STATE COLLEGE – An upset loss to Indiana could have provided Penn State’s players ample reason to voice their frustrations this week.
To vent. To let it all out.
Instead, a quiet resolve emanating from the Nittany Lions has been loud and clear.
“Nothing really needed to be said,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “Everyone kind of understood where we need to go from here. And everyone’s just looking forward to getting back on the field (to) redeem themselves.”
A win over No. 18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) Saturday at Beaver Stadium would go a long way toward redemption. Penn State (3-2, 0-1), after all, has lost two of the past three games as the heart of the conference schedule nears.
“Nobody likes to lose,” safety Malcolm Willis said. “We know – as a team – that we need to do much better and we go out to practice every day with the attitude that that’s what we need to do.
“Penn State versus Michigan has always been a big-time game. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. We understand the value of the game and we need to come out Saturday ready to play.”
Penn State will need to contain the consistent play of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who has passed for 1,036 yards and rushed for an additional 318, as well as running back Fitzgerald Touissant, who has seven touchdowns.
Keeping that duo under control would give the Nittany Lions a chance to cut into Michigan’s overall series lead of 10-6, although Penn State has won three consecutive games against the Wolverines. The teams haven’t met since 2010, and Penn State lost nine straight to Michigan from 1997-2007.
“No one on our team likes the feeling of a loss,” Carson said. “After the (Indiana) game, it’s really tough for us to swallow – coaches and players as well. We’re just really focused on getting a win and the best way to get over that loss, that feeling of a loss, is to win a game.”
The Nittany Lions’ 16-game winning streak against Indiana ended last week – via a 44-24 decision – because they were unable to slow down an up-tempo Hoosiers offense, or generate a ground game against an Indiana defense that had been susceptible to the rush.
“We’re just really not going out and executing sometimes,” Carson said. “Sometimes, we’re just not functioning as an entire whole.”
The record shows it. The Nittany Lions have only defeated one team from a BCS conference – Syracuse of the ACC (23-17) – and that was way back in Week 1.
“We really have to fix it, so we play all eleven at once,” Carson said.
The Lions might need all 11 against Gardner. His run-pass threat has enabled the Wolverines to put together 15 drives of 70 yards or more, and he’s guided Michigan to 32 touchdowns in 38 starts from within the 20-yard line.
He has at least one rushing touchdown in nine straight regular-season games, as well.
“He’s a great athlete,” Willis said. “We’re really going to have to buckle down and take on the challenge of taking on the offense as a whole. Overall, we definitely feel we can do better than what we’ve done and we’re going to try to start this week.”
Penn State’s offense will face a unit that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown, and is the ninth-best rushing defense (90.4 yards per game) in the nation. Ranked No. 13 in total defense, yielding 305 yards per game, Michigan hasn’t allowed a running back to rush for 100 yards yet.
If that holds vs. the Nittany Lions, expect to see more of the Christian Hackenberg-Allen Robinson show. The freshman quarterback has found a comfort zone with Robinson, who had 12 catches last week and has four 100-yard games this season.
“We’re just trying to make sure we have extra focus on some of the things we didn’t do so well last game,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t all too bad. We just have to take some of the bad things and improve and keep getting better at the things we did well.”