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James Franklin Offers Little Clarity After Devastating Ohio State Loss

Despite occupying its home stadium, Penn State entered its conference matchup with Ohio State as massive underdogs. Despite Sean Clifford throwing interceptions on both opening drives, Penn State held Ohio State to just a singular field goal. Despite facing off with Heisman favorite CJ Stroud and the nation’s No. 2 total defense, Penn State led for all but 10 seconds of the third quarter.

Despite taking a five-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Nittany Lions were somehow losing by 20 points less than seven minutes later.

For a majority of the game, Penn State played well and that’s what made its 44-31 unraveling so utterly incomprehensible. In his eight-minute postgame press conference, head coach James Franklin did little to make sense of it.

In his opening statement, Franklin mentioned he was proud of his team’s effort, before turning his attention to Clifford’s four turnovers.

“I thought he played gutsy and made some big time plays, but obviously you can’t have the turnovers,” Franklin said.

After acknowledging Clifford getting stripped from behind may not have been his fault, Franklin said the three interceptions could have been avoided with better ball placement – either leading receivers differently or finding alternative throwing lanes away from the defensive line. It was one of the minimal number of negative observations he shared.

Franklin has spent the last couple of months publicly professing unshakeable confidence in Clifford. But immediately after one of the most crushing losses of his career, Franklin echoed the knee-jerk sentiments of the same reactionary fans he previously refused to platform. In the heat of the moment, he blamed his quarterback.

Contrast Saturday’s statements with the ones following Penn State’s matchup with Minnesota, telling journalists to reframe questions about Clifford’s struggles to questions about offensive struggles holistically.

“If you look around the country, there’s a lot of programs that would be super excited and happy about Sean Clifford being the quarterback. And what he was able to do tonight against one of the better defenses in the country, I’m real proud of,” Franklin said. “I’m a supporter of Sean Clifford.”

Even four days before the game, Franklin took a pointed pause when highlighting Clifford’s strong performance in the 2022 White Out.

The loss cannot accurately be chalked up to one variable.

Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson ended the game with 78 yards and two touchdowns, but 55 of those yards and both touchdowns came in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter. While Stroud remained consistently accurate throughout the game, containing him seemed manageable until the Buckeyes picked up 103 passing yards on just four fourth-quarter plays. Penn State’s offensive line lost its first-half swagger.

Though Clifford’s mistakes played their fair share in his team’s self destruction, Drew Allar entering the game wouldn’t have been the difference.

For what it’s worth, Franklin wasn’t entirely wrong. There was genuinely a lot of good to be celebrated from Saturday’s contest.

Wide receiver Parker Washington had career-highs in receptions (11) and yards (179), in addition to his catalyzing 58-yard touchdown. Freshman running back Kaytron Allen averaged 6.3 yards per carry, energizing the offense with two runs eclipsing 10 yards and many more that had the potential to do so. Even Manny Diaz’s defense seemed to largely befuddle and shrink the Buckeyes’ star quarterback.

Penn State entered the game as a massive underdog, both in the betting lines and the court of public opinion. Hanging with college football’s second-ranked team is nothing to write off, even with the ugly final result.

The moral victories don’t erase the looming questions.

Instead of using his brief media time to diagnose the team’s collapse, Franklin opted to point a finger at a single target and lash out at the press.

When asked “what he say[s] to his sideline” following turnovers, Franklin decided to sidestep the question’s content and sarcastically critique its wording.

“It’s impossible to talk to your sideline,” Franklin deadpanned.

Franklin’s postgame attitude was reflected in the players’ demeanors as well. Multiple high profile players had to reemerge from the locker room for the traditional alma mater. Talking to reporters, Clifford seemed sunk. Through most of his responses, Washington’s sweatshirt hood remained up and his shoulders remained hunched.

The Nittany Lions’ loss to Ohio State doesn’t have to be devastating. With wins in all remaining games, Penn State would secure a 10-win season for the first time since 2019. Yet it feels like the end of the world.

Viewers were left confused with the game’s conclusion. Franklin’s asymmetric attempt at assigning blame projects confusion within the program as well – intentionally or not.

After games, especially losses, teams have to roll back the film. To fully address and understand issues, an in-depth look is required. Franklin has said as much in the past.

That makes the head coach’s postgame appearance surprising and even potentially harmful. It was not the sign needed in the wake of Penn State’s sixth consecutive loss to Ohio State, a fact exacerbated by the manner of the loss and the program’s history of avalanching defeats.

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About the Author

Sam Fremin

Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.

He may or may not read every single comment he gets.

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