On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Maryland Terrapins engaged in a contest of American football at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Terps emerged victorious, 35-19. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
1. Well, the word “emerged” in the introduction here is a bit of a stretch. “The Terps routed the Lions” is a more accurate interpretation.
2. That’s something I didn’t expect to say this year.
3. Or really ever. The Terps should virtually never rout Penn State, particularly coming off of a Cotton Bowl Championship season in which they return significant starters.
4. I didn’t actually see any of this game. We were in the car on a family trip and so, for the first time since the 2016 Michigan game, I did not actually witness a single play (on television or from the stands) in a Penn State football game.
5. Interestingly, those games ended the same way, more or less. From a Penn Stater’s perspective, I assume the less these games are watched, the better.
6. I don’t have the same kind of viscerally negative reaction to most television commentators that some other college football fans do. Even so, absent one of the top few teams, this weekend reminded me that I’d vastly prefer to listen to Steve Jones and Jack Ham than any of the B-teams.
7. And, absent a significant turnaround, B-teams (and C-teams) are what we’re looking at for the rest of the year.
8. It’s the second consecutive week Penn State went for it on 4th down early in the game and was just stuck. Right strategic call again here, but you have to wonder if constantly losing these mini-battles are creating some internal stress.
9. Those final possessions of the first half were atrocious. A 14-point swing that left Penn State down 28-7 at the break will kill morale.
10. If the end of the half didn’t crush morale, the fumble return touchdown to start the third quarter certainly did.
11. I know you can’t reasonably expect every offense to look like 2016 Penn State, which could score in the blink of an eye. But this offense simply will not give you the opportunity to do that. That scoop and score happened with 28 minutes of game time left, but everyone watching this game knew that was the nail in the coffin.
12. Everyone talks about a leadership vacuum when the results are not as they are. That drumbeat happened in 2014, 2015, and 2018. The same is happening now.
13. I don’t know if it’s leadership. If Sean Clifford was a better leader, would he have completed 15 more passes on Saturday?
14. Would the running backs have generated more than 68 yards on 19 carries if only someone encouraged them to run harder?
15. The bottom line is that nothing is in sync on either side of the ball.
16. The defense, which should have been excellent, is giving up huge chunks of yardage and is collapsing on third down.
17. The offense, which had the deepest backfield in the country coming into the year and a returning starter at quarterback, has been nothing short of an enormous disappointment.
18. For the second time in three games, Penn State’s new offense has outgained its opposition. Even so, Penn State lost both of those games because it just isn’t scoring enough points.
19. There’s something critically wrong here, and all you need to do is look at the box score and realize that Sean Clifford threw 57 times last week.
20. In Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense.
21. Everything about this game felt totally backwards. Last year, Penn State waltzed into College Park and dominated the Terps from one end zone to another. It wasn’t remotely close and Sean Clifford looked like an emerging superstar.
22. I love KJ Hamler, but I find it impossible to believe that his absence it the difference between scoring 59 points and scoring 19. Especially given Jahan Dotson’s production.
23. As you all have been made aware by now, I don’t like turning single games into sweeping, program-wide indictments. I don’t like doing that for single seasons either. The last four Penn State teams have won 42 games, appeared in 3 New Year’s Six bowls, and won two of them. The last of those NY6 bowls was just 11 months ago.
24. If you’re looking for someone to cast about looking for a new coach, then you should probably look elsewhere. James Franklin is a good coach and has done a fine job. This ugly start doesn’t change that.
25. It does, however, tell me that something is happening this year. And it needs to be addressed now, before it turns into something much bigger that cannot be controlled.
26. One underachieving year isn’t going to ruin a program. 2018 wasn’t the season we all wanted it to be, but 2019 was a success anyway. A mediocre 2020 isn’t necessarily going to do lasting consequential damage.
27. Getting blown out by Maryland, though, is the kind of thing that does. It just can’t happen.
28. Admittedly, I don’t have many thoughts about this game. I’ve tried hard not to think about it for the last several days. On some level, there’s just not that much to talk about. Every aspect of this performance was poor and time is running out this year to right the ship.
29. A fair bit has been made about James Franklin’s personal situation this season, especially in light of his comments earlier this week. I am overwhelmingly sympathetic. I don’t know how he’s reasonably functioning coming home to an empty house for months on end. I would have a very difficult time.
30. I’m well aware of his salary and the expectations placed upon him and his staff. I know what he gets paid to do. That does not make this job this year any easier. It’s not an “excuse,” but it is what it is.
31. The ultimate question is whether they can right the ship. There’s still plenty of time left this season, but at 0-3, I have real concerns they’ll feel there’s not much to play for but pride.
32. Come on, Lions. Let’s get it together.
33. On to Nebraska.
34. We are…