The irony is almost palpable.
You hear James Franklin speak Saturday night, you listen to his words, you take a moment or two to let them sink in, take a deep breath … and, then, well, you kinda chuckle.
Here he was, minutes after seeing his Nittany Lions’ hopes at a College Football Playoff berth implode before the month of October kicked off, the type of body blow that would leave many a contender doubled over and unable to continue, and the head coach who embodies arrogance and boorishness straight out of the Donald Trump School of Elitism was more concerned with how he and his charges were viewed than accepting what just happened.
Yeah, damn right the Lions are not elite … and reason No. 1 is the coaching staff’s performance at crunch time. Led by Mr. Great But Not Elite himself, Franklin.
Exhibit A came on Penn State’s final offensive play against Ohio State — a fourth-and-five at the Buckeyes’ 43 that saw running back Miles Sanders get swallowed up for a two-yard loss almost simultaneously with him taking the handoff. Ballgame over.
The call was not one borne of ingenuity. The Lions run that play ad nauseam with Sanders, and did so Saquon Barkley, too. It rarely has worked with either, especially in key moments. Looks kinda like a delay. Sorta like a run-pass option. But all it is, is some lame blast up the gut that never seems to catch anyone by surprise, except Franklin’s coaching staff when it doesn’t work.
Keep in mind that PSU quarterback Trace McSorley may have audibled into the play after waiting through timeouts by both teams and then surveying the OSU defense. Thing is, that’s still on Franklin and his staff because they have it drilled into the kid that the play works, or that it’ll catch defenses off-guard.
It hasn’t, and it won’t.
It was ridiculous that play was even on the table at that point, with the host Lions down one, having blown a 12-point lead with just eight minutes to go, and McSorley proving to be PSU’s best and most creative option all night, having made the Buckeyes look silly more often than not when scrambling out of the pocket.
Plain and simple, that situation called for a run-pass option, with one guy, and one guy alone, running the show: McSorley. He’d already ran for 175 yards and passed for another 286, frankly, looking like a far more legit Heisman candidate than his overly ballyhooed former backfield mate now with the New York Giants ever did.
Here’s the reality of it all: Franklin entered the game believing he had the lesser team, and at every juncture when OSU was ready to fold, the Lions blinked in a way that modeled their coach’s faith, or lack of it.
Could’ve blown out the Buckeyes in the first half.
Could’ve put them away multiple times in the second half.
Could’ve cut their hearts out with a conversion on that aforementioned fateful play.
Never happened. Not once.
PSU had the better quarterback, the better receivers (despite the hype), the better ground game, the better passing game, the better defensive line … going into the game.
But, really, you’d never know it because there always seemed to be an underlying fear in how things were called from the sidelines, and then played out on the field.
So, please, next time — and there will be a next time, no doubt — spare us the post-game Brett Kavanaugh act.
You want irony, here it is…
While Franklin and Co. could be ripped for overthinking and sticking to the “traditional” running attack, Temple and Illinois, my two schools, could be ripped for the exact opposite.
Sure, only the Owls were in action this past weekend, but both coaching staffs have been brutal with either A) not sticking with the run or B) not sticking with the hot hand on the run.
Temple is far more guilty of A; Illinois B. Either way, they’re annoying.
Yo, Geoff Collins, you got a big-time, NFL-caliber stud at tailback in Ryquell Armstead. Truth be told, he’s better than the guy you just faced in Boston College’s AJ Dillon. Use him. Keep using him. None of this Anthony Russo misfire after misfire thanks to his erratic arm and the receivers’ erratice hands when you got Armstead going for 7 or 8 yards a pop.
Kid had 171 yards and four TDs on 24 carries against the Eagles.
Illinois has two quality backs in Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein (both average 6.8 yards per carry). The perform best when they’re both on the field. So, Lovie Smith, just keep them both on the field at the same time and knock it off with trying to cross up teams.
THIS AND THAT ...
- Got no issue with Kelly Bryant wanting to leave the Clemson program after getting benched for Trevor Lawrence. Also got no problem with head coach Dabo Swinney benching Bryant, or the Tigers learning how to cope through the adversity of Lawrence getting hurt this past Saturday. That’s the game. That’s life. Nothing wrong with any of it.
- McSorley thrust himself into Heisman contention with his Herculean (or Vince Young at Texas-type) performance Saturday night, then saw any chance of a trip to New York City disappear with that one handoff.
- Notre Dame was the most impressive team these eyes saw all weekend. It’s not that they’re now improved at quarterback with Ian Book, but the move seems to have inspired the rest of the squad. Seventh-ranked Stanford was no match for the No. 8 Irish.
- Still see West Virginia quarterback Will Grier as the leader in the Heisman race, especially after another three-TD effort while winning on the road at a ranked opponent. But the best player in the country really may be Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., a 6-2, 220-pound sophomore who just abuses defensive backs and linebackers athletically and physically.
- Nebraska may turn its program around at some point, but Scott Frost made a dreadful decision to leave what he created at Central Florida in the hopes of recapturing past glory with the Huskers that is gone forever.