There have been many complaints about some decisions that James Franklin has made over the years, but there’s one that gets somewhat overlooked; and it seems that he may finally be adjusting.
During Franklin’s time with Penn State Football, there have been plenty of games in which the Nittany Lions had a comfortable lead in the second half, but the starters remained in the game.
Way back in January, I wrote about a handful of changes that need to be made in order for Penn State to get back to their winning ways (find that article here). In it, I mentioned that one of those changes that needs to be made is building depth through experience.
To elaborate further, James Franklin needs to do a better job of pulling some of his starters earlier than he has been, which in turn will allow for some young and inexperienced players to gain some valuable reps.
Let’s take a look at three examples from the 2021 season.
Following Jesse Luketa’s pick six against Ball State, the Nittany Lions had a 31-6 lead with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter. On the following Ball State possession, most of Penn State’s defensive starters remained in the game. The same was true on Penn State’s next offensive possession that began with less than five minutes remining in the third quarter.
Sure, there was a lot of football yet to be played, but with a 25-point lead over Ball State, you should be able to begin mixing and matching some more backups in with the starters.
After a field goal extended the lead to 28 points, Penn State’s next possession began with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter, at which point most of the starters were still in the game, including Jahan Dotson and Sean Clifford.
Jahan Dotson had nothing left to prove, so why was he still out there at that point risking injury? Furthermore, with the level of inexperience that they had in the quarterback room behind Sean Clifford, why was he still in there and not Ta’Quan Roberson?
Two weeks later when Villanova came to town, Penn State Football had a 21-point lead with five minutes remaining in the third quarter when an offensive possession began with all of the starters still in the game. If that’s not enough, surely a touchdown on that possession would warrant the starters to be pulled from the game.
With a 28-point lead and less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the first team defense took the field.
Following a stop, the first team offense once again took the field with a four-touchdown advantage and less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. Why?
It was not until there was 13 minutes remaining and a 35-point Penn State lead that the starters were pulled from the game.
Finally, against Indiana the following week, the Nittany Lions had a 21-point advantage fresh off a Jahan Dotson touchdown when the first team defense took the field with four minutes to play in the third quarter. After a blocked field goal, Sean Clifford and the offensive starters once again took the field with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter and a three-touchdown cushion.
The first team defense once again took the field with 10 and a half minutes remaining in the game, followed by the first team offense yet again with about nine minutes remaining.
After a field goal extended the lead to 24 with just over eight minutes left to play, almost all of the defensive starters once again took the field.
In each of these three games, many of the backups could have and should have gotten in the game much sooner than they did.
As a convenient example, and also because it’s the most important position on the field, let’s look at quarterback.
Ta’Quan Roberson could have gotten seven or eight more drives than he did between the Ball State, Villanova, and Indiana games. He only attempted a combined seven passes between those three games, including zero attempts against Indiana.
Seeing as though he didn’t enter the Indiana game until there was five and half minutes left, it makes sense that all Penn State did was run the ball at that point with a 24-point lead to keep the clock moving, which is exactly why Roberson should have gotten into the game earlier.
More possessions, snaps, and attempts for Roberson could have done one of two things for Penn State Football. First, it could have gotten him more experience and more comfortable, which in turn could have allowed him to perform better against Iowa when Sean Clifford left with an injury.
The second thing it could have done is allowed for James Franklin and staff to realize that he didn’t have what it takes to be Clifford’s backup, which might have allowed them to give Christian Veilleux an opportunity, which also could have changed that outcomes of the Iowa and/or Illinois games.
Would half a dozen more possessions from the backups been enough to make a difference against Iowa? Maybe, maybe not, we’ll never know. What we do know is that Roberson looked completely unprepared in that matchup, and getting him into games sooner and more often than they did could have helped.
The same could be said about each and every position. Getting guys into games sooner and getting them more reps not only helps when it is eventually their time, but it will also make them a little more prepared in the event of injuries, which are inevitable for any team.
All that being said, it seems like James Franklin is finally going to make an adjustment.
This is certainly a step in the right direction for Penn State Football in terms of building depth.
With three games in the first five weeks (Ohio, Central Michigan, and Northwestern) that could be and should be blowouts by late in the third quarter–if not certainly by the fourth–it would be extremely beneficial for Franklin and his staff to get the starters out of there sooner than they have in the past.
Along with some underclassmen gaining experience, it will also cut back on the wear and tear on the starters’ bodies, which will obviously decrease their risk of injury. Both of those things could prove to be very important later in the season against teams such as Michigan and Ohio State.
If James Franklin wants to turn it around, he needs to build depth through experience, and it seems like he might do just that.