STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — There’s an unmarked grave somewhere along Penn State’s two outdoor practice fields.
Buried there is the game tape from a particularly brutal season opener against Temple, entombed a day after the Nittany Lions were battered and humiliated by the in-state rival Owls in 2015.
They are dealing with losses better these days, but their 38-25 drubbing by No. 3 Ohio State still hurts, and the 0-2 start hasn’t been easy for a team that expected to compete for at least a Big Ten title. Now out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in four years, the Nittany Lions are trying to find some positivity to build on and to avoid falling to 0-3 for the first time since 2001.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in this position as a head coach,” Penn State's James Franklin said. “I think our guys have taken a very mature approach. Obviously, disappointed and frustrated and not where we want to be or where we think we should be.”
Franklin noted that playing a season without nonconference games has made the situation more urgent.
The Nittany Lions dug a deep hole for themselves by losing to Indiana in the season opener. A thorough beating by the Buckeyes on Saturday dropped them to last in the Big Ten East.
Regional rival Maryland (1-1) visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday before the Nittany Lions travel to Nebraska, where a Penn State team hasn’t won since 1981.
“It’s very all or nothing with the College Football Playoff now,” Franklin said. “So I think for the most part, I think our guys have handled adversity well.”
That doesn’t include burying bad memories at the practice facility.
First, there’s a brief unwinding period. After Saturday’s loss in an all-but-empty Beaver Stadium, six different Penn State players opted to talk with reporters.
Quarterback Sean Clifford, with a smudge of eye black still on one cheek, pointed out the good: Penn State was able to control “the middle eight” – the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half.
This was in spite of being outgained 526-325, rushing for just 44 yards, converting 3 of 9 third downs and possessing the ball for only 23 minutes.
“Similar to last week, we had a touchdown drive (to start the third quarter), then, nothing,” Clifford said. “We’ve got to figure it out in the first half for sure. Can’t be a second-half team.”
Linebacker Ellis Brooks had a similar take.
“I feel like we’ve just got to start faster, come out and play with that intensity we had in the second half,” Brooks said.
Defensive tackle Antonio Shelton, who is developing into one of the team’s strongest voices, sat up, drew a measured breath and answered a pointed question about the defense allowing more than 500 yards.
That hadn’t happened at Beaver Stadium since a 2013 loss to UCF.
“What I’m not going to do is throw anybody under the bus,” Shelton said. “What happened tonight was we made too many mistakes against a team whose offense is very, very talented.”
Penn State usually holds meetings on Sunday afternoon before its first practice of the week. Franklin and his staff stuck with that and have keyed in on subtle hints so far this week that they believe indicate the team is looking forward to the improved Terrapins.
To maintain regional bragging rights in the typically heated rivalry, Franklin knows they’ll need to wipe the slate clean and clean it up at the same time.
"Our body language and demeanor and our lack of defensiveness, all of us, I thought was really good,” Franklin said. “And that led to us having a really good practice on Sunday and a really good practice yesterday.”
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