Any writer looking to get a head start on next year’s “Coach on the hottest seat” countdown might want to keep an eye on James Franklin. Even though the 10-year contract extension Penn State gave him in 2021 is likely enough to ensure his seat stays lukewarm, it was impossible to watch the season-opener against Purdue and feel great about this team.
Quarterback Sean Clifford displayed his usual gutsy brand of football, which is code for playing just bad enough to keep the opponent in the game. Leading 28-24 midway through the fourth, Clifford missed/airmailed a crossing route that was picked and returned 72 yards by Boilermaker Chris Jefferson.
Hey, Chris, how was that more or less 100-yard sprint in the fourth quarter of Week 1?
Football shenanigans aside, Clifford did lead the Nittany Lions back down the field, connecting on a go-ahead touchdown with 57 seconds remaining. Despite being out-gained by Purdue and clock management that had CFB Twitter begging for a Scott Frost-Franklin head scratch-fest, the team is heading back to Happy Valley with a W after the defense was able to get a stop.
Anyone who has watched Jeff Brohm’s offense at Purdue knows it can put up yards and points in a hurry, but giving up 356 yards in the air isn’t what this secondary is supposed to be doing. Discarded Miami coach Manny Diaz is now coordinating the defense after the U’s unit regressed every season under his watch.
While Franklin has gone to, and won, New Year’s Day bowl games, a fanbase like Penn State’s is a what have you done for me lately bunch, and lately, it’s been too much Clifford.
By all accounts, Franklin is a standup guy, and a good enough coach to get mentioned for bigger enough jobs but not actually good enough to land one. The university hurried up to sign him because USC was “lurking,” which they never were, and now there’s a hefty buyout for him.
The issue with this era of Penn State football has never been a lack of talent — Saquon Barkley, Micah Parsons, and Miles Sanders are among a few talented players to come out of that school. The team has never quite been able to maximize the quarterback position. (Remember Christian Hackenberg? [Editor’s note: He couldn’t Hack it in the NFL…I’ll see my way out]. I loved Trace McSorely, too, but the Lions’ points per game average has finished as many seasons 90th or worst as it has in the top 25, with a 32nd and 54th ranking to round out Franklin’s eight seasons.
I don’t know much about this Drew Allar guy other than the five-stars in his recruiting profile, but even I know enough about Clifford to think he shouldn’t be starting. A result of the pandemic has been these super super seniors, and a few guys have benefitted from an extra year of eligibility. That said, there are a few who haven’t and are either on different rosters, or plaguing the dreams of their school’s supporters.
NFL organizations barely give quarterbacks they drafted four years’ worth of starts before they’re ready to pick another one. Franklin’s loyalty to Clifford is laudable albeit a little misguided. I understand it. Going up against a conference opponent in the first game of the season makes debuting a true freshman a risky endeavor.
Week 2 versus Ohio is a better time to see what the Allar has because a trip to Auburn awaits in Week 3. The Nittany Lions weren’t ranked in the Top 25 before the season for the first year since 2016, and after 4-5 and 7-6 showings, it was warranted. It’s also probably why Franklin and Co. were touted as underrated in the lead-up to 2022.
Everyone knows they have talent, and the Big Ten schedule falls in their favor, with every tough game — save for Michigan — at Beaver Stadium. Extension be damned, there’s no excuse for this team to be anywhere near .500, and yet that’s the kind of football it played Thursday.