After losing four games in a row, the Penn State football experience brought you by James Franklin is beginning to lose some steam. A very close loss at home to Ohio State gave us all hope, but with an offense that has yet to figure itself out, this is a Penn State team that is going to struggle to beat good teams and bad teams alike.
Even somewhere-in-the-middle teams like Maryland can't help but play a close game in Happy Valley that hinges on field goals, penalties, and coaching decisions.
Speaking of coaching decisions, Franklin's decision to not call a time out with two minutes left while Maryland was driving for the go-ahead field goal may have been a fatal one. The new coach clearly isn't as brilliant a game manager as Bill O'Brien was. And no matter what state the offensive line is in, Franklin isn't as elite an offensive mind either. That's why the NFL isn't drooling over him the way it was over O'Brien during the current Texans coach's entire tenure in Happy Valley.
At least we'll keep Franklin for longer than two seasons. But is that a good thing?
I think the energy and bravado that Franklin brings to the program are overrated. Look at the best coaches in the country, and you'll see a bunch of guys who are calm and even-keeled. Nick Saban doesn't need to act excited all the time to bring in the best players in the country. The NFL's Bill Belichick acts like he's sedated at press conferences. Demeanor just doesn't matter that much in a head coach.
What really bothers me about Franklin in this small sample is his poor game management and the general malaise of an offense that has talent (albeit young talent) at multiple positions.
Still, Franklin has done a good job at recruiting so far, and he does have that impressive history at Vanderbilt. During his last two seasons in Nashville, he won a combined 18 games. That's pretty good in the SEC in general. It's darn impressive at a historical doormat like Vanderbilt. This is why we still like Pat Fitzgerald even though his last two seasons haven't been outstanding. Winning is harder to do at some schools.
Should it be this hard at Penn State, though? It's impossible to exactly measure the impact of the Sandusky scandal sanctions on the Lions' on-field performance. What we do know is that the offense is very difficult to watch. Franklin is an offensive coach, so we can judge him over the next few years by how well he builds up said offense.
The defense, on the other hand, is incredible. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has a unit that keeps Penn State in every game and is already looking like someone who the school should work very hard to retain. If that means keeping Franklin around to mess up the clock at the end of games, it's well worth it.
Did some of us get a little to excited about Franklin's first year in Happy Valley? I know I did, but if you take out the 2013 win over Wisconsin, last year is looking very similar to this one. It's not as though O'Brien was competing for division titles, and he had some letfover Paterno depth on his side.
So while we can already see good things and bad things in Franklin, it's too early to pass judgement. We'll find out in three or four years whether he's capable of taking Penn State to an elite level or if he's just another over-hyped coach.