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The Walker Report: No Excuses, James Franklin Needs to be Elite

James Franklin
James Franklin | Photo by Penn State Athletics

It’s been four years since James Franklin made his now infamous speech on how Penn State no longer wanted to be great, but elite after its 27-26 loss to Ohio State in 2018.

He talked about how the players needed to study film better, go to class, and take the weight training more seriously. He said that the program had gotten comfortable being a great program and that wasn’t going to be acceptable.

Four years later, a 33-18 overall record and 23-11 conference mark since that speech suggests that Penn State isn’t an elite program and Franklin’s team has regressed slightly to just very good.

Penn State’s had high-end talents such as Micah Parsons, Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders come through the program. But did it happen because of Franklin’s ability to develop players or because their talent transcended Franklin’s sometimes shaky game-day management.

Let’s take a look at the continuing failure to, until this year, build a quality offensive line. Phil Trautwein is a good young offensive line coach on the rise, and he’s developed Olu Fashanu into a potential top 10 pick in April’s draft. Penn State has a stud freshmen in guard Vega Ioane. It also has a pipeline of four and five-star offensive linemen coming in the 2023 recruiting cycle that can further rectify that issue.

Then there’s the quarterback position. Has Sean Clifford gotten better in the six years he’s been at Penn State? Granted he’s had three offensive coordinators during that time, and he’s been hamstrung by the constant change in offensive philosophies over the time he’s been at Penn State.

But Clifford hasn’t improved; he’s just stayed the same quarterback from the time he got to campus until now. Now he has Drew Allar, and I wonder if Franklin can get the best out of him and live up to him being a five-star, can’t-miss product that could be a top five pick in the 2025 draft.

In his weekly coach’s show Thursday evening, Franklin spoke about how Penn State didn’t follow up and capitalize off its 2016 win over Ohio State an subsequent Big Ten championship.

Instead of taking responsibility, he talked about how the weight room facilities weren’t up to par, a lack of luxury dorm rooms and how the school is dragging its feet when it comes to name, image, and likeness deals.

Excuses.

In the year that I have been talking to recruits for Nittany Sports Now, whether they committed to Penn State or not, they’ve have raved about Penn State’s amenities and facilities, and the school is taking the necessary steps to make even more improvements.

 

I can only assume they are as good, if not better than most programs. Anyway, does it matter if the weights look fancy when you lift them? The weight training and the nutrition program are what matters, and Franklin talked about players needing to get bigger and stronger after the Michigan loss.

That’s on him.

Franklin has been too much talk and not enough action. He likes to bloviate about how he needs this, and he needs that. But he’s had all the resources needed to elevate Penn State to an elite program.

Instead, we’ve gotten poor play-calling and not having backups ready to play in the case of injuries. He leans too much on great defensive coordinators like Brent Pry and now Manny Diaz, while he meddles in the offense without producing results. That’s inexcusable.

Franklin has a chance to prove me wrong Saturday against Ohio State.

Penn State rising to elite status starts with Franklin. And it starts Saturday.

Twitter: @bwalkerdadon

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