completely different points in our program's development and history." He said the team has learned from that experience and has gotten better, as its 26-5 record since then will attest.
"I think we're one of the better teams in the country when you look at that," he said, "and not only overall record, but specifically how these games have played – the wins, the losses, those types of things. We've been very competitive.
"I think, obviously, I'm not happy, and we're not happy, until we win them all, I get that. But to sit here and say we're going to go back to that game two years ago, no. We've evolved, we've learned, we've grown. It's going to be a challenge. There's no doubt about it."
If it's possible to have a nice memory of the game, that might belong to linebacker Cam Brown. A true freshman two years ago, Brown saw significant playing time because of injuries and was in on 10 tackles.
"I felt like it was a big part of my game, the start of my game," said Brown, who is tied for second in tackles this year, through eight games. "Even though we were down by so much, it was a good experience to see how the flow of the game was, how fast it was. It eased my mind, because I thought it was going to be a lot different."
The Nittany Lions got a measure of revenge last year, routing the Wolverines, 42-13. However, the fact that the Lions, instead of taking a knee, called runs on the last two plays after gaining a first-and-goal from the Michigan 10 left a bad taste in the mouths of the Wolverines.
"I find that as disrespectful," safety Josh Metellus told the Detroit News this week. "It was two seconds left on the clock, and they tried to run the ball to score. I take that personally. This game is real personal. … You can't do anything about it now. All we can do Saturday is go out and make a statement."