Penn State’s James Franklin goes to work immediately on rebuilding project
Penn State lost four games this season, a significant regression from the previous two when the Nittany Lions dropped a total of five while winning the 2016 Big Ten championship.
It didn’t take long for coach James Franklin to start doing something about it. Less than a day, actually.
The first move came Wednesday afternoon, the day after the 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, when Franklin fired wide receivers coach David Corley, who spent one season on the staff.
Penn State’s aerial game was not good enough, especially in an embarrassing 42-7 loss at Michigan when Penn State’s wide receivers caught only three passes for 49 yards, and the Nittany Lions were shut out until the final two minutes. Overall, quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 1,040 yards fewer than in 2017, and receivers were plagued by drops for much of this season.
Meanwhile, special teams also must get fixed. In the Kentucky game, Penn State missed a field goal, had another attempt blocked and allowed a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown. Plus, Franklin’s decision to try a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from the PSU 33 led to a Kentucky field goal in the first quarter.
“We’ll look at everything,” Franklin told the Morning Call. “We’ll have tough conversations. We’ll do what we’ve got to do to get better, but it was not up to our standards today. It wasn’t up to our standards all year long.”
Yet Michigan was the only opponent against whom Penn State was not competitive.
In fact, the Lions did well to win nine games, with a young defense led by freshman linebacker Micah Parsons, who recorded a team-high 83 tackles while listed No. 2 on the depth chart. Sophomore defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who led the team in sacks (eight), also returns. All but three players on defense are eligible to play next season, although junior defensive end Shareef Miller, who had 71⁄2 sacks, opted to come out early for the NFL Draft.
But no one was as impressive as McSorley, who ran from Kentucky’s defense on one good foot in the second half of the Citrus Bowl. The senior jeopardized his immediate future by going back onto the field on a right foot he knew might be broken in a game Penn State trailed 27-7 by the end of the third quarter.
Penn State officials told reporters in the press box that McSorley, who also had been poked in the eye, was out for the game with a broken foot.
After the game, Franklin was unclear on the extent of the injury, and Penn State officials said they planned to release no updated information on McSorley’s foot, according to ESPN.com.
Broken foot or not, McSorley said he felt better after walking around on it, but he admitted playing in “a lot of pain.” He told reporters the pain was “seven or eight” on a scale of 10.
“Adrenaline kicked in,” he told ESPN.com
Now, all Franklin must do is find a way replace him.
McSorley leaves Penn State with school records for victories (31), yards passing (9,899) and touchdown passes (78, fourth in Big Ten history).
The backups are junior Tommy Stevens, who had recent leg surgery and didn’t make the trip to the Citrus Bowl, and redshirt freshman Sean Clifford. If Stevens is recovered, a position battle will ensue in the spring.
“We’ve got some great guys after Trace, and the way he’s shown them how to prepare only makes them better,” offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne told the Daily Collegian.
“He’s really done a nice job when he got in the game,” Rahne said of Clifford. “But, really, it’s been the progression throughout the week and the questions he asks and the things he sees and things like that. (We’ve) been extremely pleased. If you look at the end of spring to now, he’s grown probably tenfold, so it’s been great to watch what he’s done.”
No matter the identity of the quarterback, his chances for success will be enhanced if junior running back Miles Sanders (Woodland Hills) returns for his senior season.
“It’s going to be the hardest decision of my life,” Sanders told the Centre Daily Times.
Sanders was second in the Big Ten in rushing, gaining 1,274 yards (5.8 per attempt) with nine touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes for 139 yards.
Penn State junior guard Connor McGovern announced Wednesday he plans to leave school and enter the NFL Draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projects McGovern as the top guard in this year’s draft class.
Ryan Bates, a third-team all-Big Ten offensive tackle, also will forego his final year of eligibility after declaring for the draft Wednesday.
Kevin Givens, an Altoona grad who started for two seasons at defensive tackle, also declared.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .