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Penn State Focused on the Bounce Back

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been nearly 10 months since Penn State felt the uncomfortable pang of the emotions surrounding a bitter loss. Experiencing seemingly some of its most excitable highs and even the lowest of lows in a 3:42 stretch Saturday, the result came in an excruciating one-point loss.  

While the stat packet tells one story, as Penn State head coach James Franklin noted postgame, that's not the full story this time around.  

Regardless of what the stats say, Saturday's 39-38 loss at Ohio State was perhaps decided by a final shift in momentum, a proverbial pendulum swing that sent a jolt of energy straight into a ferocious crowd, and one that Penn State could not overcome.

"The margin of error is very small when you play these types of games," Franklin said. "I thought the blocked punt was a huge play in the game."

With a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, defensive end Shareef Miller dove on a loose ball following a J.T. Barrett fumble for his first career fumble recovery to give the Nittany Lions a prime opportunity to widen to finish the Buckeyes.

 Ohio State's defense then forced a Penn State three-and-out before blocking a Nittany Lion punt with a 6-yard return to cue the proverbial pendulum swing mentioned above.

"I don't think we've handled sudden change really well this year, defensively," Franklin said. "If the offense turns the ball over or something, like the blocked punt, our defense has not handled sudden change well. That's an area we've got to get better. I have to take a hard look at that."

In the three quarters prior to the final one Saturday, Penn State engineered its highest point-scoring total in Columbus ever, opened by yet another sizzling start, when running back Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to mute an anxious crowd packed inside Ohio Stadium.

"The reality is we didn't win the game against a really good opponent on the road and we have to learn from this and get better," Franklin said.

As the clock ticked down to zero and Ohio State fans poured on to the field, Penn State's first loss in more than 300 days was most definitely a reality.

Tight end Mike Gesicki was the first Nittany Lion to exit the field, jogging alone up the cement gray tunnel to the locker room, where he, the rest team and the coaching staff would soon gather to reflect. 

"Coach Franklin came in and told us that he loved us and that he was so proud and happy to be the head football coach at Penn State, and told us to keep our heads up because everything's out there still in front of us that we want," Gesicki said. 

As the small visiting media room flooded with media members, the Nittany Lions entered with a much different message than the one that resounded throughout the Rose Bowl locker room the last time the Nittany Lions were faced with adversity.

"For us, anything can happen," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "At this point last year, we thought maybe we have a chance at the Rose Bowl and by the end of the year we had a shot at the College Football Playoffs. Teams lose, upsets happen. We don't control our own destiny but we can focus on the only things we can control which is coming in each day, working harder than ever, playing harder than ever on Saturday's and doing whatever it takes to get wins from here on out."

For McSorley, it's not only what happens on Saturday's that dictates the outcome of the all the little things built magnified in the tiny margin of error.

Rather, it's what happens on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday that really makes the difference.

That's precisely what the Nittany Lions are ready to turn toward.

"You just watch film and think about the corrections, what you did wrong, what you did right," wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins said. "You talk about that as a unit and as an individual, you watch the film and question what you would have done on each play to help the team."

For Thompkins, the message he took in from the coaches and seniors who stood up to speak in the locker room was clear, that adversity strikes every team and the opportunity to capitalize on an even stronger bounce back is now.

As Gesicki noted, the bounce back begins at the end of the 20-minute correction period on the field today, with the conclusion signaling only one thing - Michigan State. 

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