Bye week at perfect time for Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It was a heartbreaking loss at Ohio State last year that started a brief tumble for Penn State in the loss column, as they lost back-to-back games in Big Ten play.

This year, the Nittany Lions will look to avenge the back half of those back-to-back losses as they get this weekend off and host Michigan State next weekend for homecoming.

When thinking about this year’s loss to the Buckeyes, I often think back to when Shooter McGavin and Happy Gilmore squared off in the movie Happy Gilmoreand it left McGavin, on a quest for a gold jacket, without a jacket and stunned.

It’s not too far off for James Franklin and company to feel the same way as McGavin. They had every opportunity to win that game and put it away, but ultimately couldn’t do it. They shelled up when the game mattered most. However, it’s now on to the bye week … or bye week, bye week, bye week as Franklin would put it.

The one-point defeat to the Buckeyes last season started a brief spiral for the Nittany Lions that came to a head with a three-point loss to Michigan State the following week. But losing in back-to-back weeks isn’t possible this year, thanks to an opportune bye for Franklin and company. It’s the perfect situation for a group who should be seething after their loss to Ohio State in front of 110,000 home faithful.

The bye week gives Penn State the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate what they need to do and where they need to go to become the elite program Franklin spoke of after the game Saturday night. It allows the Nittany Lions to reel from their loss and grow from their mistakes while not having to prepare for another Big Ten foe like last year.

With the bye week sandwiched between two early-season marquee match ups, it allows the Nittany Lions to clear their heads and move on from their loss, which last year ending up impacting the way they played against the Spartans.

This year, things are different. Penn State has been able to relax their practice procedures during the bye week. It gives players and coaches the ability to recover from the first four games of the season before beginning the remainder of Big Ten play. It has given coaches the opportunity to focus on recruiting efforts nd get more reps for players who have yet to be on the travel squad.

Those players took part in a scrimmage at the Lasch Building on Wednesday, simulating game play and allowing coaches in attendance the opportunity to evaluate under conditions where players are going against players of equal skill.

And when the Nittany Lions finally hit the practice field again this week, they’ll be fresh and ready to take on the remainder of the season, one that still clings to hopes of a Big Ten Championship game berth and a trip to the College Football Playoffs.

Losing to the Spartans last year in East Lansing was the dagger through the heart of a Penn State season filled with promise and playoff hopes, much like this year. The game against Michigan State was back-and-forth and was unusual with a three-hour rain delay.

This year, the Spartans return to Happy Valley, where they relinquished the prestigious Land-Grant Trophy during their last visit, a 45-12 loss to the Nittany Lions in 2016. Penn State will look to do much of the same from that meeting when Michigan State comes to town next weekend.

The second part of the season begins next weekend against Michigan State, and it’s a season in which the Nittany Lions now need to go undefeated if they want to reach the lofty goals set at the beginning of the season. What better way to get revenge than getting a homecoming victory over a program that effectively ruined your playoff hopes last season?