‘It Was Beautiful To Me’: James Franklin Praises Penn State Football’s Road Resilience Over Illinois Despite Incomplete Showing
While poll voters, selection committees, and postseason award watchlists may think differently, it would be safe to assume Penn State football head coach James Franklin believes all wins across college football’s landscape are created equally.
Although an unranked road victory highlighted by a sluggish offensive showing certainly would fail to rival the ramifications of a dominant White Out triumph or an upset over Ohio State within the upcoming month, its end result remains the same — a “1-0” distinction within the win-loss column.
After Illinois cemented an 11-play, 46-yard drive over the matchup’s first four minutes of action, the Nittany Lions’ defense tallied three turnovers over its next three series. The positional advantage helped Penn State put 13 points on the board by accumulating just 91 yards in the process.
Throughout the span, sophomore gunslinger Drew Allar went a pedestrian 5-for-9 through the air, matching his season-long tally for total incompletions, while also stepping into a sack to stall a potential scoring drive in plus territory. Still, despite the offensive disarray, Franklin thought the controlled win possessed far more positives than looming areas of concern.
“That was a pretty Big Ten win on the road,” Franklin said. “You’ve got to appreciate winning. It’s hard to do… That was a big-time win for us on the road. It was beautiful to me, especially when you kind of take all the factors that we look at into it.”
In 33 attempts, Allar completed just 16 throws through just over three-quarters of action before being relieved for reserve Beau Pribula with a commanding 30-7 lead. As a senior at Medina High School, the five-star product converted nearly 60% of strikes throughout a gaudy, 509-attempt campaign, while also finding a receiver’s number on over 58% of his passes as a true freshman a year ago.
Allar’s uncharacteristic, 48% completion rate outing through the air doesn’t necessarily impress on the stat sheet, but the growing first-year starter failed to record an interception for his third-straight matchup at Mike Yurcich’s attack’s helm.
The Ohio native’s ability to remain turnover-free helped Penn State score on seven of 12 drives he headed the offense for. While Allar’s explosive arm didn’t record a score in its own right, his steady presence to pick up timely down-and-distance conversions and methodically move the chains proved to be equally as valuable.
“Everybody is going to talk about the five turnovers [picked up on defense], and deservedly so. We should be,” Franklin said. “But, the other thing is our offense not turning the ball over as well. [If] you do those things, you’re gonna win a lot of games. Those things obviously have a huge impact.”
Against heavily loaded defensive fronts, Phil Trautwein’s offensive line allowed four tackles for a loss and three passes deflected at the line of scrimmage, largely due to Jer’Zhan Newton’s battering role on the edge.
Newton picked up six total stops, including a takedown behind the line of scrimmage and a pair of batted-down throws, while terrorizing Olu Fashanu’s left side, which has rarely been tested throughout his tenure in Happy Valley.
Still, Penn State accumulated 164 total yards on the ground, while sticking to its balanced game plan amid several trying opening-half spurts. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions picked up 4.1 yards per rush, while quieting Illinois’ opposing ground attack to just 62 yards on 29 attempts.
The output wasn’t necessarily flashy, and penalties within the trenches hurt Ja’Juan Seider’s stable of running backs from breaking beyond the secondary besides Nick Singleton’s late 16-yard touchdown scamper.
But, Penn State’s ability to rotate and give young, valuable components including Drew Shelton and Vega Ioane meaningful reps should only benefit the Nittany Lions’ reserves up-front heading into the teeth of conference play.
“I think the fact that we were able to play a bunch of guys [across the offensive line] has been good for us,” Franklin said. We’re gonna need that. [Illinois] also played some five- and six-man defensive line fronts today against us. I thought they had some pretty good scheme ideas, as well. But, it will be really good film for us to evaluate and coach off of.”
Throughout the 60-minute affair, Penn State accounted for four three-and-out drives, went a measly, 7-for-18 on third down, and racked up 70 penalty yards. Conversely, Franklin’s bunch left Memorial Stadium with a 17-point conference win where it held the lead for the contest’s entire duration.
As a whole, the game plan wasn’t executed to pure-play perfection. But, with Franklin’s deep personnel and experienced staff at his disposal, it doesn’t necessarily have to be to wear down a conference opponent without its A-game.
“[We] never lost the lead, [and we] never lost control of the game,” Franklin said. “We didn’t take control, but we never lost control of the game, and just kind of kept chipping away at it. So, I was proud.”
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