STATE COLLEGE — Just after Penn State scored the winning touchdown to beat Michigan, coach Bill O’Brien sprinted down the field, arms raised, toward the sea of white in the south end zone.
There, his team assembled in front of the adoring, screaming fans as the Blue Band prepared to play the alma mater so players and fans alike could sing along.
It is scenes like that, in front of a sold-out crowd of 107,844, that O’Brien hopes motivates blue-chip recruits to commit to Penn State.
“I’m not allowed to talk too much specifically about recruiting. I’ll tell you what I say. If you come to Penn State, you have a chance to play in front of 108,000 fans, you’re going to be on TV every week and you’re going to get a fantastic education,” he said.
“We have 150 different majors to choose from here, you graduate from here, playing football, with a degree from Penn State. It’s really an unbeatable combination. Hopefully, things worked out in that realm, too.”
As O’Brien addressed the assembled media after Penn State’s 43-40 four-overtime win over Michigan on Saturday, above him the recruiting lounge was full with more than 100 potential recruits and their families.
Surely they were impressed not only with the scintillating win but also with a Nittany Lion team that proved its doubters wrong. On the heels of a deflating loss to Indiana the week before, Penn State was searching for all the motivation it could muster. It came from several different sources.
Primary on the list was the first-ever loss to the Hoosiers.
“We wanted to play our best football this week. We were mad. We were pissed off when we came in this week,” tight end Jesse James said. “We worked hard and we had a good week of practice. It showed out on the field today.”
The defense, too, thought it had something to prove after allowing Indiana to roll up 44 points.
“Indiana was a game we shouldn’t have lost. We made dumb mistakes in that game,” defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. “We wanted to come out and redeem ourselves. We felt like no one respected our defense and even our offense. We wanted to come out here and give it everything we had.”
So, still smarting from the sting of a loss they felt shouldn’t have happened, the Nittany Lions went back to work to prepare for an undefeated Michigan team.
“We were really down on ourselves after that loss. We really needed this win to get us going through the season,” inside linebacker Glenn Carson said. “Everyone just pulled through. Everyone was resilient throughout the game. After that loss, everyone seemed a lot more focused, a lot more determined to get this win. The way we played today really showed that.”
Penn State played with a renewed sense of purpose and intensity, the Nittany Lions drew strength from the whiteout crowd to stage their comeback.
“They’re the reason why we were able to get the stops that we did. My body was achin’ going into the third one (overtime),” Jones said. “Just hearing that crowd, knowing they had our backs, they believed in us as much as we do. Hearing that crowd out there was just great.”
Carson confirmed Jones’ sentiments.
“We have the best fans in the world, I think,” he said. “We just have great fans. The fans did an awesome job with the crowd noise. I think it did play a factor in the game. Michigan struggled when the crowd got really loud. We were just feeding off that energy. We just buckled down and kept playing through everything. A lot of people thought we were out of the game but we just kept fighting. That’s just how this team is. We’re very resilient.”