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Penn State football moving past 2020 Indiana loss, focusing energy on Saturday’s matchup

Indiana, Sean Clifford (14) runs

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) runs during the football game against Indiana at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. The No. 9 Nittany Lions defeated the Hoosiers 34-27.

There’s likely few who expected No. 8 Penn State to lose to unranked Indiana in Week 1 last season, but there’s even fewer who predicted the Nittany Lions to drop their next four games.

A year later, the blue and white has all but put the historically unimpressive 2020 season behind it, beginning 2021 4-0 with half of those wins coming against ranked opponents.

While last season's struggles have been laid to rest, it’s understandably challenging for many Penn State fans to forget the emotional rollercoaster of 2020’s matchup with Indiana.

However, according to edge rusher Jesse Luketa, this year’s Nittany Lions have completely turned that page.

“We’re focused on this Indiana. We own everything from last season, and it was what it was,” Luketa said. “We went into the offseason with a chip on our shoulder… We’re excited for this year and this Indiana.”

This past offseason has commonly been referred to by numerous Nittany Lions as the “most difficult” of their careers.

According to Luketa, a member of the team’s leadership council, a difficult offseason was something the council believed the team “needed.”

“We felt we needed the emotional stress and the physical stress,” Luketa said. “Throughout those moments, you really see who you are as an individual… it brought us closer together.”

Luketa said he believes battling through “adversity” forces people to come together, which is just what he said this offseason accomplished.

“We’re a tight knit group, and we’re mentally tough,” Luketa said.

To achieve this universal mental toughness, quarterback Sean Clifford said the team’s leaders had to change the program’s standards a bit due to the “excuses” made in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

“We went to [James] Franklin and said ‘we need to be pushed,’ and we’re going to have no backlash on any of it,” Clifford said. “No complaining, just making sure we’re working hard.”

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Sophomore tight end Tyler Warren, who experienced his first real summer workouts in Happy Valley this offseason, detailed what purpose the “difficult” camp served for him.

“What I like most about football is working as a team,” Warren said. “Sometimes I would just look around and see everybody out there working hard… It makes me want to keep working and push each other.”

The aftermath of what some have described as a “grueling” training camp is what Clifford called a “great” offseason that’s paying off each week.

“You’ve got to fight for your culture every day,” Clifford said.

But prior to embellishing on 2021’s gauntlet of an offseason, what exactly went wrong for the Nittany Lions last season?

According to Clifford, the coronavirus and the restrictions that came with it were a huge roadblock in defining the culture of the 2020 Penn State squad.

“We just didn't have the time that we get to spend together, and we didn't have the opportunities to help each other the way that we usually do,” Clifford said. “It just changed.”

While Clifford described last season as “weird times,” he admitted that he’s trying not to focus on it anymore.

“It’s over,” Clifford said, keeping his focus on the task at hand.

What isn’t over is Penn State’s preparation to face an Indiana team returning 22 starters from last season.

“I think Indiana has a great team, they have some good players, especially at linebacker and in the secondary,” Warren said. “We’re just looking at the scouting report, watching film, trying to catch anything we can.”

Clifford said Indiana’s “physical unit” starts with one of the Hoosiers' starting linebackers, Micah McFadden.

“He does a really good job of hit and run and blitzing the pass,” Clifford said. “He does it all.”

While Clifford acknowledged the importance of McFadden to the Indiana defense, he called the rest of the defense “really solid” — a group that finished first and second in the Big Ten in interceptions and sacks, respectively, a season ago.

“They’re always going to be pretty aggressive,” Clifford said. “We just have to have a great day today to keep preparing for them.”

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