With his name connected to several high profile coaching openings, it makes sense that much of what James Franklin says and does will be observed and heavily scrutinized.
Saturday’s upset bid against No. 6 Michigan was no different. The Nittany Lions lost 21-17 at home to the Wolverines, as Michigan scored the go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown with 3:29 left in the game.
But Franklin’s decision-making was criticized well before the final whistle sounded. Twice in the first quarter, Franklin opted for some trickery to throw the Wolverines off balance, getting mixed results. The first fake came on fourth-and-6 from the Michigan 39 with 11:53 left in the first. Despite a Michigan timeout before the play, Penn State ran the fake and converted it for a gain of 18 yards.
The latter trick play — which was not particularly well-executed on fourth-and-goal from the Michigan 2 — was the more crucial and more criticized of the two, as Penn State left a likely field goal on the board. After the game, Franklin said the fake attempt was the Nittany Lions’ version of going for it on fourth down. He explained his team’s short-yardage and rushing woes this season as the reason they attempted to trick Michigan as opposed to simply running an offensive play.
Here’s the play in question for those who didn’t see it:
Points were at a premium in Beaver Stadium, and Penn State has struggled this year in short-yardage situations (just take a look at the Nittany Lions’ 20-18 loss to Illinois where Penn State lost in nine overtimes, the final seven of which they scored just one 2-point conversion). Penn State’s ground game has also been stagnant all year, Saturday included. Franklin’s squad averaged 2.6 yards per carry against Michigan.
So when the situation presented itself late in the first quarter, Franklin opted for another fake that, if successful, could have been the ultimate difference in the game.
The Nittany Lions lost by four, so those points left on the board could have been the deciding factor and given Franklin a signature win this year. Instead, Penn State has lost four of its last five games with matchups against Rutgers and Michigan State upcoming to close out the season.
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