James Franklin Looks To Bring November Success To Penn State
“We’re getting better, staying positive works,” James Franklin said after a 39-0 victory over Illinois, perhaps the most complete game of Franklin’s Penn State tenure. “We’re getting better so I’ve been pleased with that.”
Seeing his team’s hard work pay off and improve as the season moves along is nothing new for the Penn State head coach. The myriad of accomplishments by Franklin at Vanderbilt is quite astounding. He was able to take a SEC bottom-dweller, and turn it into a consistently good football program. On the backs of that consistency was Franklin’s ability to win football games down the stretch of the season. If former baseball player Reggie Jackson is “Mr. October” then James Franklin is making his case for the moniker of “Mr. November.” For whatever reason, whether it was keeping his players fresh or just finding the right motivation, Franklin was able to go 10-2 in November while manning the Commodores — a sign that their best football came as the season wore down.
As Nittany Lion fans might already realize, that wasn’t the case last season. In Franklin’s first year in Happy Valley, the November successes at Vanderbilt didn’t translate. The Nittany Lions only went 2-3 during the month, beating Indiana and Temple, but losing to Maryland, Illinois, and Michigan State.
Even with a difficult three-game stretch of Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State in the coming weeks, there is reason to believe that Franklin will lead Penn State to a strong regular season finish. For one, Christian Hackenberg seems to be hitting his stride. For all the talk of Hackenberg’s regression, he’s putting together his most impressive season, and is only getting better as the season dwindles down. In his previous six games, the highly-scrutinized quarterback has thrown 12 touchdowns and no interceptions — one of the big reasons the Nittany Lions are hot heading into November.
The defensive is another area where things are looking up. After struggling in back-to-back weeks against teams that featured dual-threat quarterbacks, Bob Shoop’s unit pitched a shutout against the Illini. Although Northwestern’s quarterback Clayton Thorson has some decent wheels, Penn State will close out the season against Michigan’s Jake Rudock and Michigan State’s Connor Cook, two quarterbacks who won’t clock blistering 40-yard dash times anytime soon. This will be a welcomed sight for Franklin and Shoop, as it’s no secret that Penn State’s biggest defensive weakness is containing a mobile quarterback.
Besides what’s happening on the field, Franklin does deserve some credit for his culture of endless positivity. Sure, the schedule hasn’t been all that difficult, but regardless, Franklin still has a team that’s believing in itself when it matters most. Not that this team ever struggled with its confidence, but the past two games against Maryland and Illinois really showcased — in different ways — what you need to know about Penn State football. On one hand, the Nittany Lions took some big blows from Maryland, but remained composed and ended up hitting a knockout punch of their own — and against Illinois, the team proved that when everything works in sync, it’s capable of much more than just “ugly wins.” While the schedule doesn’t ease up from here, James Franklin has Penn State headed in the right direction at the most critical point in the season.