Though it may feel like it occurred several months ago after the madness that ensued late in Saturday’s game, Penn State did play a first half against Michigan. And the Nittany Lions played a damn good one for the first time in weeks.
Penn State got on the board first for just the second time in six games this season with Brandon Felder’s 12-yard reception from Christian Hackenberg. Defensively, the Lions controlled a versatile Michigan offense, aside from one big play, and set the tone for the 21-10 first half performance.
In the previous three games, coach Bill O’Brien’s squad had been outscored by opponents (Central Florida, Kent State and Indiana) in the first half by a combined 34-31 clip. O’Brien said on the Big Ten coaches’ conference call Tuesday he hopes the fast-start trend continues moving forward, crediting the team’s game plan heading into the game.
Players after the game said the sell-out Beaver Stadium crowd played a factor in it, but some also mentioned it being the result of guest speakers the Lions received throughout the previous week.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said former standout Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson, who played as a running back in the NFL until 2012, mentioned one mindset that the team had been preaching leading up to the Michigan game.
“He said, ‘When you go out on the field, press the kick-ass button,’ ” Jones said. “And that’s all we did. We’re out there just playing out butts off, out there fighting and scrapping and came out and won.”
The four-overtime win came on the heels of a surprising 44-24 loss to Indiana — which started off with the Lions trailing 13-7 at half — and defensive coordinator John Butler said simplifying the mental state of the team, as Robinson helped players do, was extremely important heading into the game.
Whereas a certain level of intensity had been lacking to start off previous games, Jones said once again channeling the energy the Lions played with against Michigan will be crucial moving forward
“We come out, last couple games, we always come out flat. We don’t pick it up until the second half,” Jones said. “And I just keep telling the guys, ‘We got to come out to win. Anger. Frustration. And we’ll just take it out on these guys.’ And we did. From the first play, we set the tone and we carried that momentum on until the fourth overtime.”
One last look…
O’Brien said Tuesday his staff and players have “got to start getting ready for the best team in our conference in Ohio State,” following the bye week and are primarily focused on getting players healthy in the meantime.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few plays O’Brien said he’ll most remember from the back-and-forth Michigan game.
“Obviously, the throw from Christian to Allen [Robinson] there at the end of regulation, [Bill Belton’s] fourth-and-1, those are two plays [I’ll remember],” O’Brien said. “I think [Anthony] Zettel’s interception early in the game and [C.J. Olaniyan’s] strip sack there that we had on them at one point. There are four or five plays that stick out, and those are some of them.”