Penn State Nittany Lions: Matt Bonhaus

Planning for success: Penn State

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
8:00
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- There's been a lot of talk about forgetting Saturday's 63-14 loss to Ohio State. About maybe pretending like the worst defeat in 114 years never happened, that the embarrassment should be shrugged off and discarded like an empty Gatorade bottle.

"You've got to get back to work and forget about the past," offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach offered.

But Dieffenbach altered that statement when pressed. Can you really forget about something like that? Isn't there a difference between forgetting and moving on?

"You can't forget," Dieffenbach admitted, nodding.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsBill O'Brien tried to provide his players with some perspective after the loss to Ohio State.
"It's always going to be in the back of your mind. But we know what type of guys we have on the team, and we know what type of coaches we have. And we're not going to let that affect our outcome on the rest of the season."

Those words were remarkably similar to those by players on the 1994 Ohio State team, which lost to Penn State by that same score -- 63-14 -- on the road. Nineteen years later, and those Buckeyes still remember. Former defensive end Matt Finkes won't even wear black socks anymore because he still recalls wearing the color during the October game that's "etched in my memory."

There's no remedy to forgetting a 63-14 game. There's no way to erase it from the record books or pretend like it was never played. But there is a way to move past it -- while still remembering, of course.

"You get another win under your belt," former Ohio State DT Matt Bonhaus said, "and that feeling, that loss, goes away."

Added PSU safety Jesse Della Valle: "That's our goal, obviously, just to rebound and get back on track."

Penn State will get its chance at noon on Saturday against an Illinois team that started off hot and has cooled almost as fast the Lions' defense. The Illini boast a middle-of-the-road offense now, ranking No. 73 in total offense (400.7 ypg) and No. 58 in scoring offense (30.7 ppg).

But those numbers and rankings mean little this week -- and they'll mean even less if John Butler's defense repeats its performance from Saturday. Few questions this week revolved around the ability of Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase or the style of Illinois' offense. Many, many more revolved around the mindset of Penn State.

Dwell on the last game, and lose the next game. Play like the last game, and lose the next game. Bill O'Brien crossed arms in a gray sweatshirt Tuesday and explained that his staff would simplify the defense this week, maybe make fewer checks at the line, and "just let them go play."

The reigning coach of the year gathered the Nits around 2:45 p.m. Monday and preached focus, about the 63-14 loss not being the worst thing that will happen in their lifetimes. He again emphasized taking it one game at a time -- which sounded a lot like advice from the Ohio State staff back in 1994, long before replays of painful losses were repeatedly streamed online and fans vented on message boards 24/7.

Said Finkes: "The coaching staff just sat us down and said we still have a lot of goals to accomplish -- and let's not lose this whole season just because of one game."

The only way for PSU to move past that game isn't forgetting. Della Valle had it right on Tuesday; it's about focus.

"We have a lot more to play for this season," he said. "So we're going to move on and focus on what we need to do."

Said '94 OSU guard LeShun Daniels: "It's a new week. You need to focus on a new team. You need to get back to what you're doing. You need to move on."

Ohio State rebounded against Wisconsin in 1994, and its defense limited the Badgers to a field goal a week after surrendering nine touchdowns. Penn State is planning for success against Illinois on Saturday, a game in which it's still favored by double digits, by simplifying and focusing.

A win over Illinois digs the Lions out of the past and reinforces that focus on the future. Another big loss?

Then there'll really be no forgetting.

With similar score, Lions must move on

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
2:00
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Former Ohio State OG LeShun Daniels reclined on his oversized couch, next to two of his sons, while they sipped lemonade Saturday night and stared at the Penn State-Ohio State game on the big-screen TV.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsBill O'Brien and Penn State will need their leadership to help them get over the lopsided loss to Ohio State.
They'd laugh and joke during the game, and Daniels would flip on other channels to peek at the Oregon and Missouri contests when -- and only when -- a commercial break interrupted the action. His youngest, 5 years old, conked out around halftime when the score glued on the bottom of the screen read, "PENN ST 7 OHIO ST 42."

But Daniels, who started for the Buckeyes from 1994 to 1996, couldn't take his eyes off the TV. These were his Buckeyes after all, a team still close to his native Ohioan heart. And he smiled to himself before midnight when that final score stuck. It was all too familiar.

Ohio State won, 63-14, Saturday night -- the identical score from Oct. 29, 1994, when he played Penn State. But, this time, the numbers were reversed. Daniels had stood on the Beaver Stadium grass -- and still remembers listening to the Lion roar over the loudspeaker -- when his beloved Buckeyes dropped a 63-14 contest to PSU. Now, the Buckeyes were celebrating at The Shoe as the 63-14 victors.

"It just clicked, watching the game the other night," Daniels said with a laugh. "The Bucks did play a good game, so it was good to see that. But also seeing that score, even 19 years later, that was really good to see. I remember hearing about that game like 1,000 times while we were playing Penn State. So it was good."

Four former Ohio State players from that game still remember it vividly, nearly 20 years later. A loss like that never really leaves you, they said. For most of the roster, it was the worst beatdown they received from Pee Wees to the pros. Nothing felt -- or ever would feel -- quite like that.

"It sticks with you, kind of even today," former defensive end Matt Finkes said. "People will still bring that up; even before this week there were people talking about that loss. They'll be like, 'Oh it was 56-7.' And I'll be like, 'No, it's 63-14.' It's etched in my memory. That's something you don't forget."

Bill O'Brien's squad of 61 scholarship players probably hopes to forget about the scarlet and gray this week -- but they could learn a lesson from those 1994 Buckeyes and that 63-14 landslide. After suffering its worst loss in nearly a half-century, the 1994 Ohio State squad rebounded with three straight wins, including a 24-3 victory over a good Wisconsin team the very next weekend.

Former OSU linebacker Lorenzo Styles remembers the Penn State game all too well. He can still remember watching one completion after another from Kerry Collins -- who went 19-of-23 for 265 yards and two TDs -- and chasing down a speedy Ki-Jana Carter (19 carries, 137 yards, four TDs). But, more than anything, he remembers the frustration his defense felt lining against PSU's mammoth offensive line.

The Buckeyes were young and inexperienced that year -- not unlike PSU this season -- and what would usually end up as stops in the backfield routinely turned into at least 2- and 3-yard gains. Finkes moped on the sideline late in the third quarter and just wanted the game to be over; a sense of relief washed over the team once the refs finally blew the whistle.

"You don't forget about it, but you understand you have to come out ready with what you're supposed to do the next week," Styles said. "We knew we had the rest of the season left."

Added Finkes: "The coaching staff just sat us down and said we still have a lot of goals to accomplish -- and let's not lose this whole season just because of one game. And then that's the year we beat Michigan."

Intensity at practices turned up a few notches the week after the '94 team's 63-14 loss. Those three interviewed Buckeyes -- along with DT Matt Bonhaus -- all used the term "embarrassed." They were upset and beside themselves -- but they were also angry. And they were out to prove that historical loss wasn't the norm; it was just a bad footnote to a good season.

They had played terribly and lost to the far-superior team, one that finished the season undefeated and boasted five offensive All-Americans. They wouldn't see another team like that one and, they vowed, they wouldn't perform like that again either. They won that next week -- and beat PSU the very next season.

"You get another win under your belt," Bonhaus said, "and that feeling, that loss, goes away."

The Nittany Lions are a 10-point favorite against Illinois on Saturday. Whether they insist they've moved on or not, that loss to Ohio State will still be on their minds. It was on the 1994 Ohio State team's.

But the OSU quartet's advice for PSU was simple: Focus on the new opponent, don't lower expectations and don't dwell. Be resilient, and put more time in the film room to correct mistakes.

"They're resilient," Styles said of Penn State, explaining how the team stuck together through the sanctions. "The leadership on this team is like the leadership we had; they'll move forward."

But they won't forget. The Buckeyes rolled into that 1994 game with black socks, a secret move engineered by tailback Eddie George in which the coaches were unaware. (Finkes recalls one assistant yelling expletives because of the move.) The Buckeyes never before entered a game with black socks. Afterward, some players never touched black socks again. Even a decade later.

To this day, Bonhaus owns no black socks outside of some dress pairs. Finkes takes it even one step further -- he intentionally has no pairs of blacks. He'll wear gray dress socks if the occasion calls for it.

"I'm happy we went out and played that good game Saturday night," Finkes said. "But nothing's going to make that 1994 game go away -- even if we would've beaten them 100-7. No matter what, it was still me losing 63-14 back in 1994."

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