Resilience (noun): the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity or the like; buoyancy;
the dominant trait of the 2016 Penn State Nittany Lions football team.
If a college football game were to ever define the word “resilience,” Saturday night’s upset victory by the Nittany Lions over the then-second ranked Ohio State Buckeyes was that game.
The Nittany Lions were a 19-point underdog at HOME entering the game, but a steady diet of efficient pass rush and stellar special teams plays helped Penn State overcome a 14-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter and beat the Buckeyes for the first time since 2011. That 14-point deficit was the largest comeback in Penn State history since at least 1967.
The Nittany Lions have been a second half team for most of the season, averaging a little over 17 points in the second half or later, while allowing only 10.6 points in the same time span. Being a second-half team is a tribute to quality adjustments being made at halftime, but it also signifies a team’s reluctance to quit and give up — something that could have easily been done Saturday night before Penn State rattled off 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Saturday night’s come-from-behind upset over Ohio State only tells a chapter of the growing story surrounding the Nittany Lions’ football program. It’s a program that historically has been rich in tradition and success, but it’s been marred with tragedy, scandal and sanctions following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal in 2011.
Throughout all of the trials and tribulations, Franklin — with the help of former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, who preceded Franklin — has kept the program afloat amidst a severe loss of scholarships that ended this season. Even with the reductions of scholarships, Penn State has yet to finish a season under .500 with the sanctions in place. And while a lot of that is the Nittany Lions beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, it wasn’t until Saturday’s victory over Ohio State that a Penn State team post-sanctions had beaten a ranked team, let alone a top-five team.
The resiliency the program has shown over the last five seasons has been instrumental in not letting the sanctions and coaching changes cripple the program.
An upset over Ohio State certainly doesn’t mean Penn State is back in the top-tier of college football, but it does mean the Nittany Lions are on the right track. Penn State has a lot of work to do to get back to being a national power on the football field, but the win over the Buckeyes is exactly what the program needed as a stepping stone to get back there.
“They’re a bunch of fighters,” O’Brien said following a victory over Wisconsin in 2012, the first season under NCAA sanctions.
That quote proved to be the foundation for the resilience of the Penn State program even four years years later, and it’s helped set the scene for what was not only a special win for the members of the team and coaching staff, but also the Penn State community and fan base.
“This is for everybody,” an emotional Franklin said after the game Saturday night. “This community has been through so much in the last five years.
“I know I’m biased, but I believe football has the power to bring a community together like nothing else.”
Franklin is right: football has brought the community back together. But it was the resiliency of this team, its coaching staff and its fans that ultimately aligned the stars for one special night in Happy Valley.
Not many people outside of the Penn State football locker room and the Penn State community have believed in Franklin or his football team in recent years.
But Franklin’s belief in his team and the team’s belief in its head coach has led them to where they are: 5-2 with a full steam ahead and a lot of excitmfor the rest of the season.
Image credit: Chris Knight/AP Photo