It’s Getting Repetitive: James Franklin’s Struggles Against Ohio State Continue In Latest Loss
The Ohio State student section couldn’t have been louder, even in the fourth quarter.
As they became more certain that they would see their No. 3 Buckeyes beat the No. 7 Nittany Lions 20-12 at home, a cheer began to rise among the thousands of students in attendance. “Whoaaaa…. F— you, Penn State.” The crowd was mocking the team that it had defeated nine times in the last decade with its own rendition of Kernkraft 400.
Moments later, safety Jaylen Reed summed up the feelings of the entire Penn State fanbase with a drawn-out groan as he walked underneath the scores of Buckeye fans jeering the Nittany Lions. Once again, Penn State had lost to Ohio State.
There are several issues that one could point out with Penn State’s loss Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich made poor play calls. In a first half where the run game took off, he leaned on quarterback Drew Allar too much, including on a 3rd-and-1 where Allar threw an incompletion. In a second half where Allar finally started to look like a top quarterback, Yurcich opted to run the ball and killed Allar’s momentum in the process.
Even with the best of play calls, Penn State’s wide receivers didn’t show up. Allar put together some fantastic efforts to find his wide receivers, but with a group that doesn’t have enough talent or depth to challenge a top defense, passes didn’t find their targets.
The offensive line wasn’t great, either. Allar was sacked four times against the Buckeyes and was hit another four. While Nick Singleton had gaping holes to run through in the first quarter, those gaps seemed to disappear after he recorded 20-yard and 12-yard runs back-to-back early on.
Even with a defense that allowed just 20 points, the other side of the ball was far from perfect. The nation’s top wide receiver, Marvin Harrison Jr., danced all over the group that was previously considered the best defense in the country. Linebacker Abdul Carter was often assigned to cover the lengthy Harrison, and Carter was lost. Other times, nobody could tell who was supposed to be covering Harrison — he was that wide open.
Every single player felt like that they didn’t do enough to stop what felt like its own slow, drawn-out death. Linebacker Curtis Jacobs, whose scoop-and-score in the first quarter was called back for a penalty in the secondary, said that the defense “obviously” didn’t do enough to win.
Quarterback Drew Allar, in between tears, said that he “sucked” in a game where he went 18-42 and threw for 191 yards and a garbage-time touchdown.
“We couldn’t get the job done,” said offensive lineman Olu Fashanu, who is projected to be a top draft pick in 2024 and suffered a season-ending injury against Ohio State last year.
It’s certainly fair for players to lay the blame for a difficult loss on themselves. Plenty of them won’t get another shot at beating Ohio State. Even those with time left in their college career, like Allar, might not pull off a win when the Buckeyes come to Beaver Stadium in a year’s time.
But the truth of the matter is that Jacobs, Allar, Fashanu, and the rest of the team are just another group of Penn State football players that are in a long line of Nittany Lions to lose to the Buckeyes. At a certain point, losing to Ohio State becomes part of Penn State’s identity, an identity that flows from the top of the food chain all the way to the bottom.
Since James Franklin first arrived at Penn State, Ohio State has been the lone team that he’s found incredibly rare success against. In the middle of nine losses to the Buckeyes, Franklin’s lone win came from a lucky blocked field goal that Grant Haley famously returned to the end zone. Losing to the Buckeyes has become as synonymous with Penn State as Franklin is.
But Franklin refused to talk about his record against Ohio State after loss No. 9. He was more than comfortable answering questions about his struggles in Columbus this time. Not in times past. Not about how there’s a trend. Not about how his Penn State teams repeatedly cannot show up to play Ohio State.
To Franklin’s credit, he said that he’d answer questions about his record against Ohio State in the future. But he still dodged the most important question of the day: Why can’t Penn State beat Ohio State?
Regardless of how Franklin feels about being held accountable for his mistakes over the long term, those mistakes still linger. Not only has Penn State struggled to beat Ohio State, something it hasn’t done on the road since Franklin was named head coach, but it hasn’t beaten a top-10 team on the road in that time frame either.
Past Ohio State, Franklin’s record has shown that he simply cannot show up when it matters most. For a team that will consistently play top teams on the road, it’s not a great sign that Franklin will ever be able to get Penn State out of its bubble as the Big Ten’s little brother. Until Franklin figures out how to win big games, Penn State will always have to settle to be the third-best team in the Big Ten. With four more teams joining the Big Ten next year, third-best might be an optimist’s take on the situation in a few years’ time.
Five years ago, Franklin gave a now-famous quote about how Penn State had become complacent with greatness and that it would no longer be complacent. Now, Franklin has little to offer.
Ohio State is a great team, he said. This just wasn’t Penn State’s day.
But it’s never Penn State’s day. It hasn’t been Penn State’s day for some time. With a schedule in which Franklin will only face two challenges a season, he failed at one of those challenges. He also failed to acknowledge that he’s repeatedly failed this specific challenge.
Now, with Michigan on the horizon, every game has become do-or-die for the Nittany Lions. Penn State has one chance left to prove that this season wasn’t a waste. That all the hype about a championship-level team wasn’t fraudulent.
Until he’s able to kick the can down the road again, this time to 2024, Franklin has one chance left this season to prove himself.
And when he doesn’t, those same Ohio State students will keep chanting, “F— you, Penn State.”
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