So many different way to characterize this program right now.
Up until probably right now, Franklin's build has been ahead of schedule. The conference championship was way ahead of schedule and last year's 11-2 season was both a sustaining of that success and a missed opportunity due to the blown lead in Columbus and the fluky happenings in East Lansing.
This is the first time in the last 2-3 seasons where we might be able to say the program is a little behind schedule, but it's due to a number of things that practically every level-headed observer saw back in August (and a few things that nobody really predicted):
- DT and LB depth is bad, bad, bad, and the players who are currently occupying those positions aren't performing well, especially outside of the two starting DT's. Unfortunately, those positions are difficult for really young players to step in and perform at a high level unless they're absolute freaks. PSU is recruiting very well but isn't at the stage where they can throw a true freshman into those positions and get great results (not even Micah Parsons, who is really playing there out of necessity).
- It may have gone a bit underplayed in the summer but K has obviously been a disaster outside of 35 yards, which is still a little strange to be because Pinegar's extra points generally seem well-struck and right down the middle.
Problem is, there have been a number of unexpected problems that have really compromised PSU's ability to navigate the problems that were obvious in the preseason:
- WR's outside of Hamler aren't getting open and aren't making contested catches. I'm not sure if this is a personnel issue, a Ricky Rahne issue, or (most likely) a combination of the two. The offense obviously misses Gesicki when things break down, despite Freiermuth's rather stunning quick maturation (he's really the #2 option in the passing game at this point, behind Hamler). The veteran WR's either aren't getting free, aren't making easy catches, aren't making contested catches, or some combination of the three. The team needed Juwan Johnson to be the prime, #1 WR that they've been touting for the past two years. Hasn't happened. DAT has been missing on offense. Aside from Hamler, nobody that is particularly frightening from a defensive coordinator's perspective.
- The secondary has been a mess, which is something I don't think anybody really predicted. Reid still doesn't look comfortable. Amani's been beat a lot. Not really getting great play out of either safety position. Even some of the younger guys like TCF have really struggled when it counted most. The tackling has been atrocious, some of the worst I can remember in watching this team closely for 25-ish years.
- The OL has been okay-to-good. They need to be great in order to compensate for the hampered passing game. It's pretty clear that the offense can't survive Trace having a C+ game like he did on Saturday.
- The Tommy Stevens stuff has either been missing due to early-season injury, completely ineffective, or outright abandoned.
- The lack of preparation/execution on special teams is galling. With the athletes on this roster, PSU should be dominating that phase of the game. Hamler and DAT have returned kicks/punts well. Gillikin's been good, not really great. That's really it. Getting burned repeatedly on fakes and onside kicks is just sloppy as hell.
The team still lacks the ability to make the one or two plays needed to close out a game. Great teams are able to do that, even on bad days (or combination of "bad day" and "horrifically unlucky day" like this past Saturday). PSU isn't there yet. That isn't to say that it's unattainable, but I think that being ahead of schedule for a few years has warped our perspective on what this team actually has talent-wise and where they should really be right now. Still too many holes in the roster, still not entirely sure the coaching staff has all the weapons it needs or the ability to use them properly.