Penn State's captains called a player-only meeting Monday to lay down the law about where this season is heading.
The message from receiver Brett Brackett and defensive lineman Ollie Ogbu was clear.
"This thing could go one of two ways," linebacker Michael Mauti said, echoing the sentiments at the meeting. "We can fold it in right now, or we could say, you know what, we could come together as a team and pull this thing in the right direction."
The Nittany Lions needed that type of message following a disappointing performance in Saturday's 24-3 loss at Iowa that dropped them to 3-2 and 0-1 in the Big Ten. Illinois now comes to Happy Valley for homecoming, and a shot at immediate redemption for the PSU players.
"We can either pack up the tent and let these guys come in here and run through us," Mauti said, "or we can have some pride and put up a fight and actually make the most out of this season, which I think that we're very capable of doing."
Devon Smith audio
Copy this link in your browser to listen to Smith's postgame comments. And be aware that he talks really fast.
One member of the squad publicly wondered that Saturday night after the loss to Iowa, asking if the team is, in fact, good.
"The question is that: We really good or not? ... Is this Penn State team really good?" receiver Devon Smith said.
He went on to add: "I was thinking that to myself walking off the field. ... I know we're a young team, we have a young quarterback, we have some young receivers and young linebackers. But it's still a question: [Are] we really good?"
Smith has quickly gained a reputation as a straight shooter who isn't afraid to express his candid opinions, with statements like the ones above and this one: "When are we going to show that we [are] really good against a top quality team?"
Smith also seemed to question the coaches Saturday, claiming there was a lot of confusion on the sideline regarding personnel coming in and out of the game.
"When we call the plays, just stick to the plays. ... There's just a lot of confusion going on," he said.
Smith then was asked if that was the fault of receivers coach Mike McQueary.
"It's not Mike," Smith said. "It's kind of upstairs," meaning the coaches in the press box.
Mauti talked about the players presenting a "unified front" going forward.
If Smith represents a lone maverick on the team with his comments, it's really no big deal. But if many other players are questioning the coaches and start doing so publicly or even behind closed doors, that unified front won't last long.
Smith declined to clarify his comments when asked Wednesday and gave a general answer.
"It's just a team thing," he said. "We're just going to get that done as a team, and that's really it."
Joe Paterno was asked Tuesday if it's a concern that some of his players are wondering aloud how good the team is at this point. He said that sort of thing is natural, especially with younger players.
"Well, it depends on how good, your definition of good," JoePa said. "I would hope, yeah. I think that they may be saying it a little differently than the way I say it. I say we've got to get better. We're on the verge of being a pretty good football team.
"But we've got to do that in a tough game ... one of those games which goes back and forth the whole football game. So I think, yeah, they want to find out some things about themselves, particularly the younger kids."
Smith was back to his candid self when asked if Illinois is a must-win game.
"Yes, it's a must-win game," he said. "This is a big game, and we've got a chip on our shoulder and we have to win this game."
NOTE: Mauti said he and fellow linebacker Bani Gbadyu both sat out of practice Monday nursing ankle injuries. Both are expected to play against Illinois.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and email@example.com.