James Franklin takes accountability, breaks down offensive issues from loss to Ohio State

Penn State’s loss to Ohio State may be in the rearview mirror, but it was a key point of discussion Tuesday afternoon during James Franklin’s weekly press conference.

Here’s everything you need to know about what Franklin said about the 20-12 loss to the Buckeyes.

What went wrong on offense

There was plenty to point to after the loss, but Franklin narrowed it down to a key component on offense.

“Our lack of success on third down really kind of changed the game,” Franklin said. “We just didn’t have enough opportunities. We couldn’t get into a flow. Didn’t get enough touches for people. When you have the lack of success that we had on third down, it’s hard to get anything going.”

The team’s struggles on third down were exacerbated by the issues on early downs and Penn State’s general inability to get to third and short situations. Some of that comes down to execution, but some also falls at the feet of offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

Franklin said after the game that the offensive play calling would be evaluated on Sunday, and after having the opportunity to do that, gave his thoughts on how things went against the Buckeyes.

“Yeah, I think we talked about staying true to our identity, and I thought we got a little bit away from that at times,” he said. “Somebody asked me earlier about our goal line package that we’ve been using, the three running backs and things like that that have been very successful in short yardage. We kind of got away from that. I didn’t feel like we had been as consistent and as aggressive in certain areas that maybe we had been in the past. Part of that is who you’re playing from a talent and scheme standpoint, obviously. But, yeah, obviously when you are talking about evaluating that, opening drives are a big evaluator of that in terms of game planning and success. Third down is a big indicator for quarterbacks as well as coordinators. Red zone, those things I think are very telling. Yeah, obviously based on the lack of success, it was not a good game for us.”

The offensive problems may have come against one of the best defenses in the country, but still could have been avoided with a different approach. Franklin said the team always considers changing how it does things in case things become overly complex when they don’t need to be.

“Yeah, I think we looked at the numbers of plays in each game plan, how many new ideas we’ve had at each game plan,” he said. “I think we’re talking specifically about this game because up until then I thought we had done a good job of, again, playing the game the way we’ve been playing the game and managing the game and being able to score points, being able to stay on the field, converting whether it was third down or fourth down, sequencing, things like that. Yeah, I think the first thing you do is sit here and say, do we need to narrow it down and make sure that we have these things in the run game, these things in the pass game that we can hang our hat on? I think that’s fair.”

Penn State football coach James Franklin answers questions during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023.
Penn State football coach James Franklin answers questions during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023.

Are the wide receivers a problem?

Plenty will blame Yurcich, Franklin and even sophomore quarterback Drew Allar, but the team’s offense as a whole was an issue in the game.

“I would say in general I don’t feel like we played up to our standards in that environment,” Franklin said. “That’s pretty much across the board, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.”

One of those areas that has become a sticking point is the wide receiver position. KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Harrison Wallace III are a clear No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart at this point, but did not produce at the level the program needed in order to win Saturday’s game.

Lambert-Smith hauled six passes for 52 yards, while Wallace caught two for 19 yards. Franklin said the receivers as a whole have not been as consistent in some aspects as they need to be.

“How much are we creating separation either on a vertical, on a run-away route?” he said. “And that’s what you can do as a skill player to show that you should be getting more opportunities, by the way you separate and the way you’re able to get open. Our production has not been there as consistently as it needs to be. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

While the team continues to trust its top two options, the rest of the position has been a problem thus far. No player has stepped up to fill the third receiver spot through seven games and there doesn’t seem to be a breakthrough coming soon. Part of the problem is not necessarily how players are producing, but things that those on the outside don’t see.

“Those things factor into decision-making as well because you can be as productive as you want, but if you are making too many missed assignments, then it’s kind of a wash,” Franklin said. “All those things factor into it as well. It may not be even as drastic as looking at the wrong signal and we’re throwing a pass, and you are blocking down the field. It may not be as drastic as that. It may be the details of a route. Supposed to be at 12 yards, and you are breaking it at 8 yards. It may be your landmark is to the inside edge of the numbers, and you are actually in the divide. That spacing impacts how you stress the defense and that spacing impacts the quarterback’s decision-making and accuracy.”

Taking accountability for the loss

The loss makes Franklin 1-9 against Ohio State in his 10 matchups with them, a number that fans and staff alike would want to be much closer to .500. And there can be plenty of reasoning and rationale for why that’s the case, but he said the buck ultimately stops with him.

“I think it’s more than fair to judge me and my staff for all of it, right?,” he said. “I mean, that’s what it’s about. The good, the bad, the consistency, the lack of success in that game, all of it. That’s totally fair to be judged by all of those things. I also think it’s important to judge the entire body of work, all of it, which I don’t need to get into right now because I don’t want it to come off the wrong way. Yeah, I think it’s totally fair to be judged based on all those things.”

Franklin said he was prepared to credit the players had the team come out with the win against the Buckeyes. Instead, he took fault for the program’s shortcomings in the game and for its flaws in other losses.

“When it doesn’t happen, it is ultimately on me and my responsibility,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. There’s no gray area about that whatsoever. Is it nuanced, and is there a lot of things that go into that that ultimately no one really cares about at that time? Yes. There’s no doubt about it. At the end of the day the most important thing is for me to take responsibility and do everything within my power to get it fixed.”