Standing to the side of a stadium tunnel with media members as Buckeye fans exited after storming the field, Penn State head coach James Franklin recalled the 33-24 loss his team had just suffered to Ohio State on the eve of Halloween.
"We weren't able to [drive] consistently enough and turnovers are what really kind of caught us. Give [Ohio State] a bunch of credit, it's a good football team. We weren't able to do it consistently the way we needed to on the road to get this win."
Franklin further noted later on, "I'm glad we came and competed, we did some good things and gave ourselves a chance to win. But at the end of the day, we didn't get it done."
Between a nine overtime loss to Illinois a week ago and now the Nittany Lions' latest setback against Ohio State, it has been an end to October to forget for Franklin and the Penn State faithful alike. However, even with Bret Bielema and the Illini firmly in the rearview, that did not stop Franklin from having to yield multiple questions concerning week-over-week performance comparisons for his team.
"I think one of the biggest differences was Sean's health tonight," said Franklin after initially declining to answer why he thought the Nittany Lions played so much better against Ohio State than they had the previous week. "I thought that made a big difference."
“Staying on the Field Gave Us a Chance to Put Some Significant Drives Together.”– James Franklin
Asked for more details on the turnaround of his quarterback, Franklin was quick to praise several aspects of what Clifford did against Ohio State.
"[Clifford] took some shots, made some big-time throws in traffic, stepped up in the pocket and made some very accurate throws. On third down, I thought he did a really good job of managing that with the protections as well."
Indeed, third-down efficiency proved to be one of the leading factors in Penn State keeping the game interesting for the duration of the contest. The Nittany Lions converted 11 of their 18 third-down opportunities on the evening, and Franklin absolutely recognized the role that had in his team's success.
"I thought Mike [Yurcich] called a good game, especially on third down. That stood out to me. Staying on the field gave us a chance to put some significant drives together."
But even with the positives, Franklin still saw plenty of negatives. Turnovers are usually the difference in games between these teams, and Penn State's head coach recognized there were too many of them tonight to realistically leave Columbus with a victory.
"There are some critical mistakes we have to eliminate if we want to win consistently," noted Franklin after earlier stating that, "we've just got to eliminate the turnovers. The turnovers are costly — it's hard to win when you turn the ball over."
On the decision to punt late on 4th and 5, Franklin recalled that, "I felt like it was going to give us the best chance. We had gone for it on 4th down earlier, didn't pick it up. Thought we could pin them deep, play good defense, and give us the best chance."
Franklin also lamented his pass rush's ability to get to the quarterback and make C.J. Stroud uncomfortable. "We weren't able to get pressure on the quarterback or sacks, but overall I thought we played really well."
When once again asked about the team's performance relative to Illinois, Franklin countered, "I don't really want to get into last week. Obviously, there's a reason — some of the decisions we made and some of our personnel challenges from last week. But I think we have defended the run well all year long except for last week. There's reasons for that, but nobody wants to hear it."
"I've thought we've played hard all year long with a challenging schedule, especially early on," noted Franklin as he attempted to put Penn State's entire 2021 to this point into perspective. "We didn't play good enough to win tonight, but we're close. I'm gonna keep working with these guys, loving these guys, and we'll find a way to get a win next week."
For a guy that said he was completely focused on Illinois this week, he sure did not want to talk about them in his post-game press conference.