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Franklin: Penn State has ‘Closed the gap’ on top Teams

Photo by Matt Lynch, Nittany Sports Now: James Franklin

It’s been more than five years since James Franklin’s most famous press conference as Penn State football’s coach.

After his team lost to Ohio State before a record Beaver Stadium attendance, Franklin emphasized that Penn State was a “great program,” but that being “great” wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Franklin said the team needed to go from “great” to “elite.”

A lot has happened over the last five years. Players and assistant coaches have come and gone, a global pandemic happened and Penn State briefly regressed from “great” to “average,” going 11-11 over the 2020 and ‘21 seasons. Now, Penn State’s back to, by Franklin’s criteria, being a “great” program.

PSU went 11-2 last season, won the Rose Bowl and finished No. 7.

Through six games this season, Penn State’s undefeated and back at No. 7 in the AP Poll.

Franklin told reporters at his weekly Wednesday post-practice availability that he feels Penn State’s “closed the gap with a lot of what people would consider the top five programs in the country.”

Penn State has a chance to take a massive step this Saturday in Columbus.

No. 3 Ohio State awaits.

It’s a school that, even in what many feel is a “down year” talent wise, is still a national championship contender. It’s the school that losing to inspired Franklin’s most famous presser. It’s a school that’s historically had Penn State’s number more than any other in the Big Ten, and the Franklin era (2014 onward) has been no exception.

Ohio State is 8-1 against James Franklin.

Over the past seven matchups, a common theme has emerged:

  • Penn State comes in as the underdog
  • Penn State hangs with might Ohio State the whole way
  • Penn State loses

Most Penn State fans would agree that the two most painful losses to Ohio State of the Franklin era— maybe any era of Penn State football— took place in 2017 (Columbus) and ‘18 (University Park)

Penn State coughed up double-digit second half leads in both and lost both by a combined three points.

Franklin’s expecting another one-possession game, and hoping for a different result.

“I think the first thing is you have to put yourself in a position to win those games,” Franklin said. “when  you look at the NFL, typically those games come down to one possession. That’s typically how it’s going to come down (in a big-time college game) as well. It’s going to come down to a one-possession game.

For Franklin, “one of two things” typically happen in these kinds of games.

“Situational football is going to win the game for you and you guys understanding how to handle situational football, whether it’s a two-minute (offense) or four-minute, the ability to lose the game on your terms, or talent,” Franklin said. “It’s very similar to when you watch certain teams, certain games, no matter what the talent differential is, people can hang around for a half.  And them, over time.

If the game goes the way Franklin expects it to, it won’t be much different than past PSU-OSU classics.

Penn State hasn’t closed out Ohio State in almost seven years. Whether it will this year is the game’s biggest storyline. In any case, Franklin’s expecting both fanbases to be sweating it out until the end or close to it.

“I think it’s going to come down to a one-possession game,” he said, “and we have to be able to find a way to win that situation at the end of the game. Whatever it is. Four-minute (offense), two-minute (offense), whatever it may be. We have to be able to capitalize in that situation, on the road in that environment.

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