99 Things – #53 James Franklin and Game Management


There is no secret James Franklin struggles with clock management when he is winning. Numerous occasions have resulted in him faulting down the stretch and giving away a big game when they were winning. His game management skills will likely be called into question once again this season which is why it is the subject of today’s 99 Things. Just Google James Franklin game management and you can find articles from different sources over the past few years occurring after various games in which Penn State lost or nearly lost. Today we will touch on a few of the more famous mishaps in Franklin’s career.

One of the most famous slipups by Franklin happened in the 2017 Rose Bowl. USC defeated Penn State by a score of 52-49. The box score raises eyebrows for fans. Franklin and Penn State scored all 49 of their points in the second and third quarter. They were head scoreless in the first and fourth quarter. Franklin loves to work the clock when he gets ahead similar to many coaches. The main issue with working the clock is you still need to get first downs. Having a formidable rushing attack is preferred but if a certain player, scheme or style is working you keep going to it. Rushing the ball three times and punting is not going to win you the game.

In the final minutes against USC Franklin had the ball up seven points. His All-American running back, Saquon Barkley, was able to get one first down on his own but the next set of downs were a different story. The next three plays went for zero yards, six yards, then a loss of seven. All of the plays were handoffs to Barkley which USC expected each time. USC had to use all of their timeouts which was good for Penn State but with the clock stopping after each first down in college football, timeouts are not as vital as fans think. USC would proceed to tie the game on their ensuing possession. Penn State would get the ball back and after having almost no momentum the past few drives were forced to try and pass the ball. Trace McSorley would throw an interception setting USC up for the game winning touchdown.

One other infamous example from Franklin is the the 4th and five play against Ohio State. For context, Penn State held a 26-14 lead with eight minutes left in the game. Ohio State would score a touchdown just over a minute later with 6:42 still remaining. McSorley would rush for 22 yards of his 175 total rushing yards on the next drive. Along with some help from penalties, Penn State crossed midfield but was later forced to punt. Ohio State would score another touchdown with 2:03 to play giving the Buckeyes a 27-26 lead. This is where James Franklin’s game management comes into play.

McSorley starts the drive hitting Pat Freiermuth with a beautiful pass down the seam for 27 yards crossing midfield. The next play was a QB draw which resulted in a four yard loss. This was a good play call because McSorley had torched the Buckeyes with his legs. The next play was an incomplete pass to Brandon Polk deep into double coverage. This play seemed uncalled for. Penn State only needed a field goal so trying to push the ball down field inside the 10 was too aggressive. Penn State had three timeouts so the middle of the field was still in play. On 3rd and 14 McSorley keeps the ball on a read option. He gets nine yards to put his team in a 4th and five situation at the 43 yard line. Penn State immediately calls a timeout to stop the clock.

After both teams line up, Ohio State calls a timeout. After both teams line up again, Penn State calls their second time out. At this point, three timeouts have been called before the fourth down play. Penn State lines up and appears to change the play once again with Miles Sanders moving from McSorley’s right to his left. McSorley snaps the ball and hands it off to Sanders who is tackled for a loss of two. Sanders had 43 rushing yards and averaged 2.7 yards per carry this game. Fans and media questioned Franklin on the play call. Why was the ball not in McSorely’s hands and allow him to pass or throw? Did McSorley have the option to keep the ball because the play did not appear so.

These are two of the more famous incidents where Franklin’s game and clock management have potentially cost him a victory. Other games include 2020 Indiana, 2017 Ohio State and 2015 Northwestern. Franklin made questionable decisions in games last year including calling a timeout before his own kicker attempted a field goal which resulted in possible icing him. Will 2022 hold more questionable game management from James Franklin?


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