The second season of the James Franklin era at Penn State didn’t necessarily float like a butterfly, nor did it sting like a bee. Instead, it descended faster than a skydiver without a parachute and fell just as softly as a bug landing on your shoulder.
However, coming from a Penn State fan’s perspective, the Nittany Lion’s 27-10 embarrassing loss to Temple on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field did sting like a bee, perhaps worse.
After taking a 10-0 lead early in the first quarter, the Nittany Lions showed more of what we saw for most of last season: A bad offensive line, a quarterback lacking confidence, horrible choices made by the refs and inept preparation from the coaching staff.
Last fall, I had written multiple times that Penn State’s head coach, James Franklin was not doing an adequate job of in-game coaching, but I also knew that he had to be given a chance. After one full season and a full offseason, we should expect to see adjustments and ultimately improvements with this football team.
We didn’t on Saturday.
There are many people on which to place the blame for Penn State’s first loss to Temple in 74 years. You can blame quarterback Christian Hackenberg, you can blame the offensive line, but to me, 90 percent of this falls on the coaching staff. And it all starts with Franklin.
Franklin showed an inability to adjust during the game on Saturday, hence his in-game coaching being sub-par. The playcalling leaves the projected first round pick Hackenberg out to dry. The offense is baffling to me.
Whether it is Franklin or offensive coordinator John Donovan calling the plays, they refuse to take shots down the field with Hackenberg. Hackenberg missed DaeSean Hamilton on a deep route down the sideline which would have been a sure touchdown to put Penn State up 17-0 and changed the complexity of the game.
But for the rest of the game, there were no shots taken down the field until there was less than a minute left in the game. That’s when Penn State was KO’ed. That pass was completed, too.
It’s these continuous, short, rinky-dink passes that Hackenberg has a hard time completing. It is bubble screen after bubble screen, five yard slant over the middle after five yard slant, with deep shots down the field being a rarity.
The lack of a running game does not help the situation because to have an effective passing game, you need to be able to run the ball, but this offense is not for Hackenberg, and Franklin will not adjust to utilize his talents better.
This is the same quarterback that put up 20 touchdowns and only threw 10 interceptions as a true-freshman under Bill O’Brien. Hackenberg is a pro-style quarterback, which is the exact offense O’Brien ran. I still can’t figure out what type of quarterback is ideal for Franklin’s offense.
The coaching incompetence does not stop with Franklin and falls right onto the lap of offensive line coach, Herb Hand. Hand, who seems to be the most active college football coach on Twitter in the nation, comes off as the least active college football coach in the nation when it comes to putting together a gameplan.
If Hand’s job is not on the line after Saturday, it should be shortly if this problem persists. The offensive line, which was atrocious last season and allowed Hackenberg to be sacked 44 times, returned four starters this season, and Hackenberg was sacked TEN times on Saturday at Temple.
It took Hackenberg one game to reach a quarter of his sack total from last season. 44 sacks in a season is an insane amount.
Hackenberg doesn’t help his cause either. He seems to be lacking confidence as he continually refuses to step up in the pocket or run and pick up three yards instead of losing seven. Maybe it is a product of bad coaching, maybe it’s a bad offensive line, maybe it’s the offense or maybe it’s a combination of all three.
The bottom line is that Franklin needs to show improvement each week this season, and it starts at home against Buffalo on Saturday. Franklin needs to be able to adjust and to be able to prepare effectively.
It is one thing to be an outstanding recruiter, but you have to be able to put it together on the field, too.
One thing matters, and that’s winning. And if this type of football continues and the losses pile up, Franklin is going to realize that Happy Valley could turn into Frustrated Valley.
Franklin’s trial begins on Saturday, and his goal should be to finish this season floating like a butterfly, while stinging opponents like a bee.