Nittany Lions put UCF loss behind them in dominating win
UNIVERSITY PARK – It was a quiet night in Penn State’s athletic dorms and apartments following the Nittany Lions’ 34-31 home loss a week ago to underdog Central Florida.
“That was the night of the Floyd Mayweather fight. I think everybody just chilled. A lot of people didn’t go out. I know I didn’t,” Lion tight end Kyle Carter said. “That night was kind of tough, I guess.”
No doubt at least of few of the Lions imagined they were Mayweather, taking their frustrations out vicariously on Canelo Alvarez after experiencing their first lost of the season.
“A loss is never easy. It’s one of the hardest things to get through,” said junior running back Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 100 yards and three touchdowns against UCF but also was guilty of a crucial fumble late in the contest. “I grew up to be extremely competitive. My dad instilled it in me, so losing is extremely hard. But you let it go. To not think about it is the biggest thing. If you think about it, it will eat away at you.”
Penn State put the UCF setback in the past, coming out behind a strong running game and defensive performance in a 34-0 win on Saturday over Kent State in a wet and rainy Beaver Stadium to take a 3-1 record into the bye week before heading into Big Ten Conference play.
“This was a really important week for us, coming after a loss. Everyone’s looking to see how we were going to respond, including the team and the coaches,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “Overall, I think we played a lot better. We really came together.”
The key, many of the players agreed, was not to dwell on it.
“We went in the film room, watched our mistakes and moved on,” left tackle Donovan Smith said of the approach following the UCF loss. “It’s over. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
“There’s like a 24-hour clock,” safety/linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. “We were mad for 24 hours. But, after that, you have to turn the chapter. You have to play again. We have a game every week. Every week we’ve got to prove ourselves.
“It’s tough, especially after the game. Nobody likes to lose. It hit us hard, but we bounced back.”
That was a test particularly for the defensive players. The Lion ‘D’ had received a lot of praise for the way it had played in the first two games. However, Penn State was scorched for more than 500 yards by UCF Blake Bortles and his array of receivers.
“Last week, we had a tough time. This week, I think we played loose, we practiced loose,” cornerback Trevor Williams said. “We had a lot more fun today.”
Lion coach Bill O’Brien said he didn’t think his defensive players followed a lot of the criticism they received in the media, but he apparently did. He made a point about midway through the press conference to break away from questions and point out to everyone that they pitched a shutout.
It almost seemed as though O’Brien was intending his words for his team as much as the press.
“Anytime you go out there and you don’t perform the way you think you should perform and you’re a good football player, which we have, and you’ve got good coaches on that side of the ball, and we’re demanding on each other and extremely competitive people, it’s a disappointment. Those guys took it to heart,” O’Brien said. “They came out and they practiced hard every single day. John [Butler] put together a good gameplan. I don’t know what the stats were, but it looked to me like it was a struggle to move the ball for Kent State.”
Kent had 56 yards rushing. UCF had more than that on one play and nearly as many on another.
“We put pride into it,” linebacker Nyeem Wartman said. “Our seniors and coaches stepped up and showed that they believed in us. They know that we’re better than that. We just had to get back to the Penn State brand.”
Wartman said he spent the hours immediately after the UCF game by himself.
“You know all the plays you messed up on. You know what you could have done,” Wartman said. “Here, we have a higher standard. If we don’t reach that standard, that’s a blow to us. Even if we’d won that game, it was a blow to us, because we didn’t meet that standard.”
While no one liked to lose, the Nittany Lions tried to look at silver linings, one of which was it sent a message to the team what it need to work on before it hit the conference schedule.
“It was good that it came now, especially with us going into the bye week. You never want to go into the bye week with questions,” Obeng-Agyapong said. “Now I feel like we have our identity. We need to keep on rolling and make it better.”
Williams said he was eager to get back on the field to atone.
“That’s the best thing about football. You always get a chance to play the next snap, the next game,” Williams said. “And it was another home game. We owed our fans a win today. They came out to support us in the rain.”
Carson was one of the few Lions that actually came right out and said the UCF loss served as motivation against Kent State.
“With any competitor, it’s tough after a loss, and you kind of feel it all week long as you’re practicing,” Carson said. “Coming out and winning gets that off your shoulders a little bit, and you can keep moving forward and use that momentum.”
As Smith said, no one likes to lose, but not everyone can win. The key is to make the best of it. The Lions are hoping the disappointment of the UCF game could pay off by leading to success down the road.
“That loss is in the past. We learned from it,” Carter said. “Now I’m just ready to go 11-1.”