After big loss, Nittany Lions face biggest challenge

Oct. 27—There's an old saying in sports that players and coaches admit is true, even if they never want to learn its validity on their own.

You learn more about yourself and your teammates when times are tough, it goes, than you ever do when things are falling your way.

Another trip to Columbus came and went for Penn State. Another chance to review the film, talk through frustrations and learn more about themselves in the difficult times presented itself.

With the No. 10 Nittany Lions preparing to face Indiana at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, there's still plenty for which to play. Penn State isn't eliminated from the hotly contested Big Ten East race, with a critical game against Michigan on Nov. 11 potentially providing an opportunity to get back into it. But players and coaches understand, how they respond this week against the Hoosiers, and in practices leading up to the game, will determine the course of their once-promising season.

"I learned how resilient we are," Penn State right tackle Caedan Wallace said, after some thought. "You can watch the tape from the game. We never gave up, obviously. We fought to the last play, and that's always positive.

"We all have a good mindset for moving forward."

They're going to need that, of course.

In the coaching offices, the mindset is to work their way out of issues they now are painfully aware exist after Ohio State exposed them.

Head coach James Franklin, his voice hoarse during his Tuesday press conference, admitted coaches cast aside sleeping hours to scour film in search of answers to those issues in the passing game that led to just 12 points scored on offense — snapping a string of 13 consecutive games in which it scored at least 30.

Their response to a tough loss has been to focus on it, perhaps more than they've focused on previous games in the past.

"Obviously after a loss, should your process stay consistent? Yes," Franklin said. "But for me to sit here and say that after a loss, we don't spend more time having discussions on what went wrong, watching the film more times than we normally would watch the film, sitting here and saying, 'Why did these things show up in this game and they had not shown up before?' I wouldn't be being transparent with you if I didn't say we spent more time in the office, watching film, having those hard discussions."

They aren't just being held among offensive staff and personnel.

Penn State held Ohio State to just 20 points, becoming the first team in five years to do that. But the talented secondary couldn't contain star Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. in big spots, with most of his 11 catches going for first downs.

Franklin said the defense knew heading into the game that keeping Harrison in check would take the Nittany Lions a long way toward winning, but not being able to do that frustrated some on a unit that had seemed impenetrable for most of the season.

"A lot of times when things like this happen, you'll see guys divide," safety K.J. Winston said. "But I think we've come together. We're understanding that we all have to gain each others' trust, and even as a defense, we know we have to do better. There has been no pointing fingers. Guys are taking ownership. We all know we each could have done something better."

What Penn State will need to do to turn its season around, and whether it can in the realm of public perception, remains to be seen.

However, they said the only way to even begin that process is to play well, and come away with a win, against an Indiana team that doesn't provide near the challenge the Buckeyes do on paper.

But, mentally, this might be the biggest obstacle the Nittany Lions will have to overcome all season.

"It's really learning from your lessons," defensive line coach Deion Barnes said. "It's being intentional and being detailed and making sure a problem doesn't happen again. We target everything toward that.

"These are nothing but lessons. We've got to make sure that stuff like this doesn't happen again."

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