At this point in the 2016 season, nothing that happened Saturday should affect the status of Penn State’s coaching staff.
It was an awful afternoon at The Big House for the Nittany Lions. Michigan manhandled Penn State on both sides of the line of scrimmage and cruised to a 49-10 victory.
Is it embarrassing for the Penn State players, coaches and fans? Sure. Should this result, on its own, change anyone’s opinion about the future of the program? No.
Anyone who thinks Penn State needs a new coach on Sunday morning almost certainly thought that on Friday.
Penn State began the game Saturday missing four starters on defense, including all three linebackers. Brandon Smith, who began the season as the third-string middle linebacker, started the game and was ejected because of a bogus targeting call. The fourth-string middle linebacker, and second walk-on to man the position, was injured and left the game.
The Nittany Lions couldn’t stop the run against the No. 4-ranked team in the nation that boasts a veteran offensive line, several talented running backs and one of the best football coaches at any level, who also happens to love and obsess over power football.
If Penn State had Bob Shoop, Dick LeBeau and the ghost of Buddy Ryan in its defensive coaching meetings this past week, Jim Harbaugh’s team still would have been able to run the ball effectively.
Penn State remains at a severe roster disadvantage against any elite team, and the injuries to the defense have been devastating. Franklin and his coaching staff have some excellent players to work with. Harbaugh has many more, and almost all of them are older and more experienced.
When a college football program marries a group of highly rated recruits with an excellent coaching staff, you get what Michigan has right now. It’s what Alabama and Ohio State have, too.
While Michigan did not win as many games as fans wanted when Brady Hoke was in charge, the Wolverines did recruit well and Harbaugh is benefitting. Michigan had the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation in 2012, and No. 4 in 2013, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Those players are redshirt seniors and seniors/redshirt juniors now. Jourdan Lewis, Taco Charlton, DeVeon Smith, Mike McCray, Jake Butt, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson … these are all great players from those two recruiting classes. Toss in young five-star talents like Jabrill Peppers and Rashan Gary, add a Hall of Fame level coach like Harbaugh and that’s how a team ends up in the national title discussion.
Penn State finished the 2012 and 2013 recruiting cycles with the No. 46 and No. 33-ranked classes, respectively. Even if Franklin wasn’t dealing with the residual effects of the NCAA sanctions, those recruiting rankings alone show that Michigan should handle Penn State with ease.
There are three individual plays or decisions worth criticizing. Lining up for a field goal, calling a timeout and then still kicking a field goal when the score was 28-0 in the second half was a bad look for the Nittany Lions. Going away from Saquon Barkley after he found some success in the first quarter, which resulted in a drive quickly short-circuiting, was a bad idea.
Players were not arguing with each other or the coaching staff on the sideline. There were no obvious signs of players giving up on the field. There is no “Franklin’s players quit on him” or “Franklin has lost control of the program” narrative for people to cling to here.
It would be a good idea for Penn State to not make this a habit in 2016 and to figure out a way to be more competitive against Ohio State and Michigan State later in the season. Yes, Penn State should be able to compete with ranked teams, but expecting the Nittany Lions to do so against the truly elite ones at this point in the program’s rebuilding process is a pretty tough ask.
And any idea that Penn State getting blown out by one of the best teams in the nation Saturday is somehow the final straw or the “see, I told you so” moment in Franklin’s tenure seems like a pretty silly one.