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Conference Corner: How to feel about James Franklin

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Twitter is ablaze with takes on his 4th-and-5 play call that clinched the home loss to Ohio State.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan faithful have first-hand knowledge of Penn State head coach James Franklin and his questionable in-game decisions.

In 2014 in Ann Arbor, Penn State lined up for a punt from the Michigan 37-yard line on 4th-and-11. Franklin called for a fake punt sweep, thinking he could get double-digit yardage when his team averaged less than two yards a rush that night.

In 2016, he called for a field goal down 28-0. It turned a four-score game into a ... four-score game.

Which leads to 2018 against Ohio State. This is what he dialed up on 4th-and-5 in the final minutes — after two timeouts:

The criticism was universal.

Bad decisions, sometimes? Yes. Kind of jerk in press conferences? Check. Bad coach, as some are proclaiming? Not even close.

Look at his resume. He led Vanderbilt to a 24-15 record, including two 9-win seasons, two bowl victories and two top 25 finishes. To put that into perspective, those were the first 9-win seasons in Nashville since 1915, and half of their all-time bowl triumphs.

You don’t turn around a historically moribund program like that without some coaching skill.

Turn to his time at Penn State. His first year was also the Nittany Lions’s first bowl-eligible year since the Jerry Sandusky NCAA violations. After two 7-6 seasons, and an ugly 2-2 start to 2016, he righted the ship to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth.

A year later, he’s a one-point loss in Columbus from a repeat championship. He also let offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead completely outfox Don Brown.

Yes, he won on the back of Saquon Barkley, lucked into previously unknown Trace McSorley and rode Moorhead’s coattails. This translates to recruiting well, developing talent and surrounding himself with good coordinators.

To the last point: Jim Harbaugh is calling. He wants his Jedd Fisch back.

While criticizing his play calls and decisions is totally valid, don’t get confused. Despite some saying he’s a middle-of-the-road coach, remember: He has more Big Ten titles and bowl wins than Harbaugh.

RECAPS

NO. 4 OHIO STATE 27, NO. 9 PENN STATE 26

For the second straight meeting, Ohio State overcame a double-digit fourth quarter deficit against Penn State to win by a single point.

Entering the night, both defenses looked vulnerable — the Buckeyes (5-0) let TCU rack up over 500 yards, while the Nittany Lions (4-1) let Appalachian State and Illinois run all over them. Also, Urban Meyer lost star defensive end Nick Bosa to injury against Tulane the week prior.

Despite this, both units rose to the occasion. The high-scoring offenses scored less than half of their season averages. The Nittany Lions — despite several expected and unexpected departures up front — stifled the J.K.-Dobbins-and-Mike-Weber-led rushing attack to just three yards a carry. Outside of Trace McSorley — more in a second — Penn State rushed 19 times for 31 yards.

It was a night for quarterbacks, as Dwayne Haskins and McSorley cemented their status as the conference’s top-two signal-callers. The latter almost singlehandedly won the game by:

  • Completing 16-of-32 passes for 282 yards and two scores
  • Rushing for 175 yards on 25 carries, setting Penn State single-game and career rushing records for a quarterback.

His 461 total yards also set a program record. Why was the ball not in his hands on 4th-and-5?

Meanwhile, Haskins shook off a wobbly first half to led a comeback from down 26-14. He started 7-of-16 for 62 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He completed his next 15-of-23 passes for 208 yards and the deciding two scores.

They both performed at a Heisman Trophy level.

The Buckeyes look to cruise for a month against the likes of Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska. The next battle for the Buckeyes is a road trek to East Lansing, always precarious as Mark Dantonio has beaten Urban Meyer twice in six tries.

Meanwhile, Franklin has a bye week to right the ship before hosting the same Spartans on Oct. 13. Battles against Michigan and Wisconsin also loom.

Next game for Ohio State against Indiana (4 p.m., FOX)

Bye week for Penn State

NO. 21 MICHIGAN STATE 31, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 20

The Spartans (3-1) dominated the middle two quarters, but lost the first and final ones by a combined 20-0.

For context, the Chippewas sport a 1-4 record, rank No. 120 overall on S&P and let Power Five bottom-dweller Kansas beat them by 24. The computers at least think highly of Utah State (No. 40). This one was just underwhelming.

Whereas McSorley and Haskins proved their mettle Saturday night, Brian Lewerke is still struggling to regain his late-season form of last year. After no touchdowns and an interception this weekend, he now has a 5-5 TD-INT ratio.

Michigan State also failed again to get a consistent push on the ground, averaging less than four yards a pop. Connor Heyward is a short-yardage battering ram at 6-foot-1, 229 pounds, but he lacks explosiveness. He leads the team with just 135 yards rushing on 37 totes.

Central’s Tommy Lazzaro even torched the secondary a few times, including gains of 35 and 29 yards. While he boasts the nation’s top-ranked run defense, Mark Dantonio’s team can brag about little else.

This means everything will be working flawlessly by the Michigan game.

Next game: Northwestern (Noon, FS1)

INDIANA 24, RUTGERS 17

Competitive football? Yes, Rutgers, it was indeed.

Scarlet Knight running back Raheem Blackshear gashed Indiana for 36 yards on the first drive, setting up a touchdown for a 7-0 lead.

Behind a passing and a rushing touchdown by Hoosier quarterback Peyton Ramsey, Indiana (4-1) built a 24-7 cushion. They proceeded to sit on their lead in very Mike Debord fashion.

Rutgers (1-4) took advantage, breaking through in the final frame after Isaih Pacheco took a pitch, only to launch a 39-yard pass to Jerome Washington. Jonathan Hilliman punched in a score to cut the deficit to 10.

A field goal made it a one-score game, but Ramsey forced the Scarlet Knight defense offsides on a 4th-and-1, and ran out the rest of the clock.

It wasn’t a blowout. This deserves something, right?

Next game for Rutgers against Illinois (Noon, BTN)

Next game for Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State (4 p.m., FOX)

PURDUE 42, NEBRASKA 28

Two things are certain now: Nebraska is pretty bad at 0-4, and Jeff Brohm has a winner at quarterback.

Despite Adrian Martinez helming a 582-yard outburst from the Husker offense, including 258 on the ground, the Blackshirts collapsed. The Boilermakers (2-3, 1-1) racked up over 500 yards of their own, led by senior David Blough under center.

Replacing the injured Elijah Sindelar, he threw for 328 yards and a touchdown, also adding one on the ground.

Since starting 0-3, with the losses by a combined eight points, Brohm has a team fighting its way back to bowl eligibility.

Scott Frost is taking the winless start hard.

Next game for Nebraska at No. 16 Wisconsin (7:30 p.m., BTN)

Bye week for Purdue

TEAMS UNMENTIONED

ILLINOIS (2-2), at RUTGERS (Noon, BTN)

Lovie Smith has the Illini moving in the right direction after competing with South Florida and Penn State. They need this win to sniff a bowl.

IOWA (3-1) AT MINNESOTA (3-1), 3:30 p.m., BTN

Don’t be fooled by the records. Iowa pushed Wisconsin to the brink, while Minnesota lost by 29 to Maryland. The winner gets the Floyd of Rosedale.

NORTHWESTERN (1-3), at MICHIGAN STATE (Noon, FS1)

The ‘Cats currently hold a two-game winning streak against the Spartans. They’ve started strong two weeks in a row — 21-3 on Akron and 17-0 on Michigan — but can they finish?

NEBRASKA AT NO. 16 WISCONSIN (7:30 p.m., BTN)

Jonathan Taylor and the backs badgered the Husker front for 353 rushing yards in 2017. Seeing as Michigan and Purdue already bashed them in 2018, expect deja vu.

MARYLAND (3-1), at No. 15 MICHIGAN (Noon, ABC)

Previews all week long here on Maize N’ Brew!