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Fourth-Quarter Struggles: James Franklin Trying To Learn From Past Ohio State Losses

The Penn State football student section was almost empty.

After spending an afternoon watching the Nittany Lions go toe-to-toe with Ohio State on a fall afternoon in 2022, the congregation of students behind the south end zone left before the alma mater even began after the game. Penn State faltered in the fourth quarter and gave up 28 points in a matter of 15 minutes en route to a disappointing 44-31 loss at home.

James Franklin hasn’t forgotten about that loss, one that came against a rival that Penn State has long used as a measuring stick. He also hasn’t forgotten about the other six losses to the Buckeyes that have come during his time at the helm of Penn State’s program, with the Nittany Lions’ only win during his tenure coming from a Grant Haley blocked-kick-returned-to-the-end-zone miracle in 2016.

Franklin might not have forgotten about the loss in 2022 or the others that came before it, but he said Tuesday in a midweek press conference that he wasn’t approaching Ohio State any differently than any other team in the schedule.

“We approach it the same every single week,” Franklin said. “This is a really important game. Why? Because of how we’ve handled the previous six. If we didn’t handle the previous six the right way, you wouldn’t be asking that question.”

But Ohio State isn’t the same as any other team. Before Franklin put pen to paper and was announced as Penn State’s head football coach, the Nittany Lions had an all-time record of 14-16 against the Buckeyes, which includes a win that was technically vacated from 2010. During Franklin’s tenure, Penn State has fallen behind even further to 15-23.

No other team has been as brutal to Franklin since he came to Penn State. Even against Michigan, Penn State has gone 3-6 since 2014. Ohio State, no matter if it’s led by Urban Meyer or Ryan Day, has had Penn State’s number for nearly a decade.

That loss in 2022 was a representation of how Penn State’s recent matchups with the Buckeyes have gone. Penn State keeps the game close but can’t close it out. Of the last eight matchups between the two Big Ten powerhouses, four have been decided by one score. Twice, in 2017 and 2018, the game was decided by a single point.

In 2021, coming off a nine-overtime loss to Illinois, Franklin’s team stayed within three points through the end of three quarters. It lost 24-33. In 2019, Penn State was within four points of the Buckeyes going into the fourth quarter. It lost 28-17. During that one-point loss in 2017, Franklin held a 15-point lead through the end of three quarters. He lost 39-38.

Franklin believes those losses are opportunities to learn, even if the learning can be somewhat repetitive. The loss from last year was a chance for Franklin, his coaching staff, and his players to learn what it takes to win over a historically-impressive Ohio State program.

“We’re a combination of our previous experiences. Whether you’re a first-time coordinator in this league or first-time player in this league, I think all those experiences, both positive or negative, if you approach them the right way help you grow,” Franklin said. “There are opportunities to grow and get better as long as you approach them that way.”

Franklin and his Penn State team haven’t played in a game quite like last year’s Ohio State game since last year’s Ohio State game. The Nittany Lions only had a one-score lead over Utah in last year’s Rose Bowl entering the fourth quarter, but with the Utes’ quarterback Cam Rising out of the game, a win seemed destined. Against the two best teams that they’ve faced this year, the Nittany Lions dispatched West Virginia and Iowa in short fashion.

The lack of competition means that Penn State hasn’t had as much chance to prepare for a late-game dogfight. Franklin said he expects Saturday’s matchup to stay tight through the fourth quarter. Getting his team to the finish line, essentially, will just have to happen on its own.

“You have to be able to win big games in the fourth quarter. You have to be able to win one-possession games. We practice those things with two-minute drills and things like that. Yeah, there are some things that are just going to have to organically happen,” Franklin said. “Probably up to the last two years, we probably played them as well as anybody in the conference. But we’ve got to find a way to be able to win in the fourth quarter and win these one-possession games.”

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and an associate editor at Onward State. He covers Penn State football and enjoys yelling on Twitter about Philadelphia/Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. Please send all positive affirmations and/or hate mail toward him on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email ([email protected]).

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