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Penn State Football: Franklin Talks Late Red Zone Series Against Ohio State

on November 01, 2017 2:00 PM

With 7:16 to go Penn State stood just 21 feet from a probable victory. The Nittany Lions were already up 35-27, and found themselves plodding down the field, converting third-downs and more. It was a drive that could have put the game away.

And yet Penn State couldn't quite do it, a 24-yard field goal by Tyler Davis made it 28-27 with 5:45 to go. Still a fairly safe lead, but as it would turn out, one point less than the Buckeyes' eventual total.

So what happened on those three downs at the Ohio State seven? On first down Trace McSorley ran three yards to the four. On second down he made it to the three. On that pivotal third down it was Saquon Barkley's turn, and he lost three yards. So close and yet so far.

There were a lot of things that played into that sequence, least of all a defense that wasn't going to let the likes of Juwan Johnson or Mike Gesicki have a coverage advantage in the end zone.

"I think what happens, a lot of people don't understand, you don't know when we have a run or pass called because every play is essentially a run or pass," James Franklin said earlier this week. "We're not just going to throw the ball into the end zone if the look is not there. Every single one of those plays. We had a fade call to Mike Gesicki. There were two defensive backs over his head, so we ran the ball in that situation. You'd love to come out with a touchdown in that situation."

It may have made all of the difference.

In the end Franklin isn't wrong, and Penn State's offense is sort of the peak of taking what the defensive gives you. The problem is that it's so often a run in a running game that is struggle to move the ball. Conversely, Penn State isn't getting defended the same way it was in 2016, and in turn the explosive plays are of a different variety.

"I think what I did mention to you guys that I think is the model that a lot of people are using now is that they're going to play a soft coverage and make us throw underneath," Franklin said. "We're not getting the 80-yard touchdowns or 70-yard touchdowns that we've had in the past, but we're still creating explosive plays. We're throwing the ball underneath, the guy is running for 16 yards rather than catching the ball behind the defense. And that's smart."

"Ohio State had an extra week to prepare. They played some stuff on offense and defense that we hadn't seen them do all year long. That's what the extra week of preparation does. But I don't think it's necessarily that people are predicting what we're doing. I think people are saying we're going to overload the box, we're going to play some version of a soft quarters or some version of a soft cover two and not allow you to throw the ball over our heads. You're going to get big plays, but they are going to be 16-yard plays, 20-yard plays, not 50-yard plays. Are you going to be able to do that consistently down the field against us? Michigan decided not to play that style, and we were able to get the ball behind them, create some explosive plays."

Overall it's hard to argue with the results. For as imperfect as Penn State's offense might be it's still putting up points in bunches, and that's all that really matters.

Then again, 21 feet out from victory, it's hard to ignore the points that never happened.

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