UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dating back to 2014, James Franklin’s first year in Happy Valley, Penn State has lost two or more games in a row four out of five years. So much for being on the cusp of being an elite program.
Having once again lost back-to-back games, it’s no longer a coincidence but rather an alarming trend for a team perennially in Big Ten championship talks.
Wait! I know what you’re thinking! There’s no way a team that preaches “1-0” mentality and forgetting the last game can have struggles like this, right? Wrong.
That every game has a consistent approach has worked fairly well, but when one loss turns into another it’s a bad look and something the coaches need to figure out sooner rather than later.
The Nittany Lions came out flat and uninspired against Michigan State, following a bye week no less. Of course, they had plenty of opportunities to beat Ohio State two weeks ago, but fell short — just as they did against the Spartans Saturday.
Saturday felt different. Against Ohio State, Penn State deserved to win. They outplayed the Buckeyes for 52 minutes of the game. The Spartans though, they came out ready from the opening kickoff and downright wanted the game more than Penn State did at any point.
That’s on Franklin.
For a team to come out after a bye and just fail to execute the way the Nittany Lions did, as the No. 8 ranked team in the country no less, is embarrassing. This is all after having one of the best practices of the year on Tuesday, according to many within the program.
What’s causing these losses to string together?
In the first two seasons, one could blame it on the Nittany Lions’ lack of depth and the fact they just were not the best of teams. Now though, Penn State has been to back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls and has finished in the top-10 the last two seasons, so that can’t be an excuse.
No, now it comes down to coaching and putting players in the best positions for success, something the Nittany Lions failed to do against Ohio State and Michigan State this year, and last year as well.
They ran up the middle multiple times late against a Buckeyes front that had stopped inside zones all game, ultimately taking the ball out of Trace McSorley’s hands when they needed to stay alive and opting to force feed Miles Sanders the ball on a day when he struggled.
McSorley and the offense failed to take advantage of a Spartans secondary ranked No. 122 in the country against the pass. There are only 129 teams playing FBS football. Sanders did have huge runs against a stout Michigan State front, but the Nittany Lions were ill-prepared for a team who’s on their schedule every season.
Penn State needs to abandon any sort of mentality they’ve had against the Spartans and the Buckeyes and find that killer instinct within that’s going to allow them to finish games with authority, instead of hoping their defense can get a stop and bail out the offense.
Cue Herm Edwards‘ “You play to win the game” speech.
The Nittany Lions need to play to win the game whether the opponent is Indiana, Ohio State or a team they’ll face in a bowl game. Playing not to lose has cost Franklin and company dearly over the past few years, and until their mentality changes when the game is on the line, it’s going to be the same old story each and every year. One loss turns into a second loss and then they hope it doesn’t turn into a third loss.
This week Indiana (4-3, 1-3 Big 12) will provide Penn State with a road test, and a win will help turn things around. But if the game is on the line late, my money is on the Hoosiers until the Nittany Lions prove they can finish.