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All The Little Things: Penn State Is No Longer Comfortable Being Great

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James Franklin was clear that the team will improve.

Ohio State v Penn State

Following a tough loss by one point to division rival Ohio State, coach James Franklin did not mince his words after the game. While he defended his players and team, and the effort that they put forth on Saturday night, Franklin spoke about what it would take to make the next step, from great to elite, for the football program.

“We have gotten comfortable being great. We will no longer be comfortable being great. We’re gonna learn from this, we’re gonna grow from this and we’re going to find a way to take that next step as a program, because we’ve been knocking at the door long enough. And it’s my job as the head coach, I’m ultimately responsible for all of it. I will find a way, we will find a way, and with the support of everybody in this community, on this campus, the lettermen, and everybody else. We are going to get this done. I give you my word. We are going to find a way to take the next step. I can read off all these stats, but the stats don’t matter. The stats don’t matter. We’re done being great.”

With a week off before the next game at home versus Michigan State, the team will have extra time to prepare following the tough defeat. Fans will need the additional days to regroup as well.

How It Happened

The Lions won the toss and elected to start on offense. After moving the ball to the outer edges of field goal range, Juwan Johnson had a drop on third down, forcing a punt after the team converted on 4th and 2 earlier in the drive. Brent Pry’s defense came on and after allowing a first down on the initial play, it got the ball back three plays later.

Juwan Johnson made up for the earlier drop on the next possession, catching three passes, including this amazing 31-yard one-handed catch. Johnson finished with 5 catches for 61 yards.

The drive stalled out after a backward pass to Tommy Stevens was fumbled for a loss of 13 yards. Stevens was not a factor in the game moving forward. Jake Pinegar hit a field goal to give the Lions a 3-0 lead with five minutes left in the first quarter. Penn State’s defense got the ball back to the offense three plays later.

A 51-yard run by Trace McSorley took the ball back into Buckeye territory for the third time in three possessions. Three run plays for no gain later, Pinegar missed wide left from 46 yards out.

The teams swapped punts on the next two possessions.

Garrett Taylor got an interception off a tipped pass and took it all the way down to the Buckeye 28 with 12:48 before halftime. Miles Sanders slipped on 3rd down on a play that may have gone for a first down, and Pinegar added a field goal for a 6-0 Penn State lead.

The Lions gave up a first down on the next series but then held and forced a punt. McSorley took a sack on second down and Juwan Johnson dropped a pass on third, and a punt came after just three plays of offense for the Lions. Blake Gillikin got off a great punt after two shaky tries to start the game, moving the ball from the 12 of Penn State to the 41 of Ohio State, gaining much-needed field position.

Another three and out by Brent Pry’s defense preceded a great punt to pin McSorley and the offense at the two yard line to start the next drive. On third down KJ Hamler caught a pass across the middle and took it to the house, 93 yards, for a 13-0 lead with six minutes to play before halftime.

The teams swapped punts for three possessions and Penn State took over with 2:44 on the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Miles Sanders fumbled and Ohio State recovered at the 25 yard line. It took just two plays before J.K. Dobbins found the end zone on a 26 yard reception and the game was 13-7 at the half.

Ohio State took the ball and drove down the field to start the second half. On 4th and 1, Jan Johnson made a great tackle at the line of scrimmage but Dobbins turned the ball across the line for the first down just before being pushed back. The Buckeyes continued down field and punched it in for a touchdown and 14-13 lead. The drive lasted 13 plays and went 75 yards.

The Lions answered with a drive that went for -3 yards in just over a minute and then a punt gave the Buckeyes the ball at their own 40. After giving up yards the Lions were able to stiffen in the red zone, holding to a field goal. On the made kick from 34 yards, the Buckeyes were called for a 15 yard penalty, taking the points off the board. The kick from 49 yards a play later went wide right. Penn State dodged a bullet.

The offense was unable to hold the ball for very long, in order to give the defense a rest after facing two long drives to open the second half. Three plays later Blake Gillikin came in to punt the ball away. A 53-yard punt helped the cause and the Buckeyes were backed up to the 10 yard line. The noise from the stands in Beaver Stadium was all over them from above.

The defense did its job, forcing a three and out, and just 1:12 later, Trace McSorley was back in to lead the offense. On first down, he took a designed quarterback draw for 23 yards to the 39 of OSU. On 4th and 1, McSorley had a pass knocked down, ending the drive at the 25. Coach James Franklin mentioned the decision to go for the first down rather than try to kick from the 42 in his post-game comments. Franklin said that he figured that the team needed to be aggressive, to score touchdowns to beat Ohio State rather than settle for field goals. In addition it was a tough spot to put a true-freshman placekicker.

The Lions held and got the ball back quickly. After a 36-yard gain to KJ Hamler, a targeting penalty was called. Hamler was on the field for a while following the hit to his head, and was able to get up under his own power, but did not play for the remainder of the game. He had 4 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown.

The result was first down at the 14. McSorley made a gritty run on first down to take the ball inside the two. One play later, he hit Pat Freiermuth in the back of the end zone for the lead with 12:22 to play. 20-14.

On the next possession Penn State stopped the Buckeyes on 4th and 1. Koa Farmer and Shareef Miller made the play, getting the ball back to the offense with 10:18 on the clock.

Mac Hippenhammer made a play while replacing KJ Hamler on the next series to start the drive, catching a 21 yard pass on first down. On third down from just outside field goal range, McSorley ran for 19 and a first down and two plays later he ran to the one yard line on a tough run up the middle from the ten. Miles Sanders powered in on the next play for a 26-14 lead. The Lions went for two points but were unable to convert.

It only took three plays for the Buckeyes to cut the lead to 5, going 75 yards in 1:18 of game time. McSorley took over with 6:42 to play. Two quick first downs moved the ball to the OSU 42. On 3rd and 6 from the 38 a pass to Hippenhammer fell incomplete. Blake Gillikin punted to the 4 yard line. The defense had the entire field to defend its thin lead.

The Buckeyes answered with a touchdown drive of 96 yards with just 2:03 remaining on the clock. The two-point conversion failed, and the lead was 27-26.

Pat Freiermuth made a catch over the middle to start the final drive for the Lions. Two plays later on 3rd and 14 McSorley picked up 9 yards, setting up 4th and 5 with 1:22 to play from the OSU 43. Both sides called a timeout just before the snap. The drama was as thick as a heavy layer of fog; you could feel it on your face and entering your lungs as you breathed in.

Miles Sanders was stopped for a loss to end the drive and Penn State’s hopes of winning the game. On what appeared to be a run-pass option, McSorley gave the ball to Sanders and he was engulfed by Buckeyes. Franklin took responsibility for the call following the game.

Here Is Franklin’s Post-Game Presser

Notes

  • The injury to KJ Hamler took a vital option away for Penn State’s offense for the latter part of the game. Hamler took a shot to the head and a targeting penalty was given as a result. The coaches took the young player’s helmet from him before walking Hamler into the locker room, amidst his objections.
  • After featuring numerous players on defense during the first four games, Penn State tightened its rotations along the front seven. Just four defensive ends played, with Yetur Gross-Matos, Shareef Miller, and Shaka Toney getting the majority of the snaps. Daniel Joseph played a dozen snaps to round out the squad.
  • At linebacker, only four players saw the field. Penn State played a traditional 3-linebacker set less than half the time, featuring the nickel and dime defenses and an extra defensive back the rest of the time. Cam Brown led the way playing nearly 70 snaps. Koa Farmer played 48 snaps, Jan Johnson played 30 snaps at middle linebacker and was the player taken off the field for the extra defensive back. Micah Parsons played a rush-linebacker spot in the nickel and dime defense when he was in the game, seeing 26 snaps as the only backer to see time off the bench.
  • On the defensive line it was mostly Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor for the Lions. Fred Hansard and Antonio Shelton came in during a couple of series to spell the starters, getting roughly ten snaps each. Shelton was ejected following a penalty on special teams. Late in the game newly converted defensive tackle and former offensive guard, C.J. Thorpe, was in to spell the weary starters alongside Hansard. The two redshirt freshmen played admirably but it would have been nice to have Givens and Windsor, with fresher legs, available at the end.
  • At defensive back it was mostly a five-man rotation. Lamont Wade entered the game as the sixth defensive back for a handful of plays, but the rest of the way it was the nickel personnel for the most part. John Reid started at right cornerback and slid into the slot corner position while Tariq Castro-Fields came in as the extra defensive back. Amani Oruwariye, Garrett Taylor and Nick Scott filled out the lineup, playing nearly every snap.