“We cherish every win; we cherish every single win here at Penn State. We have a happy locker room….Our kids battled and we cherish every win. There is no ugly win.” Bill O’Brien said just minutes removed from an overtime victory against Illinois in 2013.
It was a quote worth remembering as Penn State left the field on Saturday afternoon at 7-3 with a 22-10 win over Wisconsin. Maybe it wasn’t pretty, maybe it wasn’t elite, but wins are wins. Yet another on a growing list.
So it was fitting that Nick Scott has been at the center of two late-game interceptions that have essentially cemented Penn State’s past two wins.
Because Scott has known losing. His wide smile and enthusiastic grin makes him easy to spot in a crowded room, but that face has expressed disappointment and regret.
He knows what it’s like to be a part of a team that comes up short again and again. He was around for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, years that -for various reasons- were miles behind the present day in terms of talent, quality and results. He knows how hard winning is. He knows he can’t take it for granted.
He knows how important every win is, no matter who they’re against, no matter what they look like.
“I saw both sides of the spectrum, being a fifth year senior I was here for the two 7-6 years and obviously all of the great years after that.” Scott said following the game. “So we have a tremendous amount of pride and it did take a great amount of work to get to this point. Hopefully the young guys now sort of see how this program is being run and hopefully their not satisfied with the results we’ve gotten to this point and hopefully they’re hungry for more.”
And for so many on Penn State’s roster they have never really experienced what Scott has seen, what really losing feels like. This team -short of last week’s loss to Michigan- has felt very little in the way of true embarrassment. It has essentially beat every program it should and has only most of its highest profile games in the final minutes. Whatever the method of defeat, whoever might take the blame for them, so many on Penn State’s roster have only known success. Fewer and fewer have had to gut out a close game against Rutgers or experience a final-minute loss to Illinois or Maryland.
It’s something forgotten in the ongoing and unavoidable fallout of Penn State’s losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions are 29-8 reaching back to 2016, a mark that only Ohio State and Wisconsin can better having gone 32-5 and 30-8 respectively over that same span. Michigan sits at 26-9 and likely 27-9 short of Rutgers doing the impossible this evening. Penn State, has been one of the most consistent and successful teams in the conference over the past two years.
Winning is winning.
But winning ain’t easy.
“I think most of that is on the leaders because that really influences the approach of the locker room,” Scott said of teaching young players how hard winning can be. “The coaches are just going to coach us regardless. It’s up to the leaders to instill that culture in that locker room where you have got to stay extremely hungry for things, especially in this conference teams are really talented top to bottom and any time you come out you have got to be ready to play.”
It speaks to something James Franklin said on the Coaches Caravan this past Summer, one of the most important lessons he had to teach this particular team, and one of the most important pitfalls it had to avoid. One it will have to continue to avoid each year.
“It’s making sure that our team is mature enough to handle it and doesn’t feel like winning is just a birthright at Penn State because it’s not,” James Franklin said in Philadelphia. “Getting our guys to understand the type of sacrifices, the type of investment they are going to make.”
In the coming weeks Penn State will continue to chase its own “Going 1-0 each week” mantra as it faces a very reasonable path to double-digit wins for the third-straight season. Pulling that off would be the first time the Nittany Lions have done it since joining the Big Ten and the first time since the 1980, 81 and 82 seasons. It would be historic.
So has Penn State come up short in 2018? Maybe, but the Nittany Lions continue to win, more than most everyone else in the conference. It doesn’t matter who you beat, winning is winning, history is history. There’s something to be said for a program coming up short of its goals and still winning 10-games. That’s a nice problem to have.
The key now according to Scott is the same it has always been.
“Working to win, as if you haven’t yet.”