How distracting are the distractions?
James Franklin was fired up after the game railing about “the stuff that doesn’t matter,” stuff that includes the College Football Playoff rankings. What does matter to the head coach is each and every game, and going 1-0 that week. “Goal-setting, I don’t believe in it,” he said. “We’re not goal-setting. We’re focusing on the task at hand, getting better today, waking up in the morning doing back handsprings out of bed, attack the day with everything we’ve got and at the end of the day go to sleep and do it again the next day. Put a bunch of days like that, the results will take care of themselves.” As for the noise the distractions represent, he said, “We haven’t handled it well. That’s on me and that won’t happen again.” For a player’s opinion, we go to senior tight end Mike Gesicki, who said, “You make one play (in the losses to Ohio State and Michigan State) and we’re sitting here at 9-0 and nobody’s talking about the noise. I do think it can be a distraction. I don’t necessarily think it was a huge distraction for us.”
The Heisman Trophy may be slipping from Saquon Barkley’s grasp
ESPN Stats and Info came out with a statistic at halftime for all the world to see, that Barkley had managed positive rushing yards in just three of his last seven halves of football. He made it four out of eight Saturday with a 63-yard second half but the familiar woes of the running game have continued. When Franklin was asked after the game why Barkley was struggling, he replied, “Saquon didn’t struggle today, our offense struggled at times today. … It’s not a Saquon issue, it’s a team issue.” Barkley had some plays of notice – a 36-yard run, a 20-yard reception and even a 20-yard pass completion, making him 2-of-2 for the season as a thrower. But his advantage in the Heisman race may be diminishing, especially after Saturday’s performance by Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who passed for 598 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Oklahoma State. Barkley fans are hoping for some big time bounceback next week at home against Rutgers. Which leads us to …
Can Franklin and Joe Moorhead fix the running game?
It’s the same old song and dance, with Barkley finding opposing tacklers there to greet him when he takes a handoff from Trace McSorley and tries unsuccessfully to find some running room. Franklin said the line isn’t physical enough. “We’re going to get it corrected. We’re going to become more of a hard-nosed team up front on both sides of the ball, offense and defense, tight O-line, running backs, everybody. We’ve got to be more physical up front. We’re not right now.” Maybe Moorhead, the offensive coordinator, will call more plays like he did in the second half, with Barkley having some momentum heading into the line on a handoff for a run between the tackles. It was somewhat encouraging for Penn State but the job of fixing the attack continues this week.
The lack of discipline hurt
The Nittany Lions, who were averaging a little more than four penalties per game through eight games, were flagged for seven on Saturday – five of them contributing to scoring drives by the Spartans. The Lions were called for a late hit out of bounds on kickoff coverage following their first touchdown and had a debatable pass interference penalty called later on the same drive. There was another pass interference penalty in the second quarter, an illegal block on kickoff coverage in the fourth and, the call that led to the game-winning field goal, a roughing-the-passer penalty against blitzing free safety Marcus Allen. The simple answer is that it all comes back to focus, something Franklin suggested his team didn’t fully have. But whatever it is, Penn State has to address it.
The secondary is looking bad
Penn State had not allowed an opposing quarterback to pass for 200 yards in any of its first seven games. But in the last two weeks, the Nittany Lions have given up 328 yards to Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and 400 yards to Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke. Lewerke’s magical day also included five completed passes for successful conversions on third down and 10 yards or more. It’s true that the Lions’ pass rush has succeeded at a level well below what it had achieved earlier in the season, getting only two sacks of Lewerke. But as Franklin touched on in his post-game remarks, “Do we have to cover better? No doubt about it.” Besides the coverage not being there, the defensive backs also missed an alarming number of tackles. “We missed tackles and they got the first downs,” senior cornerback Grant Haley said. “That’s unacceptable.”