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Giger: These Lions have shown a hell of a lot of fight

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Antonio Shelton celebrates his sack early in Saturday's win.

Do we know if this is a good Penn State football team? I’d say, even after eight games, the jury is still out on that because the Nittany Lions can indeed look good at times, while still looking awful at other times.

The first half Saturday was of the awful variety, as Penn State trailed a bad Michigan State team, 21-10.

The second half, though, was outstanding, as the Lions played great in all three phases and rolled Sparty for a 39-24 victory on senior day at Beaver Stadium. The third straight win moved PSU to 3-5.

Despite what we think about this team, which infuriated everyone with an embarrassing 0-5 start, this much is not up for debate: There is a hell of a lot of fight in these Lions.

Maybe that doesn’t mean much to some of you fans. You may have given up on this team long ago, given up on these guys pulling off any kind of strong season.

It would have been easy to do that. To quit on this team.

But you know who didn’t quit?

The players.

Photo by Penn State Athletics: The Nittany Lion seniors

We should not underestimate how impressive it is that the players in the PSU program have shown great character, determination and fight in the way that they have kept battling late in the season. They didn’t really have much left to play for — except for themselves and their collective pride.

The second half Saturday was the best example of it. On senior day, these Lions weren’t about to let Michigan State come in and spoil the day, so they dug down deep, bowed up and found a way to win.

“The resiliency that we have showed, again, I’m proud of them,” James Franklin said. “(Losing this much is) not something that we’ve experienced or been through. So to find a way to show that type of heart, to show that type of belief and stick together and stay together and battle through, I’m very proud of them.

“It’s not easy to do. The last three weeks we have found ways to win, which is really what we have done for seven years.”

Penn State played Saturday without three first-round draft picks who were expected to be on this team: LB Micah Parsons (opted out), TE Pat Freiermuth (injured) and DE Jayson Oweh, who was banged up last week at Rutgers.

Cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields (injured) also didn’t play. Starting RB Journey Brown (medical retirement), backup running back Noah Cain (injured) and third-string RB Devyn Ford also didn’t play. We don’t know the reason for Ford’s absence.

If you add up all those guys who were starters at one point, PSU was down six starters Saturday.

And also down 21-10 at the half.

Do you know how many teams across this country would have quit playing hard Saturday? A bunch.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not handing out moral victory trophies for playing hard. That’s what’s expected of college athletes who are on scholarship at major programs, or any program, really.

But that’s all in theory.

In reality, a lot of players quit playing hard when things get rough. Their teams have no chance, really, after dealing with so much adversity.

“The way this team has stuck together, the way this coaching staff has stuck together (was impressive),” Franklin said.

“I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the entire organization and how we’ve handled tremendous adversity.”

Would everyone love to go back and start the season over? Sure.

If we could do that, would this Penn State team be a lot better than 3-5? I think so. Some of those losses probably would have turned into wins, namely Nebraska and probably Maryland. Maybe even Indiana, since that probably should have been a win anyway.

But the players can’t go back in time, can’t play those games over again.

They’ll have to live with the results, plus the frustration and embarrassment of the 0-5 start.

But the one thing the players could do after all that was fight like hell to see if they could make some kind of silver lining out of all this.

They’ve done that. And they deserve respect for the fight they’ve shown.

Click for more Nittany Sports Now coverage

Who will Penn State play next?: Here’s a preview of what could happen with next week’s schedule.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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