STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It’s OK for Penn State to dream now.
Nittany Lions fans aren’t exactly waiting for permission. A break in Saturday night’s fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium, Michigan already broken down, brought a chant. Nittany Lions students chose something about wanting ’Bama.
Easy to mumble how they shouldn’t be looking so far ahead, right? Yet if you’re No. 2, what should be the ultimate goal except get to a game with No. 1, which is Alabama right now? That’s exactly what Penn State should want for itself this season. May as well chant it.
It was kind of funny how, right after Penn State’s 42-13 rout of the Wolverines, coach James Franklin made a little show of grabbing a cell phone at his news conference to look at the exact time, which was 11:23 p.m.
“I’m not talking about the next opponent,’’ Franklin said. “I’m going to enjoy this win for 37 minutes.”
A way to point out Ohio State is next without mentioning Ohio State. Let the fans chant about bigger implications. After Penn State proved too good for Michigan, a trip to Columbus, an entirely different atmosphere than the White Out confines of home, will tell us much more about these 2017 Penn State Nittany Lions, with a just-as-big trip to Michigan State right afterward.
The fact is, Penn State impressed itself Saturday night. Who wouldn’t have?
“Tonight kind of speaks for itself,’’ Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley said later. “We scored 42 points against one of the top defenses in the Big Ten.”
It sort of “proved to ourselves we can play at this level’’ McSorley added. “We should do it every week.”
“That’s a defense that hasn’t given up any yards and any points really to anybody,’’ Franklin said of Michigan. Earlier, Penn State’s coach had pointed out that his team is playing “very good” in all three phases of the game right now, “which doesn’t happen very often.”
Rushing yards were doubled; passing yards, not close. Fumbles? Michigan had the only two, and lost one of them. And missed an extra point. McSorley, with another big night, threw a bad interception but saved it from being a pick-six with a tackle of his own. Sacks? Seven by Penn State, two for the Wolverines. Third-down conversions: Penn State only had seven opportunities and converted four. That’s how you punt only two times against a team that came in leading the Big Ten in total defense.
As for their No. 2 ranking meaning the Lions have to be ready for amped-up opponents every week, Saquon Barkley said: “It doesn’t matter if we’re ranked or not. We’re Penn State. We get everybody’s best shot.”
There’s no letting up around here. Not even from the cheerleaders, who had their backs to the field, facing the Nittany Lions student section, when one of them, looking up at the big screen in Saturday night’s waning minutes, blurted out: “Get him!”
Didn’t matter at all that Penn State already had scored six touchdowns and had given up just two. “Get him!”
That was absolutely the feeling from fans who remembered last year’s 49-10 debacle in Ann Arbor, which came at a time nobody knew Penn State’s program had turned a significant corner and would be capable of quick revenge.
“I wouldn’t say it’s revenge,’’ Barkley said after his spectacular three-touchdown game, which included a 69-yard score on his first touch of the night. “It’s not the exact same guys.”
But on the sideline, down toward the end zone, a Penn State letterman wearing a sweatshirt signifying his own appearance in a Fiesta Bowl, cheered when the Nittany Lions student section began a dirge-like chant of “Harbaugh.”
“That’s right, get him,’’ the older Penn Stater said.
Someone near him must have looked at him funny.
“You forgot 49-10?’’ the letterman said.
Some eventful history has been condensed into these last two Penn State seasons. It’s does make you wonder how the rest of it plays out. Fair to wonder. For the faithful, fair to dream.