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Michigan State Loss Highlights Familiar Problems Amid Start Of New Franklin Era

Last week, James Franklin and Penn State agreed to a new 10-year contract stretching through 2031. During the week, Franklin said there’s “a next plateau” his team needs to reach in the future.

Well, if Saturday’s game against Michigan State is any indication, the Nittany Lions might have a long way to go.

Penn State lost its regular-season finale to No. 12 Michigan State 30-27 in East Lansing. Quite frankly, at the start, it didn’t look like Penn State came ready to play.

On the opening drive of the game, the Spartans drove down the field with ease to jump out to an early 7-0 lead. After a Penn State three-and-out, Michigan State marched 99 yards down the field in nine plays to extend that lead to 14-0.

After getting the big extension, preaching improvement, and talking about that next plateau, coming out flat like that in the regular-season finale is a horrendous look. It’s a bad look for any game, but especially this one. That simply can’t happen, and it set the tone for Saturday’s game.

To their credit, the Nittany Lions battled back and even took the lead at one point. They do deserve kudos for that, as Sean Clifford looked sharp, Jahan Dotson shined, and even Keyvone Lee had some nice moments.

However, once Penn State was back in the game, questionable calls and costly mistakes haunted the Nittany Lions and led to their downfall.

In the past, Franklin has often received criticism for his in-game management. The questions continued throughout this game. Not once, but twice, Penn State punted the ball on fourth-and-short from around midfield. Jordan Stout pinned the Spartans deep in their territory both times, but conservative calls won’t take any team to the next level.

You could say Penn State’s inability to run the ball this season played a role in the decisions. However, Michigan State has one of the worst pass defenses in the country, and there’s no excuse for not being able to pick up a yard at any point in the game.

Penn State went for it on 4th and 1 at one point and failed to convert when Lee was stuffed for no gain. If you can’t pick up a yard, or you’re not confident enough that your offense can gain a yard, you’re not a good football team. It’s that simple.

It’s not fair to put Saturday’s loss all on Franklin. Stout missed a field goal and an extra point. That adds up to four points. How many points did Penn State lose by? Three, so it definitely proved costly.

The Nittany Lions had two awful fumbles, one by Lee and another by John Lovett on a kickoff return. The turnovers are killer, and they may have been the difference for Penn State between a win and a loss.

Additionally, one play completely changed the direction of the game. The Nittany Lions were down by three, and Penn State had Michigan State right where they wanted it. The Spartans were facing a 4th and 15 from Penn State’s 20-yard line in brutal, snowy conditions.

Michigan State went for it, threw up a jump ball, and Jayden Reed came down with it over Johnny Dixon to make it a two-possession game with just over five minutes remaining.

Why was Johnny Dixon, one of Penn State’s backup corners, in one-on-one coverage with Michigan State’s No. 1 wideout? It doesn’t make much sense, and it’s one of those things that just really make you scratch your head.

Penn State finished its regular season 7-5 because of the same mistakes it made prior to Franklin’s rich extension. Questionable play calling, poor execution, and head-scratching game management have been an issue all season long.

Penn State fans should have reasons for optimism following Franklin’s long-term commitment. It should be an exciting time as the program embarks on stability and promise. Instead, in their first impression after the big contract, fans were subjected to the same old uninspiring play they’ve witnessed the past two seasons.

Despite the rough start to Franklin’s new era, it’s not fair to write off the team moving forward. It’s completely possible, and probably likely, that Franklin’s contract extension will work out for the team.

People love to hate Franklin lately, but he’s a good coach. He’s built an impressive program that’s had back-to-back down years. With a high-ranking 2022 recruiting class that includes five-star quarterback Drew Allar coming in, there are reasons for hope moving forward.

Patience is a virtue. With a lot of top talent from this year’s team destined for the 2022 NFL Draft, next year might be a building year where a lot of young players play often, and they’ll likely go through growing pains.

So, while it’s been Penn State fans have had to be patient for a while, some more patience may be required before the team makes that infamous jump to “elite” that Franklin mentioned a few years back.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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