Penn State Football Faces Biggest Challenge Of Season Yet With Bye Week
“It’s not an off week, it’s a bye week.”
That line was repeated time and time again after Penn State football’s road win against Northwestern Saturday. James Franklin said the line twice in his postgame press conference, while most of the handful of players available to media after the game echoed the phrase.
Penn State had just dismantled the Wildcats, though not in short fashion. The cloud of the offense’s poor first half still hung over the team, as the Nittany Lions trailed twice in the opening 30 minutes despite not trailing to any of its first four opponents this season.
Franklin and his players didn’t seem happy with the way that the first half played out, but they understood this had become their brand of football. The offense will struggle to start the game, the defense will bail the rest of the group out, and then the offense will kick in during the second half and score 30 points.
There was a reason Franklin didn’t have a mantra set for his offense: it always seems to figure itself out in the end. But Penn State’s lack of an opponent next week is a different issue. In some ways, the bye week may be the biggest challenge that the Nittany Lions will face the entire season.
Penn State’s been brutally, brutally bad coming off of bye weeks in James Franklin’s tenure. The Nittany Lions hold a record of 3-7 coming off of bye weeks over Franklin’s previous nine years with the program. The bye week has been a curse following the Nittany Lions around like the grim reaper, waiting to strike when it has the chance.
Franklin has long said that he’s going to fix Penn State’s bye-week problems. Last season, Franklin promised to “tweak some of the things” Penn State looked at in the bye week before losing to No. 5 Michigan. In 2021, after losing to No. 3 Iowa the week prior, Penn State players promised to “attack the bye week” before losing in nine overtimes to Illinois.
As in past years, Franklin said Penn State is approaching this bye week differently than the last few times. This week will be used to scout his own team and look at the offense, defense, and special teams before thinking about any future opponents on the schedule.
“One of the things that we studied in great detail was bye weeks,” Franklin said after the Northwestern game. “And what is the best way to handle it so that you can find that balance between recovery and getting the guys fresh, but also getting better?”
Penn State does have one benefit to its schedule this year — UMass isn’t considered the most daunting of opponents. The Minutemen were considered the worst team in FBS last year, and while they’ve made strides this season, there’s a reason Penn State made the UMass contest its Homecoming game, one of its calmer themes.
Despite UMass’ strength, or lack thereof, and that Penn State will be facing an out-of-conference opponent coming off the bye week for the first time in his tenure, Franklin said the focus will be the same.
Penn State football will be going full steam ahead into the week off. Or, as repeated by coaches and players alike “it’s not an off week, it’s a bye week.”
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Inspired by a truly awful cut three years ago, Shaun Flaherty started cutting hair to fix some questionable cuts from the barbers in upstate New York.
“I couldn’t really think of any other place to do it because everyone is the happiest there.”
Penn State fell to under .500 for the first time this season.