Penn State comes back to earth entering bye week

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Penn State head coach James Franklin. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The ever-optimistic coach James Franklin offered something new last weekend, and it wasn't a positive adjective. In fact, it was a different tone entirely.

"I promise you and guarantee you it will be fixed," Franklin said of Penn State's performance after an unexpected 23-point loss to Northwestern on Saturday.

Franklin's previously unbeaten Nittany Lions appeared primed to enter their first bye week with a full head of steam. News of the sanctions being rescinded led to an increased buzz around a program that had its bowl ban lifted less than three weeks ago. The removed sanctions offered the potential for a return to an 85-scholarship roster as soon as next season.

A week ago, the Lions found themselves as highly ranked as 27th in the coaches poll, with a chance of entering the top 25 for the first time since 2011.

Just 10 months after former coach Bill O'Brien's departure for the NFL led to a national coaching search, Penn State headed into the Northwestern game with a chance to become 5-0. Franklin - whose news conferences have been flooded with the word "awesome" since he arrived in January - wasn't the only one with high spirits in Happy Valley.

But the dreary 29-6 loss to the Wildcats, who were 10-point underdogs, led many of the 100,000-plus homecoming fans to exit Beaver Stadium early. Penn State mustered 266 total yards, just 50 of them coming on the ground, and its inexperienced offensive line showed continued growing pains, allowing four sacks and nine tackles for losses.

After the game, Franklin dedicated both an opening and closing statement to hammer home the point that he would "get this fixed" and adamantly defended his linemen.

"Those kids care about this team and Christian Hackenberg and playing better than anybody," Franklin said.

On a conference call Tuesday with Big Ten coaches, Franklin elaborated on issues that "came to a head" against the Wildcats. The Lions had come from behind late to win two of their first four games.

"We had been playing a certain way for four weeks and been able to get by with it by just being gutsy and [persevering] and just finding a way at the end of games," Franklin said. "And you can only do that for so long."

The result: This week's bye isn't setting up Penn State for an opportunity to remain undefeated; rather, it offers a chance against Michigan to respond to the first setback of Franklin's tenure with the team.

The coach said his staff's message to players at the team's Sunday meeting reminded them to use the loss to grow as a unit.

"We just went in and said, 'Hey, guys, all of us could have done better, myself included. These are the things we've got to get better moving forward,' " Franklin said. "If you handle this the right way, it can turn into a positive because it forces you to deal with some of the issues that you have."

Senior linebacker Mike Hull said the team has done well in adopting the coach's mentality, and he expects players to put the bye week to good use after the disappointing loss.

"I think everyone's done a good job of handling last week's game. We came in on Sunday and pushed the rest button," Hull said. "We watched the film, learned from our mistakes, and now we're ready to work out our kinks during this bye week."