Welcome to October.
Well, chances are you’re reading this column in September, but grab your pumpkin spice latte and pretend it’s October with me.
It’s the month full of ghosts and goblins and green leaves turning every shade of brown, yellow, and orange that you can think of. The month that’s full of getting dragged to a pumpkin patch and being forced to take family photos when you just want to watch football. The month of delicious candy corn. (I said what I said.)
It’s also the month where Penn State football seasons go to die. And this October’s cast of characters is scarier than whatever number Halloween movie we’re on at this point.
But maybe, just maybe there’s a happy ending to this horror film. Maybe it’s more of an Exorcist than a Final Destination type flick.
As James Franklin and Penn State roll into the 10th month of the year, we’re finally going to learn if this team can exercise its demons and whether or not Franklin has finally learned from the sins of his past.
Consider the past few Octobers and not even M. Night Shyamalan can whip up a nightmare as bad as the one Penn State has been living in. In 2017, with Ohio State on the ropes, Penn State can’t run the ball and loses in the Horseshoe. The following year, Penn State’s defense collapses at the end of the game to Michigan State, causing one of the most confusing losses of Franklin’s career. Fast forward to 2020 and the season starts in October with a mind-bending loss that derails the entire season and everyone wonders what the h-e-double-hockey stick is going on.
Then of course there was last year. I spend a lot of time thinking about alternative Penn State football timelines but this timeline wasn’t out of the Twilight Zone: Everything was fine and dandy until Sean Clifford goes down in Kinnick Stadium, gets booed, doesn’t return to the game, TaQuan Roberson forgets how to snap the ball all, loses before the worst football game any human being has seen with a 9-OT disaster against Illinois.
And as we grab a popcorn and soda and get settled for the 2022 October film, Penn State finds itself at a unique crossroads of the future vs. the present.
Northwestern will be the first act in this movie, one where we likely see that everything is fine and right and almost too perfect. Then in the three acts that follow, Michigan (the stereotypical bad guy), Minnesota (the plot twist we didn’t see coming) and Ohio State (the villain who just won’t go away), we’ll learn if the future this program can have will be starting earlier than expected.
All season long, even after that win over Ohio, I’ve said there’s something different about this team. Clifford figured out how to make his wrongs right and save the day in Purdue. The rushing attack is more useful than a madman in Texas with a chainsaw as evidenced by massive back-to-back games from Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. There’s a secondary that’s leading the nation in pass breakups, and young linebackers who are hitting their stride at the right time.
Maybe the suspenseful music has been playing all along and I just don’t hear it but this batch of Nittany Lions seems to be able to handle anything thrown at them.
But Darian, what about last week’s performance? You see, that is exhibit A in this case that Penn State is different. Earlier this season, Franklin admitted to prepping for Auburn weeks ahead of the game, even while other game prep was happening. He’s learned that the “1-0, team, team, team” approach isn’t going to accomplish everything that he, or you and I, want to see happen in State College. I think that’s why Penn State wasn’t sharp against Central Michigan. They had the Wolverines on the mind.
There’s a real chance this team understands what all of those horrific October teams did wrong and how to not just learn, but grow from those lessons.
As long as Penn State can handle that first act with Northwestern, then October doesn’t have to end as a horror story, but one that shows the growth and the promise that we’re witnessing with an attacking defense and a strong running game led by two talented freshmen. Maybe all of that preseason chatter about building depth can go away. Maybe this team is ready to finally take down the demons lurking as the crisp mornings give way to crisper afternoons. Maybe this team can be the one that finds silver bullets, garlic and mirrors just in time.
So welcome to October: A month that will be the tell-tale heart of the 2022 Penn State football season.
Darian Somers is a 2016 Penn State graduate currently living in Frederick, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @StuffSomersSays. You can listen to his podcast, Stuff Somers Says with Steve Sampsell every week on major podcast outlets.