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Penn State Going Back to Basics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The trip home from East Lansing, Michigan was mum, as Penn State filed quietly on to the plane, having traded soggy grass-stained jerseys for travel suits.

When Penn State head coach James Franklin entered the postgame media room, among dissecting a nearly seven-hour outing at Spartan Stadium, his message was clear.

Yes, a seven-hour outing, as severe weather forced a 3-hour and 22-minute delay. That wasn't what Franklin chose to focus his message on though.

His message was simple, return to the basics - the very core of what it was that got Penn State right up to 12:05 p.m. Saturday afternoon. 

Like a single drop sends a ripple through a calm pool of water, Franklin's message spread through the team as they trickled into the media room to meet with reporters.

"We have to get back to who we are, what got us to this point," running back Saquon Barkley said. "What got us to this point is playing together, playing as family. When we're 2-2 last year, we weren't even talked about, we're getting talked a lot now. We have to find a way to get back to, who we really are."

Barkley and even a few other Nittany Lions couldn't quite put their finger on it postgame though, with a good week of practice building confidence headed into the final game of a challenging middle part of the Big Ten slate.

"At the end of the day it's football, you have to give credit where credit is due, Michigan State is a great team and have the chance a great chance to finish out the season strong too," Barkley said. "We have to focus on Penn State football, both offensively and defensively and get it right, getting back to our standard and mentality."

As Franklin noted, that means turning the focus entirely toward a 1-0 week, tuning out anything and everything that might pop up along the way. 

"If you focus on being 1-0 and you achieve that each week, everything else will take care of itself," Franklin said.

Even quarterback Trace McSorley noted that honing in on the focus and getting into the submarine is not as easy as clicking off the remote or tapping uninstall on a few apps.

"It's something that I kind of think maturity on our team is going to kind of show," McSorley said. "We need to be mature enough to handle that. It's impossible to completely tune it all out and not to see any of it. You have to be mature enough to know that it doesn't really matter, all that matters is the product on the field."

For McSorley, even coming off his second-highest passing yardage total, wasn't enough for him to take his mind of the stinging feeling.

With 381 yards through the air and three touchdown passes, McSorley moved to the top of the record book with 51 career passing touchdowns. He tied the record in the first quarter, finishing off Penn State's longest scoring drive of the season (92 yards) with a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton. 

Among his top receivers, Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins both registered 100-yard receiving games with a touchdown catch each.

Since Penn State and Michigan State started playing for the Land Grant Trophy in 1993, there have only been two other games featuring a pair of 100-yard receivers (2008, 1994).

Thompkins and Hamilton combined for seven receptions for at least 10 yards, including Thompkins' career-long 70-yard scoring grab on the final play of the third quarter.

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While Penn State won the explosive plays battle 14-13, even as Franklin said postgame though, it still wasn't enough to make up for costly turnovers.

"We lost the turnover battle, we lost the field position battle, explosive plays were a wash, so that's the story of the game," Franklin said. "It's pretty much that simple."

With just a few hours remaining in Sunday's usual practice day to re-examine and make corrections, it's clear Franklin's message has been received.

"These past two weeks, I'd be lying if I said they do don't sting, they don't hurt," tight end Mike Gesicki said. "I think it's a reality check for us. It's a wakeup call for us. If we're the team that we say we want to be and if we're the team that we say we are, then we're going to bounce back from it."

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