Penn State’s Most Memorable Teams: 2016

Penn State celebrated winning the Big Ten championship at Lucas Oil Stadium after defeating Wisconsin 38-31 in 2016. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

As far as comebacks go, Penn State impressed. Both with the season and the game.

We’re talking about 2016, when the Nittany Lions earned the program’s fourth Big Ten Conference title. After the season’s first four games, Penn State sported a 2-2 record while preparing for a feisty Minnesota squad that was coming to Happy Valley the following Saturday.

That’s when the fate of Penn State’s 2016 season started to change.

A long touchdown pass to receiver Irvin Charles. A late scramble from Trace McSorley. And a 40-yard field goal from Tyler Davis with two seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. That led to a game-winning dash from Saquon Barkley, which led to a blowout Homecoming win over Maryland, which led to the iconic win over No. 2 Ohio State, which led to, well, you know.

Penn State advanced to Indianapolis off of the strength of several comeback wins and strong second half play, including being tied with Purdue at halftime and trailing Indiana by 10 in the second half. The Nittany Lions won those games 62-24 and 45-31, respectively, setting up a memorable scene for the team’s regular season finale at Beaver Stadium.

Ohio State and Michigan played at noon, and their game was still ongoing as Penn State and Michigan State kicked at 3:30. Penn State needed a loss from the Wolverines, coupled with a win over the Spartans, to win the Big Ten’s East Division. In the first half, during a break between plays, the home crowd erupted, signaling that the Buckeyes had just upended the Wolverines in overtime.

Penn State then ran away from Michigan State, 45-12, which gave way to an on-field trophy presentation and James Franklin telling the packed crowd that “this is just the beginning.”

Franklin was right.

The following Saturday, Penn Staters converged on Indianapolis, where the Nittany Lions fell behind 28-7 late in the second quarter to Wisconsin.

McSorley and receiver Saeed Blacknall connected on two long touchdown strikes (40 yards, 70 yards), and Barkley added a score both on the ground and through the air. The latter on an oft-referenced wheel route against future first-round NFL draft pick TJ Watt.

A last-minute stop on fourth down sealed the win for Penn State, and the celebration, led by the entire Blue Band that traveled to the game, was on.

Black wrote:

“Running their winning streak to nine games in their now patented dramatic fashion, the No. 7 Nittany Lions, improbable winners of their first division title last week, fell behind No. 7 Wisconsin, winners of their division title for the fourth time in six years, 28–7, in the first 29 minutes of the sixth Big Ten Championship Game.

But that simply meant the Lions had the Badgers exactly where they wanted them—with a 210 to 104 yard margin in total offense, a 15:41 to 9:07 advantage in time of possession and a 21-­point lead in score.

Over the final 31 minutes of playing time, the never-­say-­die Lions outscored the Badgers, 31–3, to seal a 38–31 triumph and a trip to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 2017.”

You can view photos from both the 2016 Big Ten championship and the 2017 Rose Bowl against USC on our Flickr page.

Alumni and fans can hear more about the 2016 team on tonight’s episode of The Football Letter Live, which features offensive lineman Paris Palmer. You can register online or tune in on Facebook at 8 p.m.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Penn State Preview: Rutgers

Will Levis rushed for 108 yards in his first career start, as Penn State blew past Rutgers 27-6 last year at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions travel to New Jersey on Saturday, looking to improve upon their 28-2 all-time mark against the Scarlet Knights. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: at Rutgers, noon kickoff, broadcast on FS1.

Venue: SHI Stadium, previously High Point Solutions Stadium.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 49 degrees with rain, heavy at times; breezy in the afternoon; locals are also encouraged to be on the lookout for flooding.

All-time series: Penn State leads 28-2, dating back to 1918.

Last meeting (2019): Penn State won 27-6 at Beaver Stadium, where Will Levis rushed for 108 yards in his first career start. The Nittany Lions finished the regular season 10-2, marking the third time in four years that they won 10-plus games. They also won nine in 2018.

Last week: Penn State left Ann Arbor with its first win there since 2009, upending the Wolverines 27-17. Rutgers, meanwhile, beat Purdue 37-30.

The lead: Can Saturday’s win in Ann Arbor have a carryover effect for Penn State? Sure, the Nittany Lions just need to replicate the same conditions that led to that victory. Protect the football and find a reliable rusher beyond Sean Clifford and Will Levis. The former still leads Penn State in rushing this season, though Keyvone Lee is quickly becoming one of the biggest positives for the team this season. Lee tallied 134 yards against Michigan to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

Last week, Clifford re-established himself as the starter, telling reporters after the game that he never doubted himself. Teammates shared a similar outlook, and the camaraderie between Clifford and Levis is one reason why the team hasn’t self-combusted this season. Even though players and coaches don’t want to look this far ahead, all of these signs are harbingers for a rebound year in 2021.  

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions once again don’t turn the ball over. This is an obvious one, but it’s also true. Penn State has more talent, even if Rutgers is improved. If the Scarlet Knights have to continually drive 70-plus yards to score, the Nittany Lions should pick up their second win of the season.

Rutgers wins if: the Scarlet Knights find a way to have their best defensive game of the season. That’s asking a lot, but that’s what it’ll take. Rutgers is last in the Big Ten, allowing nearly 36 points per game. They’re also near the bottom (11th) in sacks, so they’ll need to manufacture pressure somehow to slow down the Nittany Lions.

Count on: The youth movement continuing for Penn State. True freshmen accounted for 267 yards last week for the Nittany Lions, which was 64 percent of Penn State’s total offense.

Keep an eye on: Parker Washington. Fans are starting to hear more and more about Penn State’s emerging receiver, who set a program record last week with nine catches, the most ever by a true freshman for the Nittany Lions.

Trivia tidbit: Since its last win in the series in 1988, Rutgers has scored 20-plus points against Penn State only three times in 13 games.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: PENN STATE V. RUTGERS (2014)

For 58 minutes in Penn State’s 2014 clash with Big Ten newcomer Rutgers, the Nittany Lions’ offense sputtered.

Heading into the final drive of the game for Penn State, the offense had managed to score just six points, despite the defense gifting them five interceptions on the night.

When it mattered most, though, the offense stepped up.

Photo By Steve Manuel

“The fired ­up partisan crowd, whose roar got louder with each passing minute of anticipated victory, reached a crescendo when the visitors were pinned down on their own 20­-yard line with just three minutes left in the game and Rutgers holding tenaciously onto a 10–6 lead,” wrote editor of the Football Letter, John Black.”

That’s when things started to click for the Nittany Lions.

Photo By Steve Manuel

On the first play of PennState’s final drive, 19­-year-­old quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who as Black described, “had been chased, harassed, hurried and sacked throughout the night,” found Geno Lewis on a gorgeous throw down the sideline that ripped off 53 yards of the 80-yard mountain Penn State had to climb to the end zone.

Lewis, who led the Big Ten receiving yards entering that night, outmuscled two Scarlet Knights defenders to snag the pass, bounced off their attempted tackles and raced down the sideline to Rutgers’ 27-yard-line.

Hackenberg looked as though he threw the game-winner two plays later on a dart to tight end Jesse James, but a holding call nullified the would-be touchdown.

The Nittany Lions now faced a third-and-long from the Rutgers 29. Lewis came up big once more, putting a double move on his defender to get open up the right hand side of the field. Hackenberg found him again, dropping the pass right into Lewis’ chest for a 23-yard gain.

Photo By Steve Manuel

Two plays later, on second-and-goal from the five-yard line, terrific blocking from the offensive line opened up a huge hole up the middle and New Jersey native Bill Belton took care of the rest.

Belton dashed through the middle largely untouched before a desperate Rutgers defender tackled him in the end zone. It was a futile attempt as Belton had already reached pay-dirt and the Nittany Lions had the lead.

Photo By Steve Manuel

“All the air was sucked out of the home team’s big balloon,” wrote Black, as the home crowd fell hushed.

Rutgers got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but the comeback would be denied on another interception from quarterback Gary Nova, this time by safety Ryan Keiser.

Although ugly at times, Penn State had found a way to win in Piscataway, and welcomed Rutgers to the Big Ten by handing them a defeat.

Giving Thanks

James Franklin takes a pregame lap before every game at Beaver Stadium, when he thanks stadium personnel and fans for their support. (Photo by Penn State Athletics, taken in 2018)

The game day atmosphere at Beaver Stadium for the team arrival is truly incredible. Thousands of fans, many of whom rose early and have been tailgating for hours, line Curtin Road and the adjacent areas to welcome James Franklin and the Nittany Lions to the stadium.

The team exits the Blue Buses outside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park and walk toward the tunnel, with fans facing them on both sides of Curtin. It’s similar to team arrival across the SEC, a new tradition that Franklin brought with him from Vanderbilt. It’s been a smash hit.

Music is booming. The Nittany Lion, Penn State Cheerleaders, and Lionettes preform. A stage is set up near the tunnel, and fans cover every inch of grass and pavement on the south size of the stadium.

But then the environment changes once Franklin walks through the tunnel and makes his way onto the field, where he embarks on one of his lesser-known traditions: He takes a pregame lap around Beaver Stadium, and along the way, he thanks stadium personnel and fans for their support. He’ll shake hands, share fist bumps, and give hugs. Occasionally, someone asks for an autograph, and Franklin usually obliges.

This hospitality also extends to the TV crews who are there prepping for the telecast, the Penn State Cheerleaders, and really anyone else he sees. Before last year’s game against Michigan, Franklin even welcomed two Wolverine fans dressed in maize and blue who somehow found their way into the stadium early.

His daughters, Shola and Addison, typically accompany their dad and join him in sharing thanks and gratitude. For the folks in the upper deck, the young girls will shout “We Are.”

Compared to outside, which sounded like a rock concert a few minutes before, the atmosphere on the field is markedly different. The stadium is nearly entirely empty. The PA system is silent. Once he arrives at the stadium, this might be the last few moments of anything resembling solitary and quiet for the head football coach on game day.

It’d be easy (and maybe even understandable) for Franklin to bypass everyone he sees. After all, there are only a certain number of game days each year, each a looming report card that assesses the team’s progress. There are probably hundreds of thoughts going through his mind on one of the biggest days of the year for his team, though taking the time to give a simple “thank you” is a point of emphasis for Franklin because of his upbringing, he said.

Franklin was raised by a single mother, who worked as both a hall aid and as a janitor at his high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. And in recent weeks, as the team struggled through an 0-5 start, Franklin talked about recognizing the blessings that he has in his life.

In a way, Franklin was saying this: During a year when nothing is typical and everything has been unexpected, it’s important to remember who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and where you’ve come from.

Just this week, he said that this team is still the Cotton Bowl champs, Fiesta Bowl champs, and Big Ten champs.

This year doesn’t change any of that.

And while his pregame lap isn’t the same, either, that foundational belief in recognizing teamwork hasn’t changed, either.

“I think it was really, pretty much, how I was raised. I’ve just always been taught to treat people the way you would want to be treated and thank people and show appreciation and have manners and say, ‘Yes sir and no sir, and thank you and you’re welcome,’” Franklin said. “Whether it’s Penn State football or any other industry, it takes a lot of people to make the machine go, it takes a lot of people. So, when I walk around Beaver Stadium and I see all those people working there so that we can have a great game day environment and that the people can be safe and orderly and all those types of things, it’s an opportunity for me to do that. It’s an opportunity for me to thank them.”

“I’ve always taken a lap; it’s usually been with my daughters. Obviously, right now, that’s not an option, and it’s somewhat strange and somewhat surreal, walking around the stadium each week and there’s nobody in there. But again, this is what 2020 is, and (I) try to stick to my normal routine and still try to find some times to think about the blessings that we do have and thinking about the people in our lives and the impact that hopefully we’re making.”

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

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PENN STATERS AT THE NEXT LEVEL: WEEK 12

Hard to believe we’re already through 12 weeks of the NFL season. This season has certainly looked different with a lack of fans, COVID protocols and multiple game postponements, but there’s still been some really entertaining games.

Speaking of 12, there are 12 former Penn Staters up for Pro Bowl voting:

  • Packers safety Adrian Amos
  • Giants linebacker Cam Brown
  • Titans defensive end Jack Crawford
  • Jets kicker Sam Ficken
  • Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki
  • Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin
  • 49ers kicker Robbie Gould
  • Titans defensive tackle DaQuan Jones
  • Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II
  • Eagles running back Miles Sanders
  • Rams special teams ace Nick Scott
  • Buccaneers offensive tackle Donovan Smith

Robbie Gould, K, San Francisco 49ers


Don’t look now, but the 49ers are still in the thick of it in the NFC playoff picture.

Former Nittany Lion Robbie Gould nailed the game-winning kick for San Francisco in Sunday’s important win over division foe Los Angeles.

Gould continues to excel at a high level in his 16th season in the NFL and made all three of his field goal attempts.

Cam Brown, LB, New York Giants

Photo By Steve Manuel

In Saquon Barkley’s absence, a Penn Stater has still shined for the first-place (yes, at 4-7) New York Giants. Cam Brown has been an excellent special teams contributor for the Giants this season and made another important play in Sunday’s narrow win over the Bengals.

With his team holding on to a slim lead, Brown made a potentially game-saving tackle on a punt return for Cincinnati by the narrowest of margins.

The tackle might have prevented a score for the Bengals and kept the Giants’ lead in tact.

Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins

Photo By Steve Manuel

It’s been a quiet few weeks for Gesicki, and while he didn’t have his most productive in Sunday’s win over the Jets, he got back into the end zone on a 13-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It marked his first touchdown reception since Week Three.

It was only one of two touchdowns in the game and kept Miami within reaching distance of division leaders Buffalo.

Trace McSorley, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Trace McSorley has had to remain patient to get his chance in the NFL. He has after all, sitting behind reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III on the depth chart for the Baltimore Ravens.

But this is a strange season that has created strange circumstances. With multiple players out of Wednesday’s game between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, including Jackson, McSorley was suddenly the back up to Griffin III.

RGIII left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter and Trace got his chance. Like he’s done his entire career, he took advantage of the opportunity and gritted out an impressive showing that included his first NFL touchdown pass.

McSorley connected with Hollywood Brown down the sideline and the wide receiver did the rest on a 70 yard pitch and catch.

The Steelers emerged victorious 19-14, but McSorley proved he can hang at the NFL level.

Photo By Steve Manuel

Nittany Lions In The NFL
Baltimore Ravens (1): Trace McSorley
Buffalo Bills (1): Ryan Bates
Carolina Panthers (2): Yetur Gross-Matos, Shareef Miller 
Chicago Bears (2): Jordan Lucas, Allen Robinson II
Dallas Cowboys (2): Sean Lee, Connor McGovern
Denver Broncos (2): DaeSean Hamilton, KJ Hamler 
Detroit Lions (3): Jason Cabinda, Jesse James, Amani Oruwariye
Green Bay Packers (1): Adrian Amos 
Houston Texans (1): John Reid 
Indianapolis Colts (1): Robert Windsor 
Kansas City Chiefs (1): Stefen Wisniewski
Las Vegas Raiders (2): Nick Bowers, Carl Nassib
Los Angeles Rams (1): Nick Scott
Miami Dolphins (1): Mike Gesicki
Minnesota Vikings (1): Dan Chisena 
New Orleans Saints (1): Blake Gillikin 
New York Giants (3): Saquon Barkley, Cam Brown, Austin Johnson
New York Jets (1): Sam Ficken, Chris Hogan, Ross Travis
Philadelphia Eagles (2): Miles Sanders, Shareef Miller
Pittsburgh Steelers (1): Marcus Allen
San Francisco 49ers (2): Kevin Givens, Robbie Gould 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3): Chris Godwin, A.Q. Shipley, Donovan Smith 
Tennessee Titans (2): Jack Crawford, DaQuan Jones
Washington Football Team (1): Troy Apke 

Nittany Lions On NFL Coaching Staffs
Matt Rhule – Carolina Panthers Head Coach
Tom Bradley – Pittsburgh Steelers DBs Coach
Bobby Engram – Baltimore Ravens TEs Coach
Al Golden – Cincinnati Bengals LBs Coach
D’Anton Lynn – Houston Texans Secondary Coach
Mike Munchak – Denver Broncos OL Coach
Jeff Nixon – Carolina Panthers Senior Offensive Assistant

Penn Staters At The Next Level: Week 11

While it wasn’t a spectacular weekend for Nittany Lions in the NFL, a few former Penn Staters turned in solid performances for their respective teams.

Amani Oruwariye, CB, Detroit Lions

The Lions had a miserable Sunday afternoon in Charlotte, getting shut out for the first time in 11 years by the Carolina Panthers, 20-0.

The score could have been worse if not for a pair of red zone interceptions by Detroit’s defense, including one from Amani Oruwariye, his first of the season.

Oruwariye has been the Lions best cornerback this season, outperforming top-three pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jeff Okudah of Ohio State.

As noted by MLive.com, Oruwariye is allowing just one yard per coverage snap for the season, which ranks among the top 25 cornerbacks who have played at least half their team’s defensive snaps. 

According to Pro Football Focus, the former Nittany Lion was the Lions highest-graded defensive player in Week 11 and third-best among all defenders in the NFL. 

Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Godwin’s fourth quarter touchdown to tie Tampa Bay with the Rams looked as though it was going to give his team a huge boost heading into crunch time on Monday Night Football.

Photo By Steve Manuel

That didn’t prove to be the case, though, as the Los Angeles offense connected on a field goal on its ensuing drive and Tom Brady subsequently threw an awful INT on the next Bucs possession. 

No team has been more up and down this season by Tampa Bay. The Bucs have some impressive wins over Green Bay and Las Vegas, but equally out-of-sync performances like the one against the Rams. 

Godwin has remained a consistent contributor, however. He finished Monday’s game with 53 yards on seven receptions and that touchdown. 

Even with Tampa’s eventual defeat, it was a heck of an effort on the part of Godwin to reach the end zone for the tying score, leaping over a defender near the goal line and stretching out for six. 

Adrian Amos, S, Green Bay Packers

It’s tough to put all the blame on the Packers’ defense for the team’s second half collapse in Sunday’s loss at the Colts, as the Green Bay offense was stagnant and turnover prone after halftime.

Amos was his usual solid self in the Green Bay secondary, coming up with seven tackles and a pass defended. 

Photo By Steve Manuel

He and the Packers’ defense held their own for as long as they could, but too many mistakes by the offense — including a fumble on their own side of the field in OT — proved decisive in Indianapolis’ 34-31 win.

Amos and his teammates will look to bounce back at home on Sunday Night Football against the Chicago Bears in Week 12.

Nittany Lions In The NFL
Baltimore Ravens (1): Trace McSorley
Buffalo Bills (1): Ryan Bates
Carolina Panthers (2): Yetur Gross-Matos, Shareef Miller 
Chicago Bears (2): Jordan Lucas, Allen Robinson II
Dallas Cowboys (2): Sean Lee, Connor McGovern
Denver Broncos (2): DaeSean Hamilton, KJ Hamler 
Detroit Lions (3): Jason Cabinda, Jesse James, Amani Oruwariye
Green Bay Packers (1): Adrian Amos 
Houston Texans (1): John Reid 
Indianapolis Colts (1): Robert Windsor 
Kansas City Chiefs (1): Stefen Wisniewski
Las Vegas Raiders (2): Nick Bowers, Carl Nassib
Los Angeles Rams (1): Nick Scott
Miami Dolphins (1): Mike Gesicki
Minnesota Vikings (1): Dan Chisena 
New Orleans Saints (1): Blake Gillikin 
New York Giants (3): Saquon Barkley, Cam Brown, Austin Johnson
New York Jets (1): Sam Ficken, Chris Hogan, Ross Travis
Philadelphia Eagles (2): Miles Sanders, Shareef Miller
Pittsburgh Steelers (1): Marcus Allen
San Francisco 49ers (2): Kevin Givens, Robbie Gould 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3): Chris Godwin, A.Q. Shipley, Donovan Smith 
Tennessee Titans (2): Jack Crawford, DaQuan Jones
Washington Football Team (1): Troy Apke 

Nittany Lions On NFL Coaching Staffs
Matt Rhule – Carolina Panthers Head Coach
Tom Bradley – Pittsburgh Steelers DBs Coach
Bobby Engram – Baltimore Ravens TEs Coach
Al Golden – Cincinnati Bengals LBs Coach
D’Anton Lynn – Houston Texans Secondary Coach
Mike Munchak – Denver Broncos OL Coach
Jeff Nixon – Carolina Panthers Senior Offensive Assistant

Penn State Preview: Michigan

Jahan Dotson and the Nittany Lions head to Ann Arbor this weekend in search of their first win of the season. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: at Michigan, noon kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Michigan Stadium.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 46 degrees and sunny.

All-time series: Michigan leads 14-9.

Last meeting (2019): After a last-minute goal line stand, Penn State toppled Michigan 28-21 at Beaver Stadium.

Last week: Michigan outlasted Rutgers 48-42 in triple overtime, while Penn State dropped to 0-5 with a home loss to Iowa.

The lead: A pair of frustrating seasons collide Saturday in Ann Arbor, where Penn State and Michigan come in with a combined mark of 2-8. Add Pat Freiermuth to the list of players the Nittany Lions will be without for the rest of the year — he’s set to undergo season-ending surgery this week — and that increases the level of difficulty for a team that had genuine aspirations for the College Football Playoff following last season’s win in the Cotton Bowl.

Despite all the adversity the team has been facing this season, there are indications that the Nittany Lions will eventually breakthrough. James Franklin has talked about his players, and players generally, being resilient and able to bounce back from disappoint and setbacks.

Here’s what he said leading up to the game against Iowa about signs that his guys are showing resiliency:

“I think what I saw in the second half (against Nebraska). Now again, I know everybody wants four quarters. I do, too. Trust me. But I thought how we battled in the second half of our game this past week and gave ourselves a chance to win. I think we were (up) 17-3 in the second half. It’s obvious we’ve got to play better for four quarters, but I think that’s a sign. I think the feedback I get from the coaches and how the guys are in meetings, the things that I see, how are guys in the weight room, how they are in the locker room after games, how they are on the bus. All of it, with a lot of distractions.”

Part of those distractions, Franklin said, is the players’ inability to interact with their families as closely as they would be able to under non-COVID-19 circumstances. Normally, he said, players could kiss and hug their families before games and tailgate and celebrate with them after. None of that is possible this year, which increases the strain they’re all playing under.

Following the loss to Iowa, which dropped the team to its first 0-5 start in program history, standout receiver Jahan Dotson talked about having winning the week, winning the day, and winning the moment, breaking things down into a singular focus for whatever he and his teammates are facing.

“Whatever moment you’re in, win that moment,” he said. “We’ve got to start doing things with a winner’s mentality, and that’s pretty much it. We’ve just got to win the day. Come to practice every day, work, and just go 1-0.”

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions stop turning the ball over. This has been a theme all season, and quite possibly the biggest reason for Penn State’s winless record.

Michigan wins if: the Wolverines corral another first-half lead against the Nittany Lions. Penn State has proven it can mount a second-half comeback, it just hasn’t been enough to win.

Count on: the Nittany Lions coming out fighting. This is only a hunch, though after five games, chances are Penn State will be keyed up for a win.

Keep an eye on: tight end Brenton Strange. The freshman made his first career start against Iowa, catching a 28-yard touchdown pass from Sean Clifford. With Freiermuth out for the rest of the season, it’ll be imperative for other receivers to step up and provide more reliable options beyond Dotson.

Trivia tidbit: Sean Clifford is only 81 yards away from 4,000 career passing yards.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Penn State’s Most Memorable Teams: 2012

The 2012 team featured 31 seniors who made their final appearances at Beaver Stadium during a 24-21 overtime win over Wisconsin. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Editor’s note: Throughout the season, we’re looking at Penn State’s most memorable teams from the past 40 years. The 2012 team will forever be remembered for the Nittany Lion stayed united while also bringing together the Penn State community.

Gritty. Resilient. Inspiring.

A lot has been written and said about the 2012 Penn State football team, which compiled probably the most impressive 8-4 mark in the history of college football.

This week, we’re welcoming one of the leaders from that team to The Football Letter Live, as quarterback and NFL/XFL veteran Matt McGloin will join the program to discuss his team with the Nittany Lions and how the 2012 squad defied all expectations while, in many ways, holding together the Penn State community.

You can register online for the show or tune in on Facebook. This week’s show will air at noon on Tuesday, and we’ll return to our regular day and time, 8 p.m. on Thursdays, next week.

Matt McGloin’s family joins him on the field during pregame ceremonies prior to the 2012 contest against Wisconsin. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The team closed out the season by winning eight of its final 10 games, including a home win over Wisconsin on Senior Day at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions won 24-21 in overtime after the Badgers missed a field goal, and John Black ’62 wrote in that game’s edition of The Football Letter that the cheers from the home team’s locker room roared throughout the underpinnings of the stadium.

You can read more elsewhere on the blog, including how Black wrote that the team had competed for the honor of the of their team and university.

For more on The Football Letter, including online archives (requires Alumni Association member log-in), click here.

Not yet an Alumni Association member? Click here.

Penn State Preview: Iowa

Jayson Oweh (28) and the Nittany Lions look for their first win of the season Saturday at Beaver Stadium against Iowa. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on BTN. (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: vs. Iowa, 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on BTN.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 297-76.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 56 degrees and mostly cloudy.

All-time series: Penn State leads 17-12 and has won the last six games.

Last meeting (2019): Penn State won a slugfest in Iowa City, collecting a 17-12 victory. The Nittany Lions led 17-6 late in the fourth quarter before the Hawkeyes mounted a touchdown drive to close the gap with less than three minutes in the game.   

Throwback classic (2007): Penn State ended a five-game losing streak to Iowa with a 27-7 victory at Beaver Stadium. We highlighted that game earlier in the week on the blog, and the article features insight from letterman Rodney Kinlaw.

The lead: Who starts at quarterback for the Nittany Lions is something that all fans are wondering. Will Levis subbed in for Sean Clifford last Saturday at Nebraska, nearly completing a comeback after the Nittany Lions fell behind by 21. Whoever gets the call will lead Penn State against an Iowa team that’s been hard to pin down. The Hawkeyes opened the season with losses to Purdue and Northwestern, but who have responded by upending Michigan State and Minnesota by a combined score of 82-16.

One thing’s for sure: Penn State needs to play better in the first half. Do that, and that should make the game more manageable for either Clifford or Levis, and the entire team.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions create multiple turnovers and avoid giving up big plays. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras has thrown four picks early on, so if the Nittany Lions’ can disrupt his passing lanes, that should help cut down on Iowa’s explosiveness.

Iowa wins if: the Hawkeyes can push around the Nittany Lions’ offensive line. That area has struggled throughout parts of the season, including allowing a sack last week during Penn State’s potential game-tying play. Iowa is third in the conference with an average of 2.75 sacks per game, so the line’s performance takes on extra importance Saturday.

Count on: a close game, if past results are any indicator. The last three games against Iowa have been decided by a total of 13 points.

Keep an eye on: Jayson Oweh. The star sophomore already has 27 tackles, the most for a Penn State defense end through the first four games of the season since at least 2000.

Trivia tidbit: Pat Freiermuth has caught a pass in 29 straight games, tying him for the nation’s best mark for a tight end.

Leading With Love

James Franklin’s coaching approach of leading with love has taken on extra significance during the 2020 season. (Photo by Penn State Athletics)

Success brings teams together. Struggles do, too.

James Franklin and Penn State have much more experience with the former, which spotlights the rare times when the latter occurs.

Franklin and his coaches and players acknowledge that adjustments need to be made, though there’s a time and place for them, something that Franklin has mentioned.

He’s said he’s learned that right after a game in the locker room isn’t the time to start critiquing anything. Whether it’s a win or a loss, emotions are raw. Everyone is either feeling the euphoria of a victory or the sting of a defeat, and that’s not the optimal time to process feedback that might require an analytical approach.

That’s an important insight that Franklin has shared over the years during his postgame press conference with the media, which take place approximately a half hour after the game ends. In those interactions, it’s interesting to note Franklin’s demeanor, since it’s not immediately following a game, yet still close enough to glean some of his more natural emotions, which provide insight into his coaching approach.  

For example:

Following Penn State’s last-second win at Iowa in 2017, Franklin was reflective in his postgame press conference, even more so than usual, a combination of appreciation and gratitude for the win while still not being satisfied.

After the team’s loss at Michigan State that same year, a defeat that came after a four-and-a-half-hour weather delay, Franklin was frustrated, even angry at times. He said the team had gotten away from what had made them successful, and there was a sense that the team was underachieving a bit, something that Franklin was determined to fix.

The next year, after another narrow loss to Ohio State, Franklin was defiant. Personally, defiance is a favorite trait of mine. And with the way Franklin spoke, he was defiant in the sense that he didn’t want to settle for 10-win seasons. Sure, that’s a good level, but he has aspirations to elevate Penn State into an elite program. He said as much in a press conference clip that’s been aired widely in the years since.

Last Saturday in Lincoln, Franklin embodied parts of everything above. Part of the point is that Franklin isn’t a robot and, in some ways, feels the joy of winning and the pain of losing more acutely than anyone else.

However, there’s a foundational aspect of his approach that’s always present: love. Love for the football program. Love for the University. Love for the community and alumni and fans and lettermen. And certainly, love for his players.

After the Nebraska game, Franklin said that he’s a guy who leads with love. That’s a real part of his coaching philosophy and is even more important when the team is struggling like this season.

Here’s what he said Tuesday during his weekly press conference, speaking to the balance he tries to find when coaching his guys on how they can improve without being overly negative:

“You have to balance that, always. And the reality is after wins, you can be harder on guys. We’ve talked about that for six years, that even when you win, there’s still things that need to get corrected and cleaned up that allow you to continue to win. And after losses, you’ve got to make the corrections, but you’ve got to do it in a way that that young man can hear it at the time and is going to grow and not be defensive. That’s all of us, I think that’s really important.”

Fifth-year senior Michal Menet is a standout center who’s been named to the watch list for the 2020 Rimington Award, which recognizes the top offensive center in the nation. There’s a strong sense that with Franklin, what you see is what you get, which is critically important for standout high school players trying to decide where they’re going to pursue their collegiate aspirations.

Everyone knows that the results will change week to week, season to season. Hopefully, things go your way more often than they don’t, though either way, there needs to be a baseline level of trust that goes both ways, and with Franklin, that’s in place. 

“I think the biggest thing with Coach Franklin is that he’s always been consistent, he always leads with love,” Menet said this week. “From the time I was recruited, coming up here watching practice, all the way throughout. He’s always been the same, whether we’re winning or losing. Obviously, the critique is going to sound a little bit different and his overall message will be different, but it’s always been from a place of love, and that’s the one thing that I’ve always respected him a ton for, is that he’s always been consistent. No matter how good or bad things are going, he’s going to show up for work every single day, giving us his best and lead with love, like he talks about.”

At some point after the season ends or during next spring, it’s likely someone will ask Franklin if he sees this as something of a lost season, or perhaps a season in which you can’t extrapolate too much because of all the seemingly once-in-a-lifetime circumstances that COVID-19 is placing on teams.

I’m guessing Franklin will say no, and he’d be right. Like every season, he’s learning about his team, in addition to acclimating four new coaches (including a new coordinator) into the program. Franklin constantly points to consistency as a major component of his program, and it’s also something that players (former and current) mention when discussing what it’s like to play for Franklin.

Additionally, consistency matters, as evident by Menet’s perspective. All that said, there’s a lot of football left for the Nittany Lions, who still aren’t halfway through their regular season. Plus, the upcoming bowl game, assuming Penn State accepts an invite and can play without COVID-19 disrupting anything further.

Either way, there should be lessons being learned, both for this year and future seasons, and they’ll be distilled in a way that encourages improvement.

As Franklin has said before: “It starts with ‘I love you,’ and it ends with ‘I love you,’” and indications are that won’t change.  

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