Penn State coach Jeff Cook makes it known to his team — the Big Ten is extremely competitive no matter who the Nittany Lions are going up against.
After all, last year's NCAA champion, Maryland, came from the Big Ten as did the national semifinalists Indiana and Michigan State.
So eliminating any avoidable mistakes is critical to winning on a consistent basis
But when you’re facing a top 10 team in the country for the top spot in the conference, it is crucial to play smart and eliminate any miscues.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, they made a crucial mistake early in the first half which ended up changing the game against perennial Big Ten powerhouse Indiana.
The No. 8 Hoosiers pressed the Penn State defense early and threw chances at goalkeeper Josh Levine.
And as quickly as the game started, it essentially ended in the 13th minute as the Penn State defense got caught sleeping and defenseman Brandon Hackenberg had to take a red card after an Indiana striker got behind the Nittany Lions.
After that moment, Penn State did not seem to stand a chance as Indiana took full control after gaining the man advantage.
Fast forward 10 minutes and the Nittany Lions are down 3-0 as the Hoosiers poured it on as the rain --literally and figuratively-- began to fall at Jeffrey Field.
“We’re still growing,” Cook said. “I wasn’t critical or overly frustrated and of course when you only play with ten men they will get some chances on the break.”
This is not the first time that an opposing attack has caught the defense off guard and gotten a breakaway chance, so that is definitely an aspect of the game plan which Cook and the rest of the coaching staff will have to work on for next week.
Getting back to Indiana, it is fair to say that we don’t know how Penn State would have fared if it had all 11 men for 90 minutes.
But there is no asterisk in the standings, only wins and losses.
Despite the fact that it didn’t look good at times, this game will not define Penn State’s season
Rather, this can be a teaching point for the Nittany Lions who are newer to success and still have plenty of season ahead of them.
“I could not possibly be more proud of our players,” Cook said “It was a very difficult situation… and I’m so impressed with how they responded.”
But in reality, the emotion that Penn State plays with and the intelligent halftime adjustments made by Jeff Cook did not matter in the end as the red card defined what will go down as a disappointing day and maybe a missed opportunity.
But luckily for the now 5-2-2 Nittany Lions, they will have plenty of chances left and it will start with two winnable home games starting with Northwestern next Saturday.
Penn State knows it won’t be perfect but if the team is able to eliminate mistakes like the one which costed it today, the Nittany Lions will be able to compete with anyone in the nation.
“Just looking around at the team we have, we’ve proved what we can do,” midfielder and co-captain Aaron Molloy said. “We can step up in big moments."