Penn State mounted a furious rally against the Pitt Panthers Saturday, but in the end, it was another missed opportunity to make a statement for head coach James Franklin. Is he the man for the job at Penn State?
It’s been a while since We Are! has meant something. In fact, it has to feel more like We Were! for Penn State fans under James Franklin.
When Franklin was hired, he was coming off a shockingly successful run at Vanderbilt, bringing the Commodores to a more than respectable place in a crowded SEC despite all the built in disadvantages at the place.
Optimism turning south
So, who could blame all those in Happy Valley who were downright giddy over the potential of what Franklin could do coming out of the cloud of all the NCAA sanctions?
Unfortunately for all those glass half-full seekers, things have been about as exciting as the uniforms the team adorns. In fact, you could easily argue that things have gotten worse thus far under Franklin than when Bill O’Brien was tasked with treading water with limited scholarships and a culture that many recruits simply didn’t want any part of.
Penn State’s last win against a ranked team was the last game of the year at Wisconsin on November 30, 2013. Yep, that was O’Brien’s last game as head coach.
All told, Franklin has steered this Nittany Lion ship to an 0-6 record against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, has yet to beat a ranked team, has a loss to Temple, and now Pitt.
Perhaps the last two are more damaging because Franklin promised to “dominate the state” when he took the reigns over. Thus far, he is 1-2 in the state, the lone win coming against Temple in 2014. He is in danger of losing ground in recruiting circles to the likes of Pitt and other programs that like to cherry pick talent in Pennsylvania. That would have been unheard of just a few years ago.
And then there’s Saturday.
Penn State looked outclassed for much of the first half against Pitt, with the Panther offensive line pushing around a defensive line that’s been known as the heart and soul of the program. On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Trace McSorley made some plays, but also gave up some plays by holding onto the ball too long and making some questionable judgement reads.
Pitt runnin’ all over Penn Shame early. #PSUvsPITT
— Russ Mitchell (@RussMitchellCFB) September 10, 2016
Some heart was shown
Still, despite all of that, the Nittany Lions were able to reel the Panthers in slowly but surely. Running back Saquon Barkley began to find some running room, but more importantly, McSorley and his receivers began to make big plays down the field.
But there were a litany of missed opportunities, right when the game was there for the taking. Penn State had to settle for a field goal instead of a tying touchdown despite being given field position inside the 20 yard line after forcing a fumble.
Then, shortly after pulling to within three with a touchdown by Barkley and subsequent 2-point conversion, the Lions were able to get the ball back with a shot at a game winning drive.
It was not to be, as the culture of the program rose up and bit the chance at a statement win that is so sorely needed. Mcsorley dropped back with plenty of time and heaved a desperate pass into double coverage into the endzone. Game over.
Terrible decision to just throw that ball up!!!! #PITTvsPSU 👀
— Ike Reese (@Ike58Reese) September 10, 2016
Time to show progress
So now it’s on to the rest of the season for Penn State and the walls are beginning to close in on Franklin.
Winning recruiting battles is great, and saying the right things is a step in the right direction, but at some point, there needs to be some progress being made in Happy Valley.
Unfortunately for Franklin, he’s in a league and division that already has Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State staring down at everyone else with no slowing down in sight.
He’s been given a bit of a leash because of things beyond his control, but if there continues to be a lack of big wins, and a lack of direction, the natives will begin to become restless.
If things don’t change soon, the cry from the Nittany Lion faithful might turn to We Are! Fed Up!
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Catch his analysis and opinion all-season long.