STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin met with reporters Tuesday for his weekly news conference in Beaver Stadium. As expected, there was much to discuss after Penn State’s loss at Ohio State.
Franklin was asked again about his 1-9 record against Ohio State and this time came prepared with an answer.
“I’m actually glad you asked the question. I wish I would’ve answered it on Saturday, although I was thinking about that specific game at the time,” Franklin said. “I think it’s more than fair to judge me and my staff for all of it, right? That’s what it’s about. The good. The bad. The consistency. The lack of success in that game. All of it. That’s totally fair to be judged by all of those things.
“But I also think it’s important to judge the entire body of work, all of it. Which I don’t need to get into right now because I don’t want it to come off the wrong way. But, yeah, I think it’s totally fair to be judged based on all those things.”
Franklin with something he didn’t say on Saturday:
“Ultimately, it’s always on me. … At the end of the day the most important thing is for me to take responsibility.”
— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) October 24, 2023
Here are more of Franklin’s responses to some of the most pressing topics that were asked about on Tuesday.
Did Penn State consider inserting Pribula?
Franklin strongly hinted in the offseason that there would be a package involving backup quarterback Beau Pribula at some point this season. After Pribula played plenty in mop-up time in the first six games, we didn’t see a change-of-pace package in the first close game of the year against Ohio State.
In a game in which Drew Allar and the receivers struggled and seemingly nothing was working for the offense — and Penn State even unsuccessfully tried multiple trick plays with wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith — why not give Pribula a series?
“We have a package every week for him, whether we use it late in the game if the score allows it, or whether it’s mixing it in,” Franklin said. “I think that’s more than fair. We have that package every single week, again, I think one of the things that’s challenging and I keep answering questions this way, but I do think our lack of production on third down limited a lot of things that we wanted to do. Is it easy after the fact to say that maybe we should’ve called it in one of the first two plays of a drive? Yeah, but a lot of times you like to do that when you get into a flow, get into a rhythm.”
Snyder: It was time for Penn State and James Franklin to take next step, and they punted
What was with the running back usage?
Penn State coaches said it time and time again all offseason that they believed they have two of the best running backs in college football. In the biggest game of the season thus far, Nicholas Singleton had nine carries for 48 yards and Kaytron Allen had nine carries for 26 yards. After ripping off rushes of 20 and 16 yards midway through the first quarter, Singleton finished the first quarter with four rushes and had just five the rest of the game, finishing with 48 yards.
Franklin said Tuesday the team’s run/pass balance wasn’t as much of an issue as he initially thought. After watching the film, he was OK with the balance, noting that the pass-heavy last two series after Penn State went down two possessions skewed the numbers. Drew Allar went 9-of-22 for 113 yards in the first three quarters and 9-of-20 for 78 yards in the fourth quarter.
Again, when a team is 1-for-16 on third-down conversions, there’s a whole lot to evaluate.
“When you keep going three-and-out, that’s the issue,” Franklin said. “You just don’t have enough touches. … In terms of explosive plays, that’s a combination of us doing a better job of blocking on the perimeter, that’s a combination of us being able to make the safety miss, either make him miss or breaking tackles. … People are going to load the box up and not allow Kaytron and Nick to beat you until you prove you can do it on the outside with your quarterback and wide receivers.”
Franklin offered a clearer explanation to a sequence that left me befuddled on Saturday. Still, the reasoning doesn’t reflect well on the team or staff.
Late in the first quarter, Penn State thew an incomplete pass on third-and-1. Faced with fourth-and-1 at its own 45, Penn State then called a timeout. The Nittany Lions came out of the timeout and punted.
Franklin said they intended to go for it on fourth down but called the timeout after third down because they had 12 players on the field. The timeout cost the offense the element of surprise with going for it. Franklin felt that given how the defense was playing already, the right thing to do there was to punt. Franklin said that was one of five or six critical plays in the game.
“I thought our identity was staying on schedule, converting on third downs and then either converting on third downs or going for it on fourth-down situations,” Franklin said. “I feel like that had been our identity for the season.”
Faced with fourth-and-4 at its own 43 with more than seven minutes left in a 13-6 game, Penn State opted to go for it. Even with a defense that was largely suffocating, Franklin said Saturday after the game that they wanted to be aggressive there — despite having all three timeouts — because they weren’t sure they would get the ball back otherwise.
Penn State did not convert the fourth-down pass. Franklin was not asked again about that decision on Tuesday.
How would Franklin evaluate Mike Yurcich, play-calling?
If the lack of success on third downs was an issue, what about first and second downs? Franklin said he felt Penn State didn’t stay true to its identity against Ohio State.
“I thought we got a little bit away from that at times,” Franklin said. “Someone asked me earlier about our goal-line package that we had been using, the three (tight ends) that have been very successful on short-yardage, kind of got away from that. So yeah, I didn’t feel like we had been as consistent and as aggressive in certain areas that maybe we have been in the past.
“Part of that is who you’re playing from a talent and scene standpoint. But yeah, obviously, when you’re talking about evaluating that, opening drives are a big evaluator of that in terms of game planning and success. Third down is a big indicator for quarterbacks as well as coordinators. Those things I think are very telling. Obviously based on the lack of success, it was not a good game for us.”
Penn State final thoughts after Ohio State: James Franklin needs to find WR solutions
Is there any clarity in the receiving corps?
The receiving corps struggled to create separation. Like it’s been since spring ball, it’s Lambert-Smith, Harrison Wallace III and then a jumbled mix of everyone else for the third spot. More than halfway through the season, no one has stepped up.
“Our production has not been there as consistently as it needs to be,” Franklin said.
Franklin said it’s difficult to get receivers into a rhythm if they’re constantly rotating them in, but he also wants there to be a group of receivers who have differentiated themselves. Beyond Lambert-Smith and Wallace, who Franklin said have made clear that they’re the top two, the rest of the group is not consistent enough. He said there are still too many receivers in that group who are missing assignments.
“We got a group of guys that are all competing, but no one has separated themselves from the group,” he said.
Robinson, the standout defensive end, took a hard hit, stayed down on the field for several minutes and exited the game with a towel draped over his head. Franklin said based on the information he’s been given, he doesn’t see this being “a long-term issue” for Robinson.
“Hopefully we’ll be getting Chop back here soon,” Franklin said. “You guys know I’m pretty open when it’s a season-ending injury, but I don’t see that.”
(Top photo: Jason Mowry / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)