Nittany Nation can be forgiven for wondering: Are we as bad as we looked Saturday?
Perhaps more importantly, if Penn State is as bad as 2020’s 0-3 start and face-plant performance Saturday against Maryland have seemed, have some players begun to let go of the rope, to question each other, even to lose hope and thus interest?
“We’re not as one right now,’’ said wide receiver Jahan Dotson.
“We’re not a unit. There’s a lot of different things going on. There’s distractions, basically.’’
Dotson’s words resonated in part because, generally, one can’t expect anything from postgame interviews with college football players.
It’s not their fault. They’ve been trained not to say much, but the questions tend to be worse than the answers: “What were you thinking as that 300-pound gazelle almost ripped your head off?”
We should also note that just 10 days ago, coach James Franklin said, “I think Jahan has said about 23 words since he’s been here.”
Here, from Dotson, are 12 more: “Right now, to be completely honest, we’re not a good football team.”
“To Jahan’s point, it’s the little things,’’ quarterback Sean Clifford said. “We’ve got to do every little thing right and we’re not doing that. It’s all across the board. It starts with me. …
“It’s unacceptable to ourselves, to the program, to the coaches, to the fans. Unacceptable. We’ve got to figure this out.”
“Everybody in this locker room is here for a reason,’’ said linebacker Jesse Luketa, like Dotson and Clifford a co-captain.
“We’re all we got. We need to have those tough conversations moving forward and address what we need to do to get back on track. That’s the biggest point of emphasis now to spread throughout the locker room.’’
Defensive end Jayson Oweh said, “I can’t speak for the offense,’’ a comment that, by itself, could be seen as trouble. But he added that, on his side of the ball, the Lions are, “just trying to make plays on our own.’’
This could just be disappointment talking, of course. The more mature players tend to understand their media obligation even if they don’t love it. In the bad times, that obligation can combine with frustration and anger and create a desire to say something earnest, to send a message: We’re messing up. We get it. It’s not OK with us.
There was, at least, no evidence Saturday night that the Lions are blaming anyone but themselves.
“Players have to hold each other accountable,” tight end Pat Freiermuth said. “That’s not happening right now.”
“As players of this program, we want more to do,’’ he said. “Like, what do we do? Coaches have given us that, but at the end of the day we just don’t know.
“That’s the most frustrating thing. I’m thinking about it right now. I just don’t know what to do. We’ve got to come in together tomorrow, watch the film, and hold each other accountable.”
There are only six scheduled games left, seven if you, ahem, count a bowl game. Penn State was the No. 8 team in the country 18 days ago. Even if the Lions turn this around, the season cannot approach the expectation that existed then.
Couple that with a pandemic. The games are now played in what amount to cold, dark caverns. The commitment to the weekly grind now means relative isolation from friends and family and fellow students.
It’s hard to imagine that it’s ever been less fun to be a Penn State football player.
Franklin is by all accounts and appearances a people person, a consensus-builder, an optimist whose response to any challenge is to attack it, outwork it, relentlessly wear it down.
That’s a pretty good description of what’s called for right now.