Penn State Coach James Franklin: “Gotta Give Ohio State Credit... We Struggled with Marvin Harrison (Jr.)”

By George Eisner on October 29, 2022 at 5:47 pm

After his eighth loss to Ohio State in nine tries, Penn State head coach James Franklin assumed the podium full of takeaways on his mind.

“You have to give Ohio State credit, really talented team. I thought we played our tail off,” Franklin said in his opening statement. “Obviously, first half we were able to overcome the turnovers, stay in the game and battle. But you can't turn the ball over that many times against that type of opponent and think you're going to be successful.”

Franklin went on to say, “there's a ton of stuff to be proud of, but there's just as much stuff that we need to correct tomorrow. There's a lot of corrections obviously that we have to make.”

After a fumble and three interceptions from Nittany Lion quarterback Sean Clifford led to a trio of touchdowns for Ohio State, Franklin clearly made the turnover margin a theme of criticism in his team's performance.

“To me, the game starts and ends with the turnovers,” Franklin said. “You can't give that type of team a short field that many times and be successful, it's going to make it really challenging.”

On Clifford specifically, Franklin made sure to highlight the positives he saw in his starting signal caller but made sure to keep the results in perspective. While doing so, Penn State's head coach also alluded to the impact Zach Harrison and J.T. Tuimoloau had on Clifford in stating, “I thought (Clifford) played gutsy and made some big time plays but obviously you can't have the turnovers... around really long, athletic defensive ends, you have to find a throwing lane.”

However, even with the turnovers, Franklin acknowledged that the Nittany Lions' path to victory was going to require assumption of risk to produce competitive offense.

“We knew this type of opponent we were going to have to be able to score points on,” Franklin explained. “They're explosive on the offensive side of the ball, they're explosive on the defensive side of the ball — played our tails off but made too many critical mistakes.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy high-stakes moments manifested in Franklin's aggressive decision-making in fourth-down situations. Penn State converted three of its four tries on fourth down in this game. When asked what cultivated that mindset, Franklin elaborated, “coming into this season, we wanted to be aggressive on fourth down. Coming into this game, you look at [Ohio State's] game last week, we knew we were going to have to be able to score some points against these guys — take some risks, take some chances.”

“Obviously the three that we converted were big and allowed us to score points, score touchdowns, we're going to have to take on some of those risks,” Franklin continued. “But again, the margin for error against these types of opponents is very small.”

The Nittany Lions did have success throughout the game with some fresh approaches on offense, especially a shallow t-formation that the team frequently relied on in short-yardage situations. Franklin relayed how this was always going to be a crucial part of Penn State's game plan when he said, “some of the things we did from a change-up perspective in terms of formations and personnel groups I think helped us. It gave them some things to think about, they weren't as confident with our formations and what we were going to run out of our formations. It was a nice change-up and allowed us to move the ball, we moved the ball pretty effectively against that team.”

Particularly in the first half, the Nittany Lions did a much better job than the Buckeyes in executing swinging screen passes out to the edges that kept Ohio State's defense spread out. 

“When you're playing that type of defense with that type of pass rush, you have to do some things to help your offensive line and your quarterback out,” Franklin noted. “Change of pace things... obviously with that type of pass rush, you need to keep them with different looks and schemes, keep them on their toes and on their heels with those things to be concerned about as well.”

“you can't turn the ball over that many times against that type of opponent and think you're going to be successful.”– James Franklin, On What the Biggest Difference Was Between Ohio State and Penn State

As for his defense's performance, Franklin refused to heap blame on that side of the football for the loss given the difficult situations the takeaways often put them in. 

“I thought we played our tails off, especially with a bunch of short fields,” Franklin emphasized. “I think they had the one drive right after we went down and got the lead again, they had the one long drive that they put together where they went tempo a couple of times. But for as many short fields as they had tonight, they played really well.”

Of course, Franklin would have been remiss to dismiss the performance of one Ohio State receiver in particular that dominated the afternoon.

“The one guy we struggled with is Marvin Harrison (Jr.). He’s obviously a really good player and they went to him time and time again," Franklin relented. "But overall, we played really well.”

Harrison Jr. ended the day with 10 receptions for 185 yards. While he failed to find the end zone for only the third time in eight games this season, the Buckeyes' standout wideout picked up several chunk gains and first downs to save Ohio State from some shaky offensive series and situations throughout the contest.

Later in the press conference, Franklin was asked about the perceived gap between Ohio State and Michigan's programs relative to Penn State, to which he replied, “they got good football teams and we played really well today against Ohio State. Had the chance to win the game, made too many mistakes in critical moments, which you can't do against a top-ranked team like that.”

Looking ahead to the remainder of the Nittany Lions schedule, Franklin opined, “losses are hard, that’s our job as coaches and their jobs as players to rebound.”

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