Kentucky novelist James Lane Allen once wrote that “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”
Penn State players have been unable to escape adversity for the past year, many of them suffocated by a situation they did not create or contribute to. Adversity did not leave town when Jerry Sandusky was led off in handcuffs, or when legendary coach Joe Paterno passed in January – that was only the beginning.
No coach could replace Paterno or satisfy alums, but Bill O’Brien was willing to accept the mission. No team would welcome the NCAA’s historic sanctions, but this group handled it as well as could have been imagined. Said O’Brien at the time: “I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.”
When a few of the team’s high-profile players opted to take a free transfer out of State College this summer, the bulk of the team bonded together, seemingly stronger than before. Tweeted quarterback Matt McGloin in July: “It is not Nittany Lion Football. It is Nittany Lion family.”
And now, more adversity. This week, wide receiver Shawney Kersey left the team for personal reasons – this after Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma and Devon Smith to Marshall. No receiver with 100 or more yards from last season remains on the roster. Who will catch McGloin’s passes? Someone will step up.
Last week, Penn State dropped to 0-2 – its worst start in more than a decade. The loss to Virginia was largely blamed on kicker Sam Ficken, and rightfully so; the sophomore missed 4 of 5 field goal attempts in a game that was decided by two points. But O’Brien isn’t giving up on Ficken, who assumed the job when 2011 kicker Anthony Fera left for Texas. When Ficken became the target of vicious social media attacks, O’Brien stood up for his kicker. “To go on whatever, `space book’ or `tweeter’ or whatever is and put something on there that is just absolutely ridiculous, to me, is very cowardly, to be honest with you. But that’s just my opinion.”
Added O’Brien, “If people really knew these kids and understood the effort that they put forth and how hard they play and how hard they train and how much it means to them …”
The Nittany Lions’ schedule will get tougher and the attacks will grow louder. Again, this isn’t the end of the ride, it’s only the beginning.
Adversity? Penn State’s coaches and players can handle it. They’re men of character.
– Big Ten Notes –
• Ohio State will try to end the conference’s cold streak against Pac-12 clubs when it hosts Cal on Saturday. Cal last ventured into Big Ten territory in 2009 – a 35-21 win over Minnesota.
• Purdue ranks No. 1 in the country in red zone efficiency. The Boilermakers have scored on all nine red zone possessions this season, including eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing). The team’s encouraging start could be short-lived; quarterback Robert Marve suffered a torn ACL in last week’s 20-17 loss to Notre Dame.
• Junior running back Venric Mark has exploded out of the gate for Northwestern, having logged a conference-best 439 all-purpose yards – 104 yards more than the next closest player. Mark ranks fourth among all Big Ten players in rushing (102.5 yards per game) and is one of the conference’s top return men.
– This week’s schedule –
Saturday, Sept. 15
Western Michigan at Minnesota, 11 a.m.
Arkansas State at Nebraska, 11 a.m.
Charleston Southern at Illinois, 11 a.m.
Eastern Michigan at Purdue, 11 a.m.
California at Ohio State, 11 a.m.
Boston College at Northwestern, 2:30 p.m.
Navy at Penn State, 2:30 p.m.
Northern Iowa at Iowa, 2:30 p.m.
Massachusetts at Michigan, 2:30 p.m.
Ball State at Indiana, 7 p.m.
Utah State at Wisconsin, 7 p.m.
Notre Dame at Michigan State, 7 p.m.
**all times CT
– Spotlight –
QB Caleb TerBush, Purdue
Marve set the bar high in two starts (414 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) before suffering a torn ACL. Now the ball goes to TerBush, who completed 61.7 percent of his passes last season in helping Purdue reach the Little Caesars Bowl. TerBush should do well against an Eastern Michigan team that has allowed an average of 34 points in its first two games.
-- He Said It (quote of the week) –
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema after announcing the team had parted ways with offensive line coach Mike Markuson after just two games this season:
“Panic is from the outside world. Reality is what I live in.”
Mike Beacom is the Big Ten football editor for Lindy’s. Follow him on Twitter @mikebeacom