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Smeltzer: Same old State, Same old State

Photo by Matt Lynch, Nittany Sports Now: James Franklin

Most of you have heard the Penn State alma mater  by now, right?

In case you haven’t heard it or don’t have it memorized— many people don’t—, here are the last two lines of the third verse.

“Thou didst mold us, dear old State

“Dear old State, dear old State.”

Replace the word “dear” with “same,” and that sums up Saturday’s loss in Columbus.

Same old State, same old State.

I don’t imagine PSU will change the lyrics of its 122-year old alma mater.

But in the wake of another horror show at the “Horseshoe,” that possibility feels about as likely as Penn State beating Ohio State or Michigan.

Many Penn State fans don’t want to hear this right now, but James Franklin has accomplished a lot in his time at PSU. He’s won the Big Ten. He’s won New Year’s Six bowl games, most recently the Rose Bowl. In Franklin’s first two seasons, Penn State won seven games each. Now, the program is at the point where winning 11 games disappoints people.

The program is also at the point where losing by eight to the No. 3 team in the country on the road enrages just about everybody in the fanbase.

Calls for Franklin’s head are a little much, but the bottom line is that Penn State had no reason not to beat Ohio State Saturday.

So people are right to be pissed.

But no matter who is wearing the pads, no matter the year, no matter the venue, no matter the stakes, this is how things go: Ohio State wins, and Penn State loses.

In case you’ve been living on Mars, here are the numbers. Penn State’s played Ohio State 10 times since Franklin took over in 2014. Its won one of those games, and that win happened seven years ago today. Penn State’s nine losses have come in a variety of ways.

It’s lost to Ohio State because Ohio State was simply better (2015, ‘20, ‘21).

It’s blown games (2017, ‘18).

It‘s lost a double-overtime heartbreaker (2014).

It’s lost because of a bad start that it couldn’t recover from (2019).

It’s lost because it couldn’t take care of the ball (‘21).

This time, Penn State lost because, to paraphrase San Francisco 49er legend Ronnie Lott, it didn’t “bring an offense.”

Defensively, Penn State wasn’t perfect. Looking at Marvin Harrison Jr’s stats (11 catches, 162 yards, TD) show that. But it was damn good, good enough to win and, for my money, would have won with an average— not a great or even good— an average offensive performance.

But Penn State got far less than that.

The offense was absolutely dismal, and didn’t score a touchdown until the team was buried down 20-6 in the last minute.

Had Penn State ended with six points, it would have been tied with the fewest total the school had ever scored in 38 meetings with Ohio State (the previous low under Franklin was 10).

So its fair to say that Penn State found a different way to lose to Ohio State.

But as different as this loss was, Penn State fans were left with two feelings that they know all too well:

  1. “I hate the world”

  2. “Franklin will never win a big game.”

The last time Penn State fans were this fed up with where the program happened around this time last year. Penn State got embarrassed by Michigan, and  fans left with the same complaints and the same questions. I remember what people were saying about Franklin after the Michigan game. I also remember what they were saying about Franklin after the team won the Rose Bowl less than three months later.

There are two ways to look at last year’s example.

On the one hand, PSU shaking off that setback to finish 11-2 proves that Franklin knows how to win. On the other, it shows how familiar Penn State and its fans are getting with losing big regular-season games, namely to Ohio State and Michigan.

Coming into this year’s Ohio State game, many wondered, “if not now, then when?”

The question still lingers after Saturday and will persist for at least another 20 days.

Many— myself included— came in thinking that Penn State had a better team than Ohio State.

We thought Drew Allar was better than Kyle McCord. Allar ended up using one word— “sucked” to describe his performance. We thought Nicholas Singleton might break out and look like he did in 2022, when he broke 1,000 yards as a true freshman. Singleton gained 48 yards on nine carries, with 36 coming on two carries. We thought offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich would call a game that didn’t have people wanting him fired.



We didn’t get any of that. Instead, we got same old State, same old State.

James Franklin has done everything at Penn State besides make a College Football Playoff. This season will be his last chance to do that in the four-team format. When the field expands to 12 starting next season, Penn State will likely be a perennial participant, but being a participant won’t mean as much.

If it turns out that Penn State went through the entire four-team era without making the Playoff, the biggest reason will be the team’s consistent inability to win its most important regular-season game.

Franklin has a chance to shut people up in less than three weeks against Michigan at Beaver Stadium.

Although I think Michigan is the best team in the country, I wouldn’t 100% rule out Penn State finding a way to win.

Stop laughing.

Manny Diaz’s defense gives PSU a puncher’s chance at worst against anybody.

But Franklin and his team botched a chance to shut people up Saturday and have blown a lot of similar chances over the past six and a half seasons. A lot can happen in 20 days, but I imagine I’ll pick Michigan to win, and Franklin’s critics to again be right.

It’s up to Penn State to improve me wrong, but until then, it’s same old State, same old State.

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