I’ve got to tell you, this week has been strange. I’ve been basking in the glow of Penn State making mashed potatoes ever since the lights went out in ‘the house that Joe built,’ but that pesky old nuisance ‘perspective’ kept reminding me that it was only Idaho, over and over again. I saw what you all saw and it was as good as it gets, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was just the FCS-level Vandals of Idaho. We did what we should have done and the Nittany Lions did it darn well.
In fact, I saw enough out of the team to let my mind wander off into playoff territory more than once this week before perspective reeled it all back in. Or, maybe it wasn’t perspective at all but James Franklin hammering home his ‘Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo…’ mantra instead. Probably a little bit of both but after five years with the guy, I’m beginning to understand why he does what he does through social media and when facing the camera. It’s easy to be caught up in last week when out of nowhere this week smacks you in the face. We have a much tougher Buffalo squad on deck and as the weeks worn on, I’ve been itching for an encore, eager to validate whether last week’s kickoff extravaganza was more a show of strength on our part or just an awfully weak team from a lower division.
Where we stand today, this game is as important as any all season. Smashed potatoes didn’t do a thing as far as the early polls are concerned. Under the lights on Saturday night in Beaver Stadium will go a long way towards jumpstarting our climb. Buffalo won 10 games last year and made it all the way to the mid-major MAC Conference Championship. The Bulls are well coached (Lance Leipold is also in his sixth season as head coach) and are 1-0 coming off an easy 38-10 win over Robert Morris, also an FCS opponent. Simply put, they aren’t pushovers and they are not Idaho so it’s time to put last week in the rearview mirror.
For the sake of nostalgia, we played them once already during the FrankLion era. Two things stand out from that soggy day back in 2015: One, it was the breakout game of a young Saquon Barkley and two, it was the day I was sold on the still-new-to-us head coach. Our own Matt Millen spent an entire BTN broadcast gushing over his fellow Whitehall, Pennsylvania alum, a true freshmen at the time playing in only his second game, when lo and behold number 26 burst through the line, gave us his first hurdle, and put the game away with a spectacular run that sealed the 27-14 victory.
Earlier, just as the clock hit zero at halftime, O-lineman Andrew Nelson laid on the turf in the pouring rain, unable to follow his teammates into the locker room. The medical staff eventually helped Nelly limp off, but behind them, with water draining off the brim of his hat and onto his glasses, thoroughly soaked to the core, I watched James Franklin follow his fallen player onto the sideline. He didn’t have to be there but he was and he was the last to leave the field. Needless to say, the loss to Temple a week before (TEMPLE, I said!) became irrelevant. It wasn’t just a show for the camera, this guy cared. It was validated and as plain as day that afternoon versus Buffalo.
We’ve come a long way since those rain-soaked days of 2015. For all the gripes and debate about running up the score on poor old Idaho, at least we didn’t have to spend the week stewing over a loss to our little brother from the hard-nosed streets of Philly. That was tough and this tussle with Buffalo is going to be a lot tougher than last week’s test. On a side note, this game is our one and only chance to prove to FOX that a Whiteout is so much better under the lights than at high noon like the rumor mill churned this off-season. The blizzard is several weeks away but no time like the present to rise and roar Nittany Nation: Penn State 47 Buffalo 0.