In the aftermath of Penn State's 51-6 beatdown of Pitt on Saturday night, there were many folks on the internet who were quite upset with head coach James Franklin for his decision to challenge Ricky Slade's fumble that occurred with under a minute to go in the game.
I am not one of those people.
The fact that I'm a Penn State fan plays a part in it, sure. But I think there are two larger reasons to laud Franklin's call here.
He was trying to protect Ricky Slade.
Penn State has a workhorse-type back in Miles Sanders. That much is clear. But that doesn't mean they won't benefit from having other options in the backfield, especially when they get into the Big Ten portion of the schedule. Slade is expected to be a contributor for the offense this year, and his speed will have the chance to be a major factor against some of the tougher defenses in the conference.
Unfortunately, he's also just a true freshman, and true freshmen tend to make some freshmen mistakes. It's unfair to judge Slade too harshly for his two fumbles, considering the conditions. And yet, many judged Mike Gesicki for multiple years as a result of a few drops in a wet game against Army.
By challenging this play, Franklin had a chance to exonerate his tailback from his second fumble of the day. The play still happened, and even if it had been overturned, there would still be a few extra drills with a wet ball waiting for Slade in practice this week. But the chance to have the stat line next to the freshman's name read one fumble instead of two was worth it.
It's a rivalry. And in a rivalry, you step on your rival's throat.
Franklin is way too good of a CEO to insult Pitt publicly. Nothing good comes of it, and it only serves to hurt his own image and the image of Penn State. He's far too smart to engage in pre-game smack talk with a team that is a step below his (whether that team will admit that or not).
Instead, he can talk his smack on the field through his players and his play calls. This week (and every week leading up to this game for the past three years) have been absurd. While he, his staff, and his team have consistently said the politically correct things, seemingly everyone on the Pitt side hasn't. And honestly, I wouldn't have an issue with that if there was a mutual respect between the two, but there isn't. These two programs and fan bases, as a general rule, don't show any signs of respect for each other. It's not like Ohio State and Michigan or Duke and UNC. This rivalry is just nasty and ugly.
It's for that exact reason that you go for the throat in this game when you get the chance. If you have the opportunity to obliterate the others side into nothingness, you take it. If you can embarrass them to the point of making their fans question their fandom in the aftermath, you do it. This isn't a fun rivalry, it's a hate-fueled deathmatch between two schools that have no love for each other. So why would the head football coach do anything other than try to keep the football when given the chance?
But hey, that's just me. Did you like the call?