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A Somber End

Penn State closes out its season with an ugly loss to Ole Miss.

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin on the field before the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Fans of premier football programs live a privileged life. A few miles west of State College, calls to the tune of “do something, or else” have been heard loud and clear as conference mate Ohio State ended its season on a whimper. Likewise, the disappointment of how the Peach Bowl went down was immediately felt as the seconds ticked down. The calls for James Franklin to “do something, or else” were no less intense than those of our Ohio State counterparts, but both point out a distinct entitlement that comes with being a fan of a team that wins more than it loses.

Penn State, for the fifth time in Franklin’s 10 seasons at the helm, has won 10 games or more. He’s made as many New Year’s Six-equivalent games in the past 10 seasons as the Lions had in the previous 20 years. If you include the aforementioned Peach Bowl that just took place, Penn State has played in one more such game than the previous 20 seasons.

Yet, the frustration of being every so close to the finish line, but never quite getting there, is just as justified as the acknowledgement that being in this position, in the first place, is still an outstanding accomplishment, one that few programs enjoy.

The story of how the season ended is one that we’ve seen before. Penn State, on the backs of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, ran the ball for 7 yards a pop to start the game. The defense pressured Jaxon Dart, who made some errant throws early, and, in a key moment in the game, nearly fumbled the ball away in its own territory. That call would be overturned, and, from that moment, the Ole Miss offense adjusted.

Dart started getting rid of the ball a lot quicker, and, with two new concerns tasked with the job of facing against the talented receivers on the other end, the Lions started getting burned on the edge. Each time the defense closed in on the quarterback, Dart found one of his two favorite targets of the day. Each time, it was for a big gain, usually on third down.

Penn State, on the other hand, could not adjust on offense. When the Rebels started to stack the box to prevent Singleton and Allen from gashing them, the receivers were nowhere to be found. Tyler Warren, and to a lesser extent Theo Johnson, did everything they could to help the passing game, but, a receiver wouldn’t make a single catch in this game until the fourth quarter, and by that time, Mississippi had already done all the damage.

The game ended in the exact same way the previous two losses did. Down big, the offense started chucking the ball around, calling quick plays that forced Drew Allar to make a throw without thinking much. It led to a late touchdown that made the score look better than it was, but, once again, it was too little too late.

Unlike last season, there won’t be too much hype going into the next year. That will rightfully belong to Ole Miss. But, the silver lining, if there is one, is that hunger does a lot of things for people, and having the feeling of unfinished business might motivate some offensive players to put in the work necessary to make the offense tick.

That, and, of course, two new coordinators will try to get the most out of what the team has, while supplementing with what’s available in the portal.

For the rest of us, we spend the offseason wondering what could have been. But also, we get to wonder, what could be.

Happy offseason!