Penn State Football losing to No. 5 ranked Michigan 41-17, in crushing fashion feels like rock bottom of the James Franklin era.
Michigan’s at times effortless thrashing of the Nittany Lions up front, rushing for 418 yards, exposed some difficult truths about the state of the Penn State Football program under Franklin, as the Lions dropped their first defeat of the season.
Here are key takeaways from Penn State Football’s loss
1. It is time to move on from Sean Clifford
It is hard to blame everything that happened in this game on Penn State Football quarterback Sean Clifford, but a lot of the issues do stem back to the quarterback.
The sixth-year senior still looks like he never has his feet set in the pocket, and rushes his decision making. While the play calling wasn’t always the best at times, some of that is because of who the Nittany Lions have behind center and what the ability level is.
Clifford has provided a lot of good moments in his Penn State career, but the ceiling has been reached and it is time to move on.
That isn’t to say that Allar played any better when he came in, but it is also hard to judge with the game already well out of hand.
If Clifford did indeed sustain an injury, the coaching staff should play Allar next week during the Whiteout and just take a shot with him against the Buckeyes, the following.
At this point we know what this team is and having Clifford at QB isn’t going to alter the season that much. Playing Allar will give him valuable experience and set up Penn State better for next season.
2. Michigan dominated in the trenches
The Nittany Lions’ offensive and defensive lines were dominated all day by Michigan.
The defense could not contain the run and allowed a whopping 418 yards on the ground. The Wolverines averaged 7.6 yards per carry and took the lead with a 67-yard Donovan Edwards in the third quarter and followed it up with a 61-yard Blake Corum run that iced the game.
It was quite honestly an embarrassing performance by the defense and specifically the defensive line.
There were some plays where they would get a 2-yard loss or no gain but almost never could get that on back-to-back plays.
Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy had all day to throw, and this often led to the eventual breakdown of the Penn State secondary. The defensive line will have plenty to clean up if they expect to slow down Mohamed Ibrahim during the Whiteout next week.
3. Need to fix the Linebacker position
This feels wrong at a place like Penn State, with such a rich history at the position, but the Linebacker position needs to be reevaluated.
However, it seems now that the Nittany Lions only have two linebackers with any sort of talent on the roster. Curtis Jacobs who scored the miraculous pick-six has been solid all season and Abdul Carter has shown flashes multiple times throughout the season.
At some point this staff needs to change from the mindset of Jacobs or Carter on the field and switch to Jacobs and Carter. Tyler Elsdon just isn’t athletic enough to start against top tier competition. He gets beat in pass coverage often, and plenty of times this afternoon he found himself sucked into the wrong gaps and allowed big rushing plays. Sutherland has never seemed to breakthrough in his career. While Linebacker is a better position for Sutherland than safety because it highlights his ability to stop the run, he still seems like more of a rotation player.
Abdul Carter simply needs to start somewhere on the field and at this point it doesn’t matter where he plays.
4. James Franklin’s struggle continue
Franklin now moves to 3-7 off a bye in his time at the helm of Penn State Football, and 1-4 at Ann Arbor.
The inability to win big time road games and against ranked competition continues to be a problem.
It doesn’t seem like Penn State Football will ever break through to the elite level like the coach promised four years ago in his no infamous post-game press conference, following a loss to Ohio State.
Is James Franklin the correct coach to take the Nittany Lions to where they want to be? There isn’t an obvious choice out there of a possible replacement.
If Penn State Football wants to compete at the highest level, they would need someone who can recruit with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, and USC. It doesn’t seem like Matt Rhule or Lance Leipold are the correct choices because they are more program builders with less talent.
It is frustrating for Penn State fans to watch this song and dance once again, especially after the recent big contract extension. We will just have to wait and see how the Nittany Lions respond against Minnesota and Ohio State over the next two weeks.
If this team pulls off the upset and finishes strong maybe the discussion changes, but at this point all we can do is just sit and wonder.
5. There is a gap between the top of the Big 10 and PSU
Fans hoped that the Nittany Lions could be considered in that top tier with Michigan and Ohio State, but it appears there is still a massive gap.
The question now becomes whether Penn State Football melts down and loses six of its last eight like last season.
The benefit of having the whiteout after the Michigan loss could be beneficial in making sure the team comes out fired up and doesn’t have a let down against Minnesota, which was brilliant scheduling on the program’s part, given the track record of losses bleeding into the following weeks.
Penn State Football still has the potential to finish 10-2 with losses to Michigan and Ohio State and possibly make a New Year’s Six bowl game.
The inconsistencies of the offense leave the door open for a possible upset to a lesser talented team and that is what many fans have been afraid of. The team is young and next year was always supposed to be the better season. At some point though progress needs to be shown and that means putting up respectable scores at the very least against the likes of Michigan and Ohio State on the road.
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