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James Franklin’s Baffling Decision-Making Costs Penn State Football In Loss To Ohio State

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In a must-win game against Ohio State, James Franklin’s decision-making blew it. Trailing 13-6 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, on 4th-and-4 at its own 43-yard line, Penn State football’s offense remained on the field. With the scarlet-clad crowd reaching a crescendo at Ohio Stadium, Drew Allar dropped back, scanned downfield, and threw an incomplete pass to give the Buckeyes excellent field position in the final minutes of the game.

This article isn’t to give Allar a hard time. He isn’t above criticism, but he’s a first-year starter leading an offense that shouldn’t have been on the field in that situation. Instead, the focus is on the coaching staff that made the decision to go for it on fourth down despite not having converted on a single third down the entire game up until then. Franklin said he wanted to take a risk, but try naming a worse possible time, place, and situation to do that.

“At that point there, if they punt and are obviously able to run the game out, you feel like you have to be aggressive,” he said. “You may not get the ball back — We needed to be aggressive in that situation.”

That choice would have made sense had there not been as many as seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. With the way Penn State’s defense had played up to that point, it’s nearly inconceivable to envision Ohio State’s pass-heavy offense with a banged-up running back room holding onto the ball for half a quarter.

For reference, the Buckeyes’ average time of possession was 2:17. Their longest drive lasted 5:17, which resulted in a second-quarter touchdown. Did Franklin lose trust in his defense at some point in the game, despite it forcing eight punts? That’s hard to imagine, but all three of these statistics highlight how short-sighted that decision was.

When Ohio State inevitably stopped the fourth down attempt, all hope of a comeback evaporated into the brisk midwestern air. The crowd erupted, and one could feel both a sigh of relief and confusion over Franklin’s call. From there, the Buckeyes marched down the remainder of the field and scored a touchdown to all but end the game by giving themselves a 20-6 lead.

Ideally, Franklin could’ve punted and the defense would’ve forced Ohio State to punt a ninth time, or better, a turnover in good field position. Then, the offense could’ve had another shot. Allar could’ve redeemed himself after a poor showing, or either running back could’ve exploded for a big play. A touchdown with a successful extra point would’ve tied it, or perhaps a tush push two-point conversion attempt could’ve put the Nittany Lions in the driver’s seat against one of the best teams in America with a program-changing win on the line.

Instead, Franklin got in his own way again by allowing the game to be decided on a fourth down play with a low chance of success and plenty of time remaining. Instead, he and his program lost to Ohio State for the seventh time in a row.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a third-year journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland, which means he's an avid fan of all D.C. sports teams. If Nolan isn't writing about or watching sports, you can probably find him listening to all sorts of music or traveling. To keep up with Nolan, you can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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