It’s year nine. Yet, here we are, with Penn State facing one of the most important weeks of the James Franklin Era. Despite coming off a bye wee that Franklin claims the Nittany Lions handled differently than past bye weeks, the Nittany Lions find themselves at 5-1 following a 41-17 beatdown against Michigan.
This marks the second consecutive season in which Penn State started 5-0, with the 5-0 included a victory over a Big Ten West opponent to start the season and a victory over Auburn in week three, before losing on the road in game six against a top 5 ranked Big Ten team. Hopefully, Penn State can avoid the fortune they had in 2021.
Moving forward, people will draw comparisons to the 2021 season and the collapse that occurred. Will Penn State collapse again in 2022? It remains to be seen. That said, it is certainly a worthwhile discussion.
Penn State could be staring down the barrel of a second consecutive collapse following a 5-0 start. Six games into the season the Nittany Lions still appear to have plenty of question marks and the foundation they appeared to have built is looking shaky.
Let’s not overlook the issue that is Penn State coming out of the bye week under James Franklin. Franklin is now 3-7 coming out of a bye week as Penn State’s head coach, this includes losses to powerhouse such as Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, and a 7-6 Michigan State team.
Falling behind 13-0 on Saturday afternoon just continued the Franklin tradition of his teams coming out flat after bye weeks. They also allowed the final 25 points of the game. Additionally, it was the second consecutive season in which Penn State allowed 350+ rushing yards coming out of a bye week with both of these games resulting in a loss.
Things will not get any easier for the Nittany Lion rush defense this Saturday. Minnesota will come to town and look to run the ball 30-40 times. The Golden Gophers will attempt to impose their will on the Nittany Lion defense the same way Michigan just did, the same way Illinois did last year following Penn State’s first loss of the season. Then arguably the best team in the country in Ohio State will come to town. 5-0 could become 5-3 in a hurry. If that happens, the program as a whole will be in a bad, bad spot.
History would tell you that a loss could be in store for the Nittany Lions. During the first eight seasons of Franklin’s tenure Penn State has lost back-to-back games during the season in six of those eight seasons. That is another trend that Franklin needs to buck starting this Saturday.
There are parallels to be drawn between this game and the last time Minnesota came to Beaver Stadium back in 2016. In 2016 the Nittany Lions were coming off getting embarrassed in Ann Arbor and the program appeared to be at a bit of a crossroads.
This time around the crossroads are different, but they’re at a crossroads nonetheless. Franklin is not in danger of potentially losing his job the way he may have been in 2016, but he is leading a program that has, at best, plateaued out in recent years. It is certainly a program that is not trending in a positive way.
Franklin can not allow his team to fall into the same rut they did following last season’s 5-0 start. That starts this week when Minnesota comes to town for the White Out. This has become an absolute must win game for Penn State.
Bouncing back starts with a long look in the mirror by Franklin and the coaching staff. No more excuses. No more telling reporters after the game that your linemen aren’t big enough or strong enough. No more talking about needing to recruit better.
Penn State is now 19-14 in their last 33 games. This is not good enough for a program like Penn State, not even close. If the Nittany Lions do not begin to right the ship this week another three or four loss season is a real possibility, if not likely.
It’s year nine, James, if you’re going to take the next step as Penn State’s head coach, it’s time. As long as you are the head coach, you are the only person who can get this program trending back in the correct direction again.