An Achilles heel of Penn State football throughout James Franklin’s tenure has been its performances against the toughest of Big Ten opposition.
A lack of consistent results against the deadly trio of Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State has kept critics knocking at the four-year coach’s door, asking if he is the right man to propel the Nittany Lions to conference and national championship battles year-in and year-out.
To review some of the numbers, Franklin is a mere 3-11 against the aforementioned trio. The Nittany Lions have yet to win a road game against any of the three.
In fact, when traveling to ranked opposition, Penn State has been exceptionally poor under Franklin. They’ve conceded an average of 41.6 points per game in five matchups, all of which have ended in defeat.
With a loss to Michigan on Saturday, Franklin would be winless against his greatest Big Ten adversaries in three of his five seasons leading the blue and white. On top of all this, the Nittany Lions’ last trip to Ann Arbor ended in a resounding 49-10 defeat.
Saturday, Nov. 3
Looking forward to Saturday’s contest, Penn State will certainly have its hands full on the road in a hostile environment at The Big House.
Senior quarterback Trace McSorley will not be at 100 percent after sustaining a knee injury last weekend against Iowa, though he is expected to start. The injury could very well limit McSorley’s mobility, which helps the Nittany Lions offense thrive.
The last thing Penn State wants to do is make the job easier for a Michigan defense that has dominated its opposition this season, allowing only around 220 yards per game.
Penn State has also not looked sharp throughout Big Ten play. Sloppy turnovers, reckless penalties and consistent drops – amongst other issues – have plagued the Nittany Lions in Big Ten play.
This has led to a mere six-point differential over the past four games, including two losses to, guess who, Ohio State and Michigan State.
All these results have led to another season of underachievement for Franklin at Penn State. Critics have begun calling for Franklin to start producing better results if he wants to keep his job. Will a coach who has become notorious for not winning big games, especially with leads late in the fourth quarter, be able to come up with his first huge road win?
No one can say for certain, but Franklin has had his back against the wall before and come up with the next big step for the Penn State program.
Taking a look back
In 2016, Franklin was also facing a huge amount of scrutiny from the media. He needed a signature win to cement himself and the project he was building in Happy Valley.
Following an extreme amount of emotion throughout the week, Franklin responded with his biggest win to date, a 24-21 upset over then-No. 2 Ohio State, which propelled Penn State to its first Big Ten Championship under Franklin. Since then, the acting Penn State coach has posted a .821 winning percentage, making “a good team into a great team.”
Franklin finds himself in a similar position and, if he is to break his hex against ranked opposition on the road and against tough Big Ten opposition, he must prepare himself to defy the odds, much like he did two years ago. Only then, can he advance Penn State to the next phase of consistent championship contention.
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