Haley’s play lives on, one year later

It’s been one year since the electrifying play that turned around the Penn State football program, and that play was exactly what the Nittany Lions needed for a historic confidence boost.

Marcus Allen blocked the field goal, then Grant Haley scooped it up and scored for a 24-21 win over No. 2 Ohio State on Oct. 22 last year. The win propelled the Lions to the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl, and perhaps more importantly, it made PSU nationally relevant again.

“It was a huge win for our program, and obviously it gave us confidence throughout the season and the last year and kind of even coming into this year,” Haley said Tuesday. “We just needed that really one game where we were able to go against a top team and come out victorious.”

Penn State will be the No. 2 team in the land this time around when it visits Ohio State on Saturday for the game of the year in the Big Ten. The winner will have the inside track to a berth in the College Football Playoff, and since the Buckeyes already have a loss, even if PSU comes up short, its hopes for a playoff berth would not disappear.

Last year’s PSU squad was looking for that big confidence boost that finally came against the Buckeyes. But in a lot of ways, the Lions already knew they could play with Ohio State because of what had happened in previous years.

“I thought there was a lot of confidence from our team because we had played them tough in the past (2014 at Beaver Stadium), and really you could make the argument should have won that game,” coach James Franklin said of a 31-24 double-overtime loss in 2014.

Franklin went on to add that there “are no moral victories” in college football, but there are valuable lessons learned.

“There’s lessons that are learned in every win, and there’s lessons that are learned in every loss, as long as you’re willing to look at them and be honest with yourself,” Franklin said. “We got a really mature football team, and we have done that.”

Still, there’s no more valuable lesson than a team finally getting over a major hurdle, which is what the Lions did last year against the Buckeyes. It was the program’s first win over a top five team since 1999.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt when you find a way as an organization to beat the No. 2 team in the country, I don’t care where you’re at in your program’s development, things like that, those wins have a big impact from a lot of different perspectives,” Franklin said.

Left tackle Ryan Bates said the team’s confidence is significantly higher now than it was heading into last year’s game.

“Last year we lost twice — devastating loss to Pitt and devastating loss to Michigan,” Bates said. “I feel like last year … we needed to turn around our season, and I feel like that was the game to make a statement.

“This year we’re doing really well going into the game. I feel like we’re on top of the world. … Playing football, confidence is the biggest thing you can have really. If you’re not confident in yourself, then who is going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself really?”

Meyer’s bye streak

When it comes to incredible streaks, consider this one: Urban Meyer has won 20 consecutive games when his team is coming off a bye week. He’s 21-1 overall, with the only loss coming during his first season as a head coach, in 2001 with Bowling Green against Miami, Ohio.

Bates was asked what he thinks of Meyer’s remarkable streak.

“I couldn’t care less,” he said. “Honestly. I mean, we’re going to play how we play, and I’m confident in our team and how we play versus how they play.”

O-line improves

Penn State’s offensive line played well against Michigan, a tall task given the Wolverines’ strong defense. The line will have to play even better this week against an outstanding Buckeye defensive line.

“Best game of the year for the offensive line? I’m not sure,” Bates said when asked about the Michigan game. “I know last week we played really well. I’m not sure if it’s the best one we played all year.

“There are always corrections we have to make. After the game you watch film, and you see the mistakes you made on technique and the mental errors you made of you blocked the wrong guy, there’s always places to grow.”

Ohio State’s defensive line is coached, of course, by former PSU assistant Larry Johnson, who has long been an exceptional coach of linemen. He has a lot of talent to work with this season, and like Penn State does, he rotates linemen in and out the entire game to keep them fresh.

“Elite defense,” Franklin said. “Everybody all offseason’s talking about their D-line. Obviously they got tremendous depth, size, athleticism, power up front. That’s kind of been their calling card.

“Coach Johnson obviously does an unbelievable job with them and has his whole career.”

Future broadcaster?

Franklin said the ESPN crew that visited for “College Gameday” this past weekend was very impressed with linebacker Jason Cabinda’s knowledge of the game and personality.

“They could not have raved more about Jason Cabinda and how they think he has a bright future in being a sports commentator, and that not only is he going to do it, that they want him working at ESPN,” Franklin said.

“To me, all our guys should be taking advantage of all these opportunities. Meeting lettermen, dealing with the media, they’re job interviews. Every time you get up and talk in front of the camera it’s a job interview.”