Despite The Fight, Late Game Blunders Haunt The Lions
Another slow start. Another mighty comeback. Another crushing defeat. The game’s outcome can be spun a multiple ways. Coming back from a 21 point deficit? A remarkable feat. But, just as we saw against Northwestern last year, the team can’t find the missing puzzle piece.
Plenty of facts should be addressed before we delve deeper into the subject. For starters, James Conner is arguably one of the best backs in the nation, and his commanding performance established that. Secondly, the team’s rally can’t be devalued. Those players dug in and fought to the bitter end. But it’s important to remember Pitt has some talented weapons, especially along the defensive line. This team can play, and it brought its A-game against Penn State. Nobody wants to lose a game feeling like there was still gas in the tank.
What Penn State attempted following DeAndre Thompkins’ miraculous fourth and long conversion certainly wasn’t conservative, but was it a necessary gamble? Trace McSorley, who finished with 322 yards through the air, proved once again that he’s the man for the job. But, after a minimal gain by Barkley on first down, was it worth taking a shot at the end so hastily? Hindsight is 20/20, but this ending leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Speaking of sour, my words might be perceived as sour grapes, but considering all that occurred leading up to that fateful final possession, you’re left to wonder. “We had some guys on the field that aren’t typically on the field.” Franklin said. “Obviously, we can’t throw the ball up where we threw it. We still had a lot of football left to play.”
Again, mistakes are commonplace even at this level. Of course Hamilton would’ve liked that drop back. Of course McSorley wishes he placed a better ball. Of course Irvin Charles wishes he could’ve broken up the interception. But, given the circumstances with a timeout in the bag and two minutes on the clock, is such a risky shot necessary? The team’s top deep threat was out with an injury, Barkley found his groove, and the field position was optimal. Of course nobody wants to settle for overtime, but one cannot allow three quarters of fight and perseverance to be washed away by a single blunder. Franklin himself admitted that the players he fielded on the final play were inexperienced, and hadn’t played in a situation like that prior.
But I digress. I’m just searching for an answer, because the events leading up to that fateful play seemed almost too good to be true. A defense that struggled to contain Pitt from picking up significant chunks of yardage forces a three and out. An offense under constant pressure from the Panther defensive front willed its way into a position to steal the game. But as a coach, you won’t be judged on 99 percent of in game performance. Rather, it’s the whole picture — more specifically, the outcome. We’re left, once again, wondering does this team have what it takes to finish?
Hopefully, the answer is yes. Because this team could’ve rolled over and quit just as easily, but they didn’t. But the comeback isn’t the entire picture. It’s 99 percent. Because, looking at the Franklin era as a whole, too often we come to this end result. I’m confident in McSorley, and I believe in this team’s ability to rebound.
But it has to find that missing piece, and that starts at the top.