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Penn State hopes win over Gophers a defining moment, but challenges still lie ahead

How far has the Penn State Nittany Lions program fallen? One needs only look at the celebration that went on following a 29-26 overtime win over the Minnesota Gophers for all the explanation one needs.

Tight end Mike Gesicki could be seen running and jumping a fence to hug his parents like the Nittany Lions had just won a Big Ten title, meanwhile other players were seen in near tears hoisting the Victory Bell trophy presented to the winner of this supposed rivalry.

Yes, the win was dramatic and given the butt-kicking Penn State got just a week earlier, it had to feel good to get a win of any kind. But, this is the reality of the Nittany Lions of 2016 and under James Franklin — a win over Minnesota, MINN-E-SOTA, is a big deal.

Gesicki said it himself following the game, according to ESPN.com:

“You don’t put words on it. You go back and watch the celebration that just happened out there, and that will speak volumes for what this means to everyone in this program.”

Still another player pointed out the difference internally in this team, saying it was the best the locker room has looked since his arrival on campus.

“That’s the best our locker room has ever been,” said kicker Tyler Davis, a smiling redshirt junior. “That was awesome. I think that could really be a turning point to our season.”

The second half was certainly a turning point for the Penn State offense, after mustering up just 95 yards passing and going 0 for 7 on third downs in the half. By the time the Victory Bell was being raised by the players from PSU, the offense had managed to put up 335 yards passing and rushed for another 136 yards.

If there was a galvanizing moment to be had, it was in that offensive turnaround, because what was seen on the field in the first half felt an awful lot like what was seen in Ann Arbor the weekend before.

That turnaround signaled something different in this team for head coach James Franklin, who was booed for decision making in the first quarter and had some people trying to start a “Fire Franklin” chant in the student section in the first half as well.

He also acknowledged just how much the Nittany Lions needed this win as a group.

“I think it was definitely something our players needed,” said Franklin following the dramatic win. “Everyone needed it, there is no doubt about it. You kind of have some moments as a program. I remember when I first became a head coach we had a game against UCONN that we won early on and it kind of built a lot of confidence in everybody. It kind of went from there and we needed that here. Tonight is one of those nights.”

No doubt that programs need defining moments and this could be such a moment for the Nittany Lions. But, this is a program that used to see wins for the Victory Bell trophy as a secondary moment to beating the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

So, maybe this is the stepping stone to one of those three major wins (Michigan excluded), but perhaps this was also the ceiling for this program right now.

That should also speak volumes of just where the PSU football program of 2016 is.

Now is the time to show that baby steps are over and that Penn State is the program that Franklin has hyped it up to be on the recruiting trail the past three years.

Up next, a surprising 5-0 Maryland Terrapins team and its super explosive offense.

Let’s see if Penn State passes that challenge, let alone further ones from Michigan State and Ohio State before declaring the Nittany Lions back.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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