Losses can take toll on Nits’ engagement

Any team that climbs to No. 2 and sees itself in the national championship picture only to stumble twice and shatter its dreams can struggle with late-season disengagement.

It’s natural.

Penn State seems to have excellent leadership, from James Franklin to Saquon Barkley to Trace McSorley and on down, and that will be needed to finish the season with a four-game stretch to feel good about.

Part of that leadership was on display Tuesday when receiver DeAndre Thompkins was one of two players designated to appear at the weekly press conference.

The timing was curious: Had Thompkins reeled in not an easy pass but certainly a catchable one last week, the Nittany Lions may have avoided an upset at Michigan State.

And yet, there he was, owning the disappointment and showing impressive character.

He doesn’t see a team about to come apart, starting with an early wake-up call Saturday against Rutgers, the least exciting of the remaining opponents.

“I think our leadership, no matter if we had losses or not, is going to step up throughout the season,” he said. “So it’s not really a question of leadership or if guys are committed to the team.”

The Lions have a chance to prove Thompkins right.

Franklin himself raised concerns in East Lansing, saying he wasn’t satisfied with the Lions’ mental preparation, and he even included his staff in his remarks.

When teams are unbeaten, most everybody is on the same page.

Losing can derail unity as upperclassmen begin thinking about their own futures. These seniors have two games left at home.

Emotions and nostalgia are tugging, and minds can be elsewhere.

Barkley is obviously coming out after this year. Whether he even plays in a bowl game is already being speculated upon. Others with eligibility remaining will query the NFL on their potential draft stock.

This is also now an era of graduate transfers.

It’s well known that Penn State is recruiting more players than it has room for on the current roster, which means some defections are likely anticipated (if not encouraged).

Some of the skill players have not had much opportunity.

Surely, the patience of backup quarterback Tommy Stevens, who has played little and will be behind McSorley again next year, is being taxed.

Backup tailbacks Andre Robinson and Mark Allen haven’t gotten a carry for weeks, and Miles Sanders, though the heir apparent to No. 26’s throne, has been limited.

When your offense features a running quarterback, touches for not only the backs but the receivers get shaved. Ask Saeed Blacknall.

“I want to get as many guys involved in the game as possible,” Franklin, mindful of team chemistry, said Tuesday. “I think that’s helpful for everybody.”

Especially with a team that just had its heart torn out and may not have the focus that it did two weeks ago.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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