Saturday vs. Illinois Was James Franklin's Worst Loss at PSU

By Craig Fritz on October 25, 2021 at 8:49 am
Penn State Head Coach James Franklin
© Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

What did I just watch?

What the hell was that? Honestly? What did Nittany Nation just endure on Homecoming Saturday? Bluntly, Penn State's 20-18 (9 OT) flat-line loss to Illinois was the worst performance of James Franklin's tenure as the Penn State head football coach.

There are a thousand things you could nitpick about the overall performance. You could complain about the refs. You could complain about the offensive line. You could complain about the lack of adjustments. You could complain about the cowardly play-calling.

However, what separates this loss from other Franklin stinkers (Northwestern 2014, Temple 2015, Michigan State 2018, etc.) is that Illinois is awful, Penn State was the No. 7 team in the nation, and perhaps a QB injury away from being the No. 2 team in the nation. Top-five teams BURY trash squads like Illinois. The Illini aren't just bad, they are the worst team in the entire conference. 

Two weeks ago, Illinois lost at home to Wisconsin 24-0 and totaled 93 yards, allowing 491. You are not misreading. In its home stadium, Illinois failed to score against the Badgers and gained less than 100 yards. Forty nine of those yards came on three plays. Wisconsin, amassing nearly 500 yards of offense, even pitched in with two turnovers because they felt so bad for Illinois.

Yet two weeks later, the Fighting Berts were able to bully a previously stout Nittany Lion defense to the tune of 357 yards rushing on a school-record 67 carries. Yet two weeks later, a defense allowing a conference-worst 429 yards/game was able to hold PSU to 227 total yards and just 62 yards on the ground. 

Off a bye week and playing coy about a clearly injured starting quarterback, Franklin's squad put out a failure in all phases of the game. The defensive front was completely swallowed by a bad offensive line. The offensive line was completely caved in over and over by a terrible defensive front. The receivers, backs and tight ends all missed key blocks. There were three probable touchdowns and two interceptions dropped, any of which likely seal the game for Penn State. Throw in a missed field goal and you're talking about a team-wide meltdown.

Franklin's inability to focus his team following a loss is now squarely in question and a serious problem. To wit...

There are hundreds of small things, and a couple really big things that allowed a result like this. It's the head coach's job to make sure they're addressed each week. Because that wasn't done, because of the opponent, because of the NEXT opponent, and because of his own team's standing in perhaps the most wide-open year in 15 seasons, this is the worst loss of Franklin's PSU career. You can't subscribe to a "win every week" and "1-0" mantra if you are unable to have your team prepared.