Welcome to our new 5 Things feature, which will be exclusively for our Nittany Pride members. This feature will take a look at one important topic and provide five quick-hitting pieces of information and analysis.
1: Why did Franklin punt on fourth-and-17 down 34-21 in the closing minutes against Iowa?: This was seen by many as Franklin conceding the game, and he got ripped for it on social media. “We’ve gone for it a bunch this year on fourth down and trying to give our offense the best chance to be successful to help our team win,” Franklin said. “And obviously when you’re not picking up fourth and shorts, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of confidence to pick up a fourth and long. We had done a number of things to try to give ourselves a chance to win that game. We battled back and lost some opportunities there. But I just felt like at that point in the game it was the right thing to do, especially with the amount of fourth downs we’ve gone for this year and not been successful.”
Penn State still had three timeouts left, and after it punted, the defense held to a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. So some could say the strategy worked to a small degree. Still, the optics of punting the ball down by two TDs in the closing minutes looked really, really bad. Franklin didn’t even mention the timeouts possibility or any of that when asked Tuesday. He could have and might have been somewhat justified. Had Penn State scored — instead of Sean Clifford throwing an ugly pick-6 — it could have come down to an onside kick with a minute or so remaining.
Instead, Franklin sounded more defeated and actually did sound like he was conceding in his answer because he lacked trust in his offense to be able to get a first down. Sure, the chances of getting a first down on fourth-and-17 would have been remote. But it’s better thank looking like you’re giving up on the game.
2: Franklin says PSU program affected worse in some ways by coronavirus issues and protocols: This was an insightful and telling item Franklin discussed, and he made some interesting points. He said the PSU program is more like a family, where relationships are very strong and personal interaction is important. Having those things taken away has been a big problem.
“This program was built with love and family,” he said. “That has been challenged in these times with the way we can interact with each other and the way we practice and the way we meet. It’s very different. It’s very different. I think if maybe some programs are run more like a business, then maybe it’s not as impactful. But the way we run our program as a family, and very relational and interactive with each other, it’s been different. It is. It has been very, very different.”
Now look, a lot of college football programs are built on a family atmosphere, so some of this may sound like an excuse from Franklin. But let’s be clear about one thing: The coach is talking as much about how all of this affects HIM as he is how it affects the players. Put another way, Franklin probably needs to feel like he has a strong personal relationship with the players in order to achieve maximum success. Since he’s not getting that, it’s harder for the coach, who likes to have everything scripted out and prepared and leave nothing to chance. But all of that is just not possible during this year, when turmoil is everywhere and routines are thrown off. Franklin needs his routine, and having that messed up probably creates a big problem for everyone.
3: How much has the program been set back by this year’s struggles?: This is really the $64,000 question.