- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- American college football player, college football coach, quarterback
Certainly, James Franklin knows what needs to be fixed.
He's getting paid too much money, has recruited too well, has coached too many close games not to know.
He's been at Penn State too long now.
He must know what's at the root of being the guy with a new 10-year deal who seems to lose most of the games people increasingly remember. He's 11-10 over the past two seasons.
His Nittany Lions have proven to be poor at adjusting to circumstances when needed, to overcoming when things get rough. To winning when the game is there to be taken.
It really comes back to this: Franklin has an offensive line problem, always has. It just seems to loom even larger against Michigan State, whether in the rain (2017), the sun (2018) or the snow (Saturday).
He's never had a really good offensive line.
Failing again at Michigan State: Postgame updates: Penn State loses close again, key questions before bowl game
That, in a sense, is perplexing when it appears that he works so relentlessly and is successful at most everything else. When his hiring seems on-point. When his players perform well for NFL scouts in front of big pay days. When he's alternately boasted college football's best runners and pass-catchers and tight ends, best linebackers, pass-rushers and defensive backs.
This excruciating defeat to the Spartans is just the latest example. On a dry track, his Lions probably use their overwhelming advantages to win comfortably enough. This is, after all, a really good Penn State pass team going against the worst pass defense in college football.
But, once again, the Lions failed to adjust to poor conditions, to a situation not lined up as advertised. That's because the offensive line gives it no room to maneuver.
More than anything, offensive line play affects the tenor of the entire game. It's a basic foundational point, its results bleeding into every other unit on the field. Its struggles alter play calling, game planning and momentum.
The offensive line protects your quarterback, escorts your top runners and controls the flow of the day (keeps your defense rested and in good position).
Consider that overwhelmed Michigan State all but dared the Lions to the run the ball in the snow. For one, they had no other bait to offer. They were giving up more than 400 passing yards per game over the past month.
Secondly, they knew Penn State couldn't block and run the ball to save themselves.
Still, the Lions tried when the footing got slick, and Michigan State backed their defenders off the ball — and they failed.
It played out strikingly similar to those unnecessary defeats at Iowa and to Illinois and Michigan.
This kind of thing was understandable early in Franklin's tenure, when he had little to work with. But we're in Season Eight now, and his team is still getting manhandled up front with significant impacts everywhere else.
Bad offensive line plays have gotten his quarterbacks hobbled, from Christian Hackenberg to Trace McSorley to Sean Clifford. It's disabled his team from closing out games against tough opponents. It's made it intrinsically difficult to gather momentum in second halves and to keep it.
It's become what people remember the most: From not being able to get a first down in the Rose Bowl, to not protecting leads against Ohio State the following two seasons. From losing five-straight to start last year to losing five of seven to end this one.
The offense and Joe Moorhead magically worked around the issue in 2016-17 with Saquon Barkley and Chris Godwin and Mike Gesicki and one big play after another.
But, honestly, they've beaten their heads against the wall ever since. It's not that these offensive lines have remained bad, certainly not in the kind of 10-sack bad against Temple in 2015.
Just never good enough when needed to win the biggest games. It causes the PSU brain trust to always account for it. That leads to curiously failing play calling that affects every season now, such as fourth down against Ohio State in 2018 and near the goal line at Minnesota the following year and early against Michigan this season (a fake field goal with one kicker throwing to another).
Onto Saturday with Michigan State begging the Lions to run the ball. They tried and failed on one fourth down and then another and somehow never leaned on their pass game until it was too late.
They lost another game they were good enough to win, should have.
This has become an an endless cycle and yet perplexing one, too. Each of Franklin's offensive line coaches have come with enough success and promise. Why has every other unit, every other position, developed better since 2014?
Franklin has conquered just about everything else at Penn State, under good circumstances and not. He's endured some awful breaks the past two seasons because of injuries and close calls and unfortunate timing.
And yet all things a really good offensive line can help and heal.
Something he's still searching for.
A must-find if Penn State ever wants to get to that next plateau he continues to talk about.
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.
This article originally appeared on York Daily Record: Penn State football: James Franklin, Nittany Lions vs. Michigan State