Mike Hull is a reasonable guy and one, like many of the young men who have played for Penn State over the years, not one to make excuses or to say anything but the truth after an ugly loss. And what the junior linebacker said after the Nittany Lions suffered perhaps the ugliest loss of … well, pick a time period, seemed pretty reasonable at first utterance.
The Nittany Lions spent a lot of time chasing and not a lot of time catching on Saturday night.
"You've just got to forget about it and keep coming back," Hull said.
Penn State's mantra all season, after the frustrating Central Florida loss, the nauseating Indiana loss and even the euphoric defeat of Michigan, has been to forget about the previous game and focus on the next. Twelve one-game seasons, as Bill O'Brien calls it. The idea being, of course, that all you can control is the game you haven't played yet, so dwelling on the game that's over is pointless.
But remembering the 63-14 loss to the Buckeyes -- the way the stadium sounded, the way the air felt, any of the numerous chunk plays the hosts pulled off, or even just the score itself -- might not be a bad idea for the Nittany Lions. They might as well try to remember, because it's one they likely won't be able to forget.
"They'll put it behind them. They'll learn from it," O'Brien said. "We'll remember some things, and we'll get ready to play Illinois."
The tone change in O'Brien's voice as he uttered the third of those three sentences was unmistakable. Urban Meyer and his staff, the BCS standings likely in their mind, did not let up as the lead climbed to 42 points, then 56. They challenged the spot on an Allen Robinson fourth-down reception at the Buckeyes' 20-yard line, with a 49-point lead and more than a quarter still to play, and won it. For that, and for what Meyer denied was an onside kick at the end of the first half, and for some of the shots on Christian Hackenberg, and for reasons that might only ever be known to the Penn State coaches and players, the Nittany Lions will view the next matchup with the Buckeyes a bit differently.
And that's good. But Ohio State won't be on the schedule next week, when Illinois comes to town. Or in two weeks, when the Nittany Lions go on the road to take on a scrappy Minnesota team. Or during any part of the remainder of a season that could still be salvaged or quickly turn into real disaster.
That added incentive will be nice when O'Brien and the Lions see Meyer and the Buckeyes again. But it might be useful against far less talented opponents for a Penn State team that hasn't played well for much of the year.
"We've gotta play better," center Ty Howle said after the game.
Actually, Howle, one of just four players who spoke to reporters, said that on four separate occasions during about a three-minute interview. And it was worth repeating. No one could deny the difference in talent between the two teams that took the field Saturday night. But only one of those teams played anywhere near its potential, and the reasons why are for O'Brien, his staff and his players to determine this week.
"Ohio State is so-called the big guys in the Big Ten, and if we want to be the big guys in the Big Ten we've got to knock off teams like Ohio State," Belton said. "It's definitely motivation for the following year … and Illinois, too."
Accepting the hard truths that Saturday's loss forced the Nittany Lions to confront, and harnessing and redirecting some of the emotions that they felt as the Buckeyes made them look like not just a team with 57 scholarship players but a team with 57 mediocre scholarship players will be just as important as any piece of Fighting Illini film the Lions break down this week. There are five "one-game seasons" still to play, but the one-game season that transpired in the Horseshoe is the kind that tends to linger.
The Nittany Lions should embrace that. Forgetting about failures is often a good thing, but sometimes remembering them, letting them wash over you and using them to spur you on, can be even more effective.