Newly ranked Penn State (No. 24) turns focus to Purdue
Penn State football
(AP) Penn State coach James Franklin encouraged his team to take in the moment following its dramatic fourth-quarter comeback and 24-21 upset of No. 2 ranked Ohio State last Saturday night in Happy Valley.
“Obviously these types of wins are important,” Franklin said. “To be honest with you, I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture right now, I just want to soak this all in. Nights like this don’t happen very often.”
Now the No. 24 Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten), who visit Purdue (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday, need to find a way to regroup and move on from their first home win over a Top 2 rated team since a 27-24 victory over Nebraska in 1982.
“If we turn around and lay an egg against Purdue, then what good is (the Ohio State) victory?” Nittany Lions assistant head coach Terry Smith, filling in for Franklin, who was out of town attending a family funeral, asked on Tuesday’s Big Ten head coaches conference call.
Toss in the fact Penn State has lost its last seven true road contests dating back to a Nov. 18, 2014 victory at Indiana, including two this season at Pitt (42-39) and Michigan (49-10), and the early noon start in West Lafayette, Ind., becomes even more intriguing.
“We’re going to approach it as business as usual,” Smith said. “We worked under the belief that the next game is the most important game, no matter who your opponent is.
“Our kids have bought into the process for the entire year, and after a game last weekend, the buy in is even greater. For us personally, we haven’t won on the road, so this is going to be a good test for us to get our first road victory.”
Purdue also has a lot riding on the contest. It will be the first home game since interim head coach Gerad Parker took over for Darrell Hazell a few weeks ago and an upset of the Nittany Lions, who have won seven in a row in the series, would put the Boilermakers back on track for a potential bowl bid.
Parker is emphasizing a more positive, upbeat approach to his head coaching duties. It seemed to work for much of his debut last week at No. 8 Nebraska. The Boilermakers performed far better than they had all season against top teams, building a 14-10 halftime lead before eventually falling to the Huskers 27-14.
“It was a fun run. We have to take that and build off of that so we become that same team the second half,” Parker said. “It was a fun ride. You could see the belief in those kids’ eyes. I think they know they let one fall through here. That’s how they feel. It’s going to be fun to coach them the rest of the weeks to try to get them to this point where they keep believing.”
Penn State’s running game looked pretty good against Ohio State as sophomore running back Saquon Barkley and sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley continue to team up to make defenders miss. They combined for 162 yards as their chemistry in the team’s zone read rushing attack has grown. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, have allowed 1,237 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns since conference play started.
Penn State’s defense, which kept Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in check with a variety of blitzes, now must find a way to slow down Purdue’s wide open passing attack. Boilermaker quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in completions (173) and yards (2,065) and has thrown 14 touchdown passes. Senior wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey is coming off a big game against Nebraska with four catches for 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“(Blough) can throw the ball,” Smith said. “He’s got some really good receivers on the perimeter, some guys that create challenges for us on the perimeter. He’s very accurate, he throws a good ball, he throws a catchable ball, and you can see him directing the offense.
“We have our work cut out for us, and we’re going to try to figure out how to slow him down and keep the pass game to a minimum.”