James Franklin Tweaking Penn State’s Bye Week Schedule This Time Around

No. 10 Penn State football heads into the bye week ahead of a crucial three-game stretch that begins with traveling to Ann Arbor to take on No. 4 Michigan and ends with a matchup against No. 3 Ohio State in Beaver Stadium.

Many Penn State fans now have hope that the team could possibly run the table and make a run in the Big Ten. After all, the Nittany Lions have a few character wins over Auburn and Purdue that showed the country what they are made of. That hope ahead of the team’s toughest part of its schedule is a familiar feeling for Penn State fans. Unfortunately, the bye week hasn’t been too kind to Penn State over the years.

Since 2014, James Franklin’s first season as Penn State’s head coach, the Nittany Lions are only 3-6 coming off their bye week. Compared to former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who was 9-0 in games following the bye week with the Buckeyes, that’s not great.

Possibly realizing that something may need to change, Franklin is modifying the team’s bye week schedule ahead of the team’s game against Michigan.

“I think we’re going to tweak some of the things we do during the bye week, something we spend a lot of time in the offseason studying, and then brought it up again this week,” Franklin said during his Central Michigan press conference.

Franklin said the program will try to find a better balance between scouting the next opponent and focusing on getting better as a team.

“We are going to do some good-on-good work because the speed work I think is really important,” Franklin said. “We are probably going to spend some more time on our opponents than maybe we have in years past.”

As mentioned prior, it seems like the bye week has historically not done Penn State any favors. Starting back in 2014, the Nittany Lions were defeated 31-24 in two overtimes by No. 13 Ohio State in the White Out game, which was the team’s first game after the bye week. The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship that year. The next year, Penn State lost 28-16 to No. 12 Michigan coming off the bye week. Those are two tough games, especially considering the team was not as good and still under NCAA sanctions at the time.

Now, we move to 2016 and 2017, two of James Franklin’s most successful years at the helm. Coming off the bye week, Penn State took down No. 2 Ohio State 24-21 in the iconic 2016 White Out at Beaver Stadium and then No. 19 Michigan in the 2017 White Out.

The pattern started to become frustrating in 2018 when Penn State lost a crushing 21-17 game to Michigan State in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions were coming off their bye week after suffering a heartbreaking, one-point loss to No. 4 Ohio State two weeks prior. Penn State came out flat-footed and unprepared for the Spartans team that, quite frankly, wasn’t that good in 2018.

In 2019, Penn State oddly had two bye weeks. The Nittany Lions destroyed Maryland 59-0 in College Park after the first one. Later in the season, Penn State was upset 31-26 by No. 17 Minnesota on the road coming off the bye week. The defense gave up seven catches for 230 yards and a touchdown to Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman in that game. After 2020 didn’t have a bye week, Penn State then lost 20-18 to Illinois in the infamous nine-overtime game last season, which is perhaps the most frustrating and eye-opening of them all.

Franklin addressed the areas the team needs to improve in his postgame press conference after Penn State defeated Northwestern last Saturday.

“After tonight, the thing that jumps out to you is ball security,” he said. “That’s ball security in the running game… Doing a better job in short-yardage situations. We worked really hard to get to short-yardage situations. We got to do a better job of executing them. And then the same thing on the defensive side of the ball, not necessarily tonight, but third and long.”

Obviously, the ball security issues would stick out after the Nittany Lions coughed up four fumbles against Northwestern last Saturday. Penn State also struggled in short-yardage situations in the game, as well.

“But there’s a lot of areas,” Franklin said. “We will look at ourselves. We’ll do across-the-ball self-scout, and then obviously we’ll also get a head start on our opponents. And that’ll be kind of a blend this week and both weeks.”

There’s a reason why Urban Meyer was undefeated coming off the bye week in his Ohio State career: he took advantage of it. It’s one of the most important weeks of the season. If James Franklin does it right, Penn State will have a solid chance of getting through its next three games with a winning record, or maybe even undefeated.

Penn State will come off the bye week with its biggest game of the year thus far, traveling to Ann Arbor to take on No. 4 Michigan at noon on Saturday, October 15, in the Big House.

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About the Author

Frankie Marzano

Frankie is a senior accounting and economics major from Long Island, NY. You can probably recognize him as the typical Italian-American with slicked back black hair. He is an avid fan of the New York Rangers and Mets, along with every Penn State Athletics team. Follow him on Twitter @frankiemarzano for obnoxious amounts of Rangers and Penn State content or email him at [email protected].

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