Penn State is still chasing elite under coach James Franklin.
The seventh-ranked Nittany Lions lost a seventh straight game to Ohio State on Saturday, needing more than 59 minutes to finally get into the end zone against the third-ranked Buckeyes.
Defense mostly ruled the day in first of three games matching the Big Ten’s three top-10 teams. The difference? Ohio State has All-American Marvin Harrison Jr., who set a career high with 11 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.
It was 2018 when Penn State, for the second straight season, let a second-half lead get away against the Buckeyes and lost a 27-26 heartbreaker. Two years removed from Franklin’s only victory against Ohio State and Big Ten title, he made a comment that still hangs over his program.
“We’ve gone from an average football team, to a good football team, to a great football team,” Franklin said then. “But we’re not an elite team yet.”
Five years later, that’s still the case.
Penn State hoped things would be different this season with its new former five-star quarterback in Drew Allar and a defense loaded with NFL talent.
Allar, who left his naive Ohio and his childhood team to play at Penn State, looked overwhelmed. He was sacked four times and finished 18 for 43 for 191 yards.
“Sucked,” was Allar’s self-assessment.
There were ominous signs coming in for Penn State’s offense as it dinked and dunked its way to an 6-0 start behind mistake-free offense and swarming defense.
Against an Ohio State defense that is every bit as formidable as Penn State’s — and maybe not getting as much credit as it deserves —the Nittany Lions’ lack of weapons was glaring.
“Drew needs some guys to make plays for him on a more consistent basis,” Franklin told reporters.
Getting Allar out of Ohio was huge for Penn State, but Harrison from Philadelphia was the difference between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes on Saturday.
Heck, Buckeyes receiver Julian Fleming, another five-star from Pennsylvania, would probably be the No. 1 target on Penn State.
For Franklin, unquestionably one of the most successful coaches in the country during 13 seasons at Vanderbilt and Penn State, the record in big games is an albatross.
Penn State has four 11-win seasons since 2016 under Franklin, but these numbers exasperate Nittany Lions fans: 1-9 against Ohio State; 3-16 vs. top-10 teams; 1-13 vs. Ohio State and Michigan teams ranked in the top 10.
Post-Sandusky, Franklin restored Penn State’s pride and placed it again among the best programs in the country — but not among the very best. Penn State fans can clamor for more, but good luck finding a better coach.
Franklin’s name often comes up when big-time jobs open because there is an assumption that maybe, unable to break through the Ohio State-Michigan ceiling, he would be up for try something else.
Franklin is in the second year of a 10-year contract worth $85 million. Good luck finding a better gig.
The Nittany Lions will get another crack at a narrative-changing victory in three weeks at home against No. 2 Michigan, which seemed completely unfazed on the field against against Michigan State by the program’s latest off-the-field controversy.
Hard to imagine that outcome in Happy Valley will be much different than Saturday’s for Penn State.
Franklin and Penn State seem stuck together on a hamster wheel, running after a goal that remains out of reach.
The first big upset of the season was pulled off by an especially unlikely team.
Virginia entered Saturday without a victory against an FBS team, but knocked off No. 10 North Carolina in the most significant win for second-year coach Tony Elliott.
“What you saw is just a group that believed,” Elliott said after Virginia’s first road victory ever against a top-10 team.
It was a cathartic victory for a team still recovering from last year’s tragic shooting deaths of three teammates. Mike Hollins, a survivor of the shooting, ran for three touchdowns.
There had been only one game this season in which a top-10 team lost to an unranked team, but in retrospect Duke beating Clemson in Week 1 really wasn’t shocking.
No. 5 Washington, No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 9 Texas all played one-possession games against unranked teams Saturday and survived the scares.
North Carolina was not so fortunate The Tar Heels looked primed to reach November unbeaten, but their defense couldn’t get UVA off the field and Drake Maye was inaccurate (24 for 48) while throwing for 347 yards.
Three weeks ago the Atlantic Coast Conference had three unbeatens teams in No. 4 Florida State, North Carolina and Louisville, none of which were scheduled to play each other in the regular season.
Now, FSU is alone atop the conference after beating No. 16 Duke, which watched its upset hopes dry up when quarterback Riley Leonard aggravated an ankle injury.
ABOUT THAT REMATCH?
Maybe we penciled in that Oklahoma-Texas rematch in the Big 12 championship game a little too quickly.
The Sooners and Longhorns both escaped three-touchdown underdogs and two more contenders in the conference seem to be emerging in Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
Oklahoma missed a chance to build a big lead in the first quarter and then needed to stop a late 2-point conversion attempt to hold off UCF.
“We were fortunate to win the game,” OU coach Brent Venables said.
Not to be outdone in the Big 12, No. 8 Texas slipped past Houston with the help of a third down spot that went the Longhorns way late in the game.
If anybody thought the Big 12 officials were going to be out to get the SEC-bound Sooners and Longhorns, that third-down call that left Houston short of a pivotal first down disproved the conspiracy theory.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has come alive like the Undertaker sitting up in his coffin meme.
Behind Ollie Gordon’s 282 yards rushing, the Cowboys (5-2, 3-1) won their third straight game at West Virginia.
Oklahoma State’s three-game run started with a victory over Kansas State. The Wildcats (5-2, 3-1) have turned their season around since by inserting freshman quarterback Avery Johnson into the lineup to rotate with starter Will Howard.
Johnson ran for five scores last week against Texas Tech and he and Howard combined for four TD passes in blowout of TCU.
The Big 12 would love to avoid another Red River Showdown at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in December.
Whether it happens could come down to Nov. 4. Oklahoma State hosts Oklahoma for the last Bedlam game for the foreseeable future and Kansas State visits Texas.
OU does not play K-State in the regular season and Texas does not play Oklahoma State.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: Heisman winner Caleb Williams’ college career will most likely end without a College Football Playoff appearance. No. 14 Utah, which has won three straight against USC, handed the 18th-ranked Trojans a second straight loss with a walk-off field goal. USC’s season is in danger spiraling down the stretch and the Utes are not going to give up their Pac-12 crown without a fight. … Miami beat Clemson with a goal-line stand in overtime, the Hurricanes’ first victory over the Tigers since 2010. That was also the last time before this season Clemson lost as many as three ACC games. … No. 17 Tennessee looked as if it was heading for its first two-game winning streak against Alabama since 2004, but the 11th-ranked Crimson Tide shut out the Vols in the second half to make it 16 out of 17 in the rivalry. “Obviously a pretty fun second half,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. For all the angst about ‘Bama, it rolls into its off week unbeaten in the SEC and waiting for another huge game against No. 19 LSU … Mississippi State’s 7-3 victory against Arkansas was the fewest points to win an SEC game since Auburn’s infamous 3-2 win over Mississippi State in 2008. More importantly, it was a real bad loss for Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman, who is working his way onto a hot seat in his fourth season. … For the first time since 2014, Rutgers has reached six wins and bowl eligibility. The Scarlet Knight (6-2) won the game they badly needed to win at Indiana because the remaining four game include three ranked teams and Maryland (5-2). … Speaking of unlikely bowl teams, UNLV and first-year coach Barry Odom improved to 6-1 to become postseason-eligible for the first time since 2013. … This week in the wild, wild Big Ten West: No. 24 Iowa gave away control of the division by losing to a Minnesota team that didn’t score a touchdown when the Hawkeyes’ star punt returner inadvertently called a fair catch that wiped out a potential winning touchdown; Wisconsin rallied with 18 points in the fourth quarter to beat Illinois on a touchdown pass in the final minute to an offensive lineman; Nebraska moved into the wide open race by beating Northwestern. … Toledo is making its case as the best team outside the Power Five. The Rockets have won seven straight after beating MAC rival Miami (Ohio).
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