Penn State football players were asked often this week about their stunning upset win over Ohio State two years ago during a White Out at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes 24-21 on Grant Haley's return of a blocked field goal and catapulted themselves into Big Ten contention and into the top tier of college football, where they've remained.
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Trace McSorley, though, has been more focused on Penn State's 39-38 loss last year at Ohio Stadium, where the Lions led by 18 points in the first half. He's been thinking about that gut-wrenching defeat for a long time.
"That Ohio State loss did stick with me for a little while," McSorley said in July at the Big Ten Kickoff and Media Days. "It still does to this day because it was a learning point for us. We were up big, and we lost by one point. That really changed the trajectory of our season."
McSorley and No. 9 Penn State (1-0 Big Ten, 4-0) can stamp themselves as national title contenders by beating No. 4 Ohio State (1-0, 4-0) tonight at 7:30 at Beaver Stadium.
Top-10 matchup. White Out game. Playoff implications.— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 28, 2018
You don't want to miss this one. pic.twitter.com/KL7lAPXVk5
It's a matchup between the two highest-scoring teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the first game between top 10 teams in State College since 1999.
McSorley hopes the lessons the Lions gained from the harrowing loss at Ohio State last year have served them well.
"We didn't realize how (important) the small details were," he said. "That was a lesson we learned last year coming out after that game, and I think we've been able to carry that with us into this season.
"We carried it with us through the offseason. We carried it with us when we prepared for App (Appalachian) State, and we continue to carry it. We understand how small the margin of error is and how every little detail going back to Sunday or Monday matters."
Even without Saquon Barkley, now a rookie with the New York Giants, Penn State's offense is playing at a higher level. The Lions lead the FBS with 55.5 points a game and are averaging 514.5 total yards. They've scored at least 50 points in three straight games for the first time in school history.
Behind a strong offensive line, they lead the Big Ten and are 10th in the FBS in rushing at 275.0 yards a game. But their passing game has room to improve, with McSorley completing just 53.8 percent of his passes partly because receivers have dropped at least 10 balls.
"I think we can be more detailed, precise and efficient in our passing game," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "And we need to be."
#OSUvsPSU Game Preview with @coachjfranklin. ⬇️#WeAre pic.twitter.com/sLYGXpIEGP— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) September 29, 2018
Juwan Johnson seemed to snap out of his early-season slump by making four catches for 51 yards and one touchdown last week at Illinois after he had just two receptions the previous two weeks. He's dropped four passes.
"It's definitely frustrating," Johnson said. "But the one thing I try to do is focus on the next play. If you're going to keep worrying about it, you're going to drop another one. Forget about it and move on."
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The entire Penn State team needs to be precise against Ohio State, which has won five of the last six meetings. The Lions-Buckeyes winner the last two years went on to take the Big Ten East and overall conference titles.
Practice Report: Hear from @coachjfranklin, @McSorley_IX & @Ju_heard_ as we get another day closer to the #PSUWhiteOut matchup vs. Ohio State. » https://t.co/iQUF5BayRE#WeAre pic.twitter.com/0jao7EtyAT— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) September 27, 2018
Both teams lost the week after their meeting last year, Iowa routing Ohio State 55-24 and Michigan State edging Penn State 27-24 after a 31/2-hour weather delay.
"With those two losses last year, you understand how small the margin of error is," McSorley said, "and how important every little detail is."
This article is written by Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.