As the old saying goes, “Winning is contagious.” Just look to the 2004 season when Penn State defeated Indiana on a goal line stand. The Nittany Lions had an 0-6 conference record heading into the game, yet the week after they hammered Michigan State, launching them into the Big Ten Championship season in 2005. History somewhat repeated itself in 2020 - the Nittany Lions couldn’t catch a break, starting with an 0-5 record. After marching into the Big House and leaving with a win, Penn State would finish on a four-game win streak.
Unfortunately, losing has been contagious during the James Franklin era as well. Penn State is 3-5 in games following the first defeat of the season under Franklin. Facing Big Ten opponents, that number drops to a lowly 1-5. It hasn’t even been a case of the schedule getting tougher, or injury issues causing a slide. In nearly every case, Penn State just laid an egg to follow up their first loss of the season.
Will the trend continue against Minnesota this week? Let’s take a look at how the Nittany Lions have responded to the first loss of the season under Franklin:
Start to the season: 4-0
First Loss: Northwestern-29, Penn State-6
A dramatic week one victory against Central Florida in Ireland in helped the James Franklin era get off to a hot start, as Christian Hackenberg was dropping dimes to Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton. Then Pat Fitzgerald figured something out - Penn State’s patchwork offensive line had zero pass blocking skills. The blueprint for how to stop the Penn State offense was available, as the Nittany Lions would set a Big Ten record for most sacks allowed in a season.
Next Game: Michigan-18, Penn State-13
This was perhaps the least-anticipated and most forgotten about game of the series history. Penn State didn’t go out and lay an egg per say, but couldn’t overcome a 5-7 Wolverines squad in the Big House.
Size of Egg: A slightly larger-than-average egg you pull out of the carton to make your morning scrambled eggs and keilbasa.
Start to the season: 0-0
First Loss: Temple-27, Penn State-10
The early-season optimism was snuffed out quickly as Penn State fans realized the offense was somehow going to be even worse. After the Nittany Lions jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, the Owls dominated the rest of the day. Matt Rhule had Temple at its peak, completely outclassing the Nittany Lions in a game where they sacked Hackenberg 10 times, including one on just a two-man rush.
Next Game: Penn State- 27, Buffalo-14
A win is a win, but the Bulls made it a four-quarter game. Carl Nassib helped save the day with consecutive strip sacks, and eyebrows were raised when a true freshman running back named Saquan Barkley flashed some of his would-be signature moves.
Size of Egg: A plastic Easter egg with a single Skittle inside, but at least it was something.
Start to the season: 1-0
First loss: Pitt-42, Penn State-39
Penn State was lost in the first half, and were completely manhandled by James Conner and the Pitt offensive line. A furious second-half comeback was halted by a dropped pass that could have been the go-ahead touchdown, then followed up with an interception in the end zone to seal the deal for the Panthers.
Next Game: Penn State-34, Temple-27
They went out and beat a 10-win Temple team, but were likely fortunate they had the Owls this week rather than Minnesota or Iowa.
Size of Egg: A robin egg you see on the sidewalk and think “That’s a striking shade of blue, I hope the birdee is OK,” and other manly thoughts.
Start to the Season: 7-0
First Loss: Ohio State-39, Penn State-38
We don’t need to re-live much detail - Penn State was up big on the Buckeyes at several points, seemingly setting the table for another Big Ten Championship and that still-elusive first playoff appearance. J.T. Barrett had other plans as Ohio State outplayed the Nittany Lions for most of the second half, including a frantic fourth quarter to escape with a stunning victory.
Next Game: Michigan State-27, Penn State-24
The Nittany Lions appeared to be in a fog, not playing anywhere near their potential or even resembling the same team we had watched for most of the season. Many blamed the loss of the hours-long delay - while that didn’t help, the Spartans had to wait through the same delay. The Nittany Lions flat out blew this one to an inferior team.
Size of Egg: The ostrich egg that Teddy Perkins eats with his bare hands.
Start to the Season: 4-0
First Loss: Ohio State-27, Penn State-26
While the loss to OSU in ‘17 was the most heartbreaking of the Franklin era, this game was the most frustrating. Penn State outplayed and outschemed the Buckeyes for three and-a-half quarters. Then Ryan Day threw his hands in the air and just called screens, allowing Ohio State’s receivers to run circles around the defense on the way to the end zone. I’ll spare you and not mention the details of that playcall when Penn State had a chance to take the lead with a late field goal.
Next Game: Michigan State-21, Penn State-17
This was basically a repeat of the previous year, except the Spartans were much worse. Yet they somehow stuck around all afternoon, and made a play at the end that everyone saw coming except apparently the Penn State coaching staff. You see, Michigan State had one standout player on offense that season - wide receiver Felton Davis. So what happens when the game is on the line? Put Davis in single-coverage of course. Davis beat his man, and scored the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds remaining.
Size of Egg: An seven-foot tall egg you would see in someone’s yard who took their Easter decorations a little too seriously.
Start to the Season: 8-0
First Loss: Minnesota-31, Penn State-26
Penn State got off to a slow start in one of those weird games where everything that can go wrong will. The Big Ten refs also decided that tackling KJ Hamler with the ball still in the air was completely legal.
Next Game: W - Penn State-34, Indiana-27
This was the best performance following a loss in the Franklin era. Penn State’s defense settled in after allowing two first quarter touchdowns, and the Nittany Lion controlled the game from there on. Indiana kicked a field goal with :13 left, making it look a little closer than it was.
Size of Egg: A blue-throated hummingbird for the defense for allowing its first (and second) first quarter touchdowns of the season.
Start to Season: 0-0
First Loss: Indiana-36, Penn State-35 (OT)
Remeber how I just said the Minnesota game from the previous year was one of those weird games where everything went wrong? Well, this game was like if David Lynch wrote a screenplay about that game. It’s just...a lot happened, and Penn State dropped a heartbreaker after starting the season at #7.
Next Game: L Ohio State-38, Penn State-25
This game had been circled on the calendar well in advance, but by the time it came around there was no Micah Parsons, no Journey Brown, and not a single white-clad fan in the stands. Penn State did get off to an atrocious start, but some heroics from Jahan Dotson at least helped prevent it from being a complete blowout.
Size of Egg: Any unremarkable white or brown egg you see when you open up the carton to make sure none are broked before you put it in your shopping cart.
Start to Season: 5-0
First Loss: Iowa-23, Penn State-20
Penn State was well on its way to victory before Sean Clifford was forced to exit the game. The Nittany Lions didn’t have another quarterback capable of leading the offense, and Iowa gradually came back to take a late lead.
Next Game: L- Illinois-20, Penn State-18 (9 OTs)
Clifford somehow came back to play in this game, but was clearly injured and forced into action by Penn State’s dysmal quarterback situation. Still, the Nittany Lions were listless and unprepared. Penn State managed just 18 points in a nine-overtime game, and let opportunities to take control slip through their fingers at every turn.
Size of Egg: A dinosaur egg, but one that was three times larger than the Tyrannosaurus that scientists haven’t discovered yet.
Start to Season: 5-0
First Loss: Michigan-41, Penn State-17
Michigan flat-out pushed around Penn State for four quarters like they were playing UCONN again. A few lucky breaks helped prevent the game from being along the lines of 55-3.
Next game: ???