Thats the attitude the Penn State football team is taking, senior linebacker Dan Connor said earlier this week, just days after the Nittany Lions suffered another aggravating loss to Michigan, their ninth in a row to the Wolverines.
That was a tough loss and a tough way to lose, Connor said. It was quiet and pretty upsetting [being in the locker room after the game]. But after that day is over youve got to turn the page. Weve got to be men about this.
As a captain, Connor will have to play a key role in keeping everyone upbeat despite the 14-9 setback in Ann Arbor. The need for normalcy is particularly acute given that this week's opponent, Illinois, isnt the pushover it was the last time Penn State traveled to Champaign in the wake of a loss to the Wolverines. The Lions were coming off a heartbreaking last-second defeat two years ago and were eager to get the disappointment out of their system. They did so by scoring 56 first-half points en route to a 63-10 victory over the Fighting Illini and their first-year coach, Ron Zook.
This years Illini appear much more competitive than that bunch. The defense has stiffened with linebacker J. Leman leading the way. And the offense has more punch thanks to quarterback Juice Williams, tailback Rashard Mendenhall and freshman receiver Arrelious Benn.
Mendenhall leads the Big Ten in scoring with eight touchdowns in four games and is second in the conference in rushing with an average of 134 yards a game. The Lions know all about him. He rushed for 161 yards on just 14 carries against Penn State last year, and the Illini took a 9-3 lead into halftime before turning the ball over three times in the span of 11 plays in the third quarter en route to a 26-12 defeat.
Looking back, Connor believes the Lions werent in the right frame of mind heading into that game. They were coming off — you guessed it — a loss to Michigan and didnt have a great mind-set going into the game, Connor said. They smacked us in the mouth.
Connor hopes the Lions will respond more forcefully this time around.
Weve got to get back our swagger and get back to the way we were playing before the Michigan game, he said. You cant give up the season four games into it just because you got beat.