Cross Penn State off the list of potential job openings after the 2016 season, even if it probably shouldn’t have been on any of those lists in the first place.
The Nittany Lions stunned No. 2-ranked Ohio State, 24-21, at Beaver Stadium on Saturday night. It was the first win against a ranked team since James Franklin was named coach, and it was the first time an unranked Penn State team defeated a top-2 opponent since 1964.
Penn State is not “back” because of this victory. There is still plenty of work left to be done. But this victory, in front of a frenzied, white-clad crowd, is a signature moment for Franklin and his staff to build from.
For the 2016 season, Penn State did something it hadn’t done since 2013, which is beat one of Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State. The Nittany Lions are 5-2, and will likely be favored in each of the final five games. Win all of those games, and Penn State likely earns a New Year’s Six bowl bid, and Franklin earns some Big Ten coach of the year votes.
This win could mean even more for the program beyond the 2016 season. Dozens of recruits were at Beaver Stadium for this game, and just ask players on the current Penn State team who were potential recruits at the White Out game in 2013 against Michigan about the impact it can have.
A surprising number of wins this season, combined with what happened Saturday night, could lead to more success on the recruiting trail, and suddenly after so much hand-wringing and internet commenting about who could replace Franklin, the program would finally be on solid footing and ready to try and close the large gap between it and Ohio State and Michigan.
After three major special teams gaffes earlier in the game, Penn State blocked a punt to set up a field goal and then Marcus Allen’s field goal block and Grant Haley’s scoop-and-score suddenly put the Nittany Lions less than five minutes from a monumental upset.
The defense put forth a tremendous effort. Buoyed by the return of veteran linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell, Penn State went punch-for-punch with one of the best offenses in the nation. Ohio State came into the game averaging 300.5 yards per game on the ground, but the Buckeyes looked pedestrian running the ball save for one 74-yard touchdown run by Curtis Samuel.
Ohio State has struggled to pass the ball in recent weeks, and Penn State pressured J.T. Barrett a bunch. The Buckeyes struggled all game to throw the ball downfield, though Penn State got away with pass interference on second down during the final drive. The Nittany Lions sacked Barrett on third and fourth downs to secure the victory and set off a wild celebration.
This was far from a signature performance by the offense, but Trace McSorley guided two big touchdown drives and Saquon Barkley found a few big runs against an incredibly talented defense. Penn State’s offense also avoided any game-changing mistakes, and then the defense and special teams helped the Nittany Lions to do just enough.
The expectations for the 2016 Penn State season have now changed. Before the season, seven or eight wins, including one against Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State, might have been considered the minimum for a successful campaign. Now, seven or eight wins would be a second-half fade, a missed opportunity to build from this incredible victory.
This win should alleviate a lot of the angst about Franklin and his staff.
Chip Kelly, Jon Gruden and Sean Payton will not be Penn State’s coach next season. Tom Herman, Les Miles and P.J. Fleck won’t be, either.
The future at Penn State, with Franklin in charge, looks a lot different than it did before this memorable Saturday night in Happy Valley.