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Breaking Down Post-Ohio State Reactions For Penn State Football

The hot takes are pouring in now that Penn State football is 0-2 and unranked for the first time since October 2016.

Plenty of folks are down on these Nittany Lions as they prepare for a date with Maryland, but it’s time to pump the brakes on some of the overreactions after just two games. Ohio State is one of the best teams in college football, and Indiana is proving to be a talented squad as it climbs in the rankings.

A few of our football writers and staffers once again analyzed some of the most common reactions from Penn State’s second game of the season:

‘James Franklin Can’t Win Big Games’

Sam Brungo: Overreaction. Sorry, James Franklin haters, but it’s hard to consider Indiana a big game, and few expected the Nittany Lions to beat Ohio State. In his time at Penn State, Franklin has recruited a team of players that can compete with the top talent in the country. With that, Franklin is also not playing, and I’m pretty confident he isn’t controlling the play calls as much as it may seem. We have seen little mistakes and mental errors in the first two weeks that come down to poor coaching, and they should be patched up.

Gabe Angieri: I think this one depends on what you consider a “big game.” Are we talking about every Penn State-Ohio State game? If so, then yes, that’s a fair statement. James Franklin hasn’t had much success against the Buckeyes during his tenure here. But to say that Franklin can’t win big games in general…I don’t think that’s really fair. He’s led Penn State to three New Year’s Six Bowls in the last four years and has won two of them. I would consider both of those bowl games “big games.” So while it’s fair to criticize him for his struggles, I don’t think it’s accurate to say he can’t win big games.

Ryan Parsons: Although this is likely becoming less and less of an overreaction, it probably still is one. James Franklin has won big games, but most folks remember and get upset about the ones that go Penn State’s way. The first two games of this season have definitely been symptomatic of coaching issues, but it’s not fair to put it completely on Franklin. He’s definitely not helping the problems, but he’s not the source of them either.

Will Pegler: It’s simply unfair to criticize James Franklin for not being able to win big games after losing to Ohio State when the majority of the fanbase doesn’t even give him a chance to win in the first place. The Buckeyes are simply more talented than the Nittany Lions, and playing against them without any real home-field advantage didn’t do Penn State any favors. Was Saturday’s loss a frustrating reminder of where the Nittany Lions stand in the college football landscape? Yes. But this is still a good team, and Franklin has won big games here. After going 0-5 against ranked teams throughout the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Franklin has eight wins against ranked opponents, including two New Year’s Six Bowl wins.

‘The Run Game Is In Trouble Without Journey Brown & Noah Cain’

SB: Not an overreaction. I think that any team missing its top two backs is going to take a big hit on the ground. I think that Devyn Ford will be able to still produce along with his freshman teammates Lee and Holmes, but it will be substantially less production than if Penn State had Journey Brown or Noah Cain.

GA: I don’t think this is crazy to say, but I think it’s still too soon to tell. In almost two full games without Noah Cain and Journey Brown, Penn State’s other running backs have struggled to get it going, especially against Ohio State. However, I think some of the lack of production has to do with the game script. Against both Ohio State and Indiana, the Nittany Lions fell behind early and weren’t able to establish the run at all. Devyn Ford had only eight carries, while Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes had zero. I think it’s fair to be a little concerned, but I think it’s better to be patient with this group.

RP: This is a pretty fair reaction. Although many of the younger guys on the team show promise and talent, they simply lack experience. Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee would have liked to use this year to learn and get some reps behind Brown and Cain, but now they’re the featured backs in some situations. Penn State ran the ball fine against Indiana, but Ohio State was a different story. It might still be too early to tell how the running back room will perform and improve over the season, but I wouldn’t call it strong right now for sure.

WP: Penn State’s running back situation isn’t necessarily bad, but Journey Brown and Noah Cain are going to be missed sorely. Devyn Ford struggled to lead the group against Ohio State, while he didn’t have a huge game against the Hoosiers. While I expect Ford to have a bit of a bounce-back performance against Maryland, he may struggle to be a featured back while Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes figure their way through their first college football seasons.

‘It’s Going To Be A Rough Year For Kirk Ciarrocca’s Offense’

SB: Overreaction. What I saw from the passing game this week was pretty exciting regardless of the outcome, especially knowing Penn State was playing one of the best teams in the country. I think there are more issues than the play-calling, such as the offensive lines ability to protect Clifford in the pocket and the receivers, including Pat Freiermuth not making plays on catchable balls. I think Ciarrocca’s offense will fall into place shortly.

GA: Definitely an overreaction here. Has the offense been inconsistent so far? Yes, but it’s been just two games, folks. Additionally, the offense has still found ways to produce through the inconsistencies. Penn State put up 35 points against Indiana and then 25 against Ohio State. Jahan Dotson has shown he has star potential, and Sean Clifford has shown flashes early on. I expect this offense to take off to the next level over the next few weeks.

RP: This isn’t quite a fair judgment just yet, but it’s not a complete overreaction. Penn State’s inability to show any signs of life on offense in the first half is definitely concerning and something I would attribute to Ciarrocca if the situation doesn’t improve. The offense has shown flashes of great things but has yet to put together a full performance.

WP: Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense has yet to hit its stride, but it’s tough to have samples from just a solid Indiana defense and a dominant Ohio State group. The offense showed flashes in both games, and if Sean Clifford can find a way to settle down in the pocket and Jahan Dotson stays hot, this team could rip off a run of wins against some lesser Big Ten competition. Don’t be surprised if this team puts up a 50-burger on a suspect Maryland defense to change the narrative.

‘The Defense Is In Trouble Without Micah Parsons’

SB: Overreaction. While the defense lost its huge centerpiece, I think it proved week one that with a bit more discipline, the unit can show up and continue to stop opposing offenses. Losing to the Buckeyes and letting them run all over the defense shouldn’t be a representation of this whole season. Once again, Ohio State is an extremely talented football team.

GA: Another overreaction here. The loss of Micah Parsons undoubtedly has hurt Penn State’s defense. This isn’t a surprise, as Parsons was one of the best defensive players in the country. However, the defense didn’t play bad against Indiana, as the unit only gave up 211 total yards. Brent Pry’s group struggled against Ohio State and gave up 526 total yards to Justin Fields and the rest of that offense. I expect the defense to play more like it did week one moving forward and really cut down on the mistakes it has made. It’s a talented group with a lot of new starters, and it takes time to gel together sometimes.

RP: The defense is in trouble but it is absolutely not because of Micah Parsons. Yes, having Parsons would help, but the secondary and defensive line struggled against Ohio State as well. Parsons’ presence alone isn’t enough to disrupt the passing game. The defense played pretty well against Indiana, too. It’s unfair to put the struggles onto Parsons.

WP: Penn State is obviously going to miss the guy that led the defense with 109 tackles last year. It’s tough to think about how much better the group might be with Parsons, but the linebackers have hardly been the defense’s issue through two weeks. The group played well against Indiana, and while Ohio State was a tough night for the defense, Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa both had solid performances. I expect the linebackers to have another strong performance against Maryland without Parsons.

‘Sean Clifford Hasn’t Improved Much From 2019’

SB: Hard to say for now, but I have liked what I’ve seen from Sean Clifford so far this season. He has done well with a pocket imploding on him, taking numerous hits a game, and has really only shown his lack of awareness on a handful of plays (i.e. those three unnecessary interceptions). What he’s shown on his feet and through the air so far proves he’ll be able to hold down the fort this season and do everything he can to help this team get better and win games. Don’t freak out and count the season as a bust just yet.

GA: So far, it hasn’t looked like Sean Clifford has improved much this season. He hasn’t played badly, but he’s been really inconsistent early on. I don’t think it’s fair to come to this conclusion yet, though. He had his ups and downs against Indiana and then played against a really good Ohio State defense. Give it some time and I think Clifford will start to show some improvement.

RP: So far, this might be a fair reaction. Many of Clifford’s teammates and coaches praised his improved accuracy over the season, but that’s yet to be seen. He’s made some great throws but has also missed some reads and open passes. The offensive line has been struggling, but Clifford hasn’t been dynamic enough to step up in the pocket and make plays or scramble and turn garbage into gold. He ran very well against Indiana but overall he hasn’t shown clear signs of improvement just yet.

WP: Like the rest of the offense, Clifford has shown flashes through two games. I think it’s unfair to say he hasn’t improved at all since 2019 with such a small sample size, and especially considering the fact he got little help from his offensive line against the Buckeyes. Considering Saturday’s second-half performance, it’s not unfair to say the Clifford-Dotson connection could prove even more productive than Clifford-Hamler. If that’s the case, QB1 could improve in a big way through the rest of the year.

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