Coach James Franklin, Penn State vow to get better after agonizing loss
Penn State has enjoyed a striking turnaround since an embarrassing reality-check loss at Ann Arbor two seasons ago.
But the feel-good era, which saw the Nittany Lions win 24 of 27 games, a Big Ten championship in 2016, and come close to the College Football Playoff each of the last two years, is over now.
“We kind of needed this to humble ourselves,” running back Miles Sanders said after Penn State’s 27-26 loss to Ohio State on Saturday.
That realization set in for coach James Franklin as the No. 3 Buckeyes rallied in the fourth quarter to hand the No. 11 Nittany Lions their second-straight 1-point loss in the series.
“We have gotten comfortable being great,” Franklin said. “We will no longer be comfortable being great. We’re going to find a way to take that next step as a program. We’ve been knocking at the door long enough.”
Now, Franklin has to find a way to prevent what happened to his team last season from happening again.
After squandering an 11-point fourth-quarter lead to the Buckeyes in Columbus, Penn State traveled to East Lansing and gave up another fourth-quarter lead and lost on a last-second field goal to Michigan State. The No. 20 Spartans visit Beaver Stadium on Oct. 13.
Penn State is off this weekend and Franklin vowed to find ways to push his staff and players to bounce back and stop making the mistakes that continue to hurt them in these big games. They know they had multiple chances to keep the Buckeyes in the rearview Saturday.
Fuming and emotional in his postgame news conference, Franklin called himself out first and foremost. He noted the failed fourth-down call to run Sanders up the middle on fourth-and-5 wasn’t “the right call in that situation” and regretted going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Ohio State 24 instead of kicking a field goal that could have been the difference in the third quarter.
There were dropped passes, again, another fumble, seven penalties and a slew of missed tackles on Ohio State’s go-ahead drive.
Franklin took a second to look up inside the media room where more than 100 recruits and their families were lined up along a railing that overlooks the scrum below.
“We’re a great program,” He said. “We lost to an elite program. And we’re that close.”
Quarterback Trace McSorley, who suffered his first loss as a starter at Beaver Stadium, agreed.
“I think everyone needs to look at themselves honestly and try and figure out what they could do on a weekly basis to get better,” McSorley said. “Whatever it might be to make up that difference, to make that next step.”
Franklin wants to see more attention paid to details. He wants to see players taking more notes, arriving for meetings earlier and silencing their phones, spending more time studying fundamentals and considering their health, nutrition and rehabilitation processes.
“We have let little things slip by and that ain’t happening,” Franklin said. “Because those little things that have slipped by, it’s one point last year, it’s one point this year. It’s not happening anymore.”