James Franklin preaches patience; long-term plan in place at Penn State

first_imgNEW YORK — As the number of healthy bodies dwindled and the challenge for James Franklin became clearer in his first season at Penn State, there was an undeniable temptation to sacrifice the long-term plan for immediate relief.Franklin, after all, learned Sept. 9 that the NCAA had rescinded its postseason ban on the Nittany Lions and restored their full allotment of scholarships, potentially speeding the timeline for the program to become whole. At that point, the easier way would’ve been to double down on momentum, pull redshirts off freshmen to provide much-needed depth and give promising quarterback Christian Hackenberg a fighting chance to stay upright.FOOTBALL FOUR: Rating and debating college football and the playoffBut even while Penn State’s roster dwindled to 40 active scholarship players and frustration mounted over the Nittany Lions’ uneven performances, Franklin stuck to his initial plan to just push through this season for the sake of the program he’s trying to build.“We were just going to have to find a way to grind it out,” Franklin told USA TODAY Sports during a recent interview in Manhattan. “That’s where you have to be careful. When times get tough and people get frustrated, you panic and start making decisions, and now you’re going to have a hard time long term to ever solve your problems.”USA TODAY Sports college football bowl picksPenn State’s problems, as Franklin knows, aren’t close to being solved. The impact of the NCAA sanctions placed on the program as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal hit particularly hard this year and could be almost equally difficult to navigate next year.It will take two more recruiting cycles to get back to a full 85 scholarships. And even when that happens, Franklin projects he’ll have one of the youngest teams in college football because the roster will be heavily weighted with freshmen and sophomores.In other words, there are no shortcuts for Penn State to return to national relevance. All Franklin can do is keep recruiting (Penn State’s 2015 class is ranked No.9 by 247sports.com), creating a culture for players to follow, and try to win enough games to get to the postseason, as the Nittany Lions did this year at 6-6. They’ll play Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.Quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggled this year behind an inexperienced offensive line.Quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggled this year behind an inexperienced offensive line.Still, just making a bowl wasn’t enough to stop a vocal minority of the Penn State fan base from nitpicking at issues that cropped up. The Nittany Lions beat just two teams that ended up in bowl games (Central Florida and Rutgers), and their games were often ugly because of an offensive line that struggled to protect Hackenberg, who threw eight touchdown passes and 15 interceptions after a freshman season in which he looked like a legitimate NFL prospect.“If you take the emotion away and think about what happened here, you’d say, ‘Yeah, they’ve got a tremendous challenge to fight through, but at the end of it what a great opportunity you’re going to have in two or three years,’” Franklin said.“You have to have the vision of where we’re going. People who are used to a certain type of Penn State they got accustomed to over 80 years, they don’t see it that way. Everybody talks about (the challenges) before the season starts, but once it starts you’re supposed to win a national championship.”Penn State isn’t supposed to win a national championship anytime soon, but the plan to get there has multiple layers. After the season, Franklin says he plans to do a comprehensive analytic study of not only Penn State this season compared to other teams Franklin has been associated with (Vanderbilt as head coach; Maryland and Kansas State as an offensive coordinator), but he’ll also look closely at how the four teams in the College Football Playoff were constructed.Superior talent at QB makes Ohio State’s system run, and passAs much as Franklin will run the numbers, though, the reality is it mostly comes down to recruiting. The Nittany Lions need players, and the problem is the area where they need them most offers no quick fixes.Much of what plagued Penn State this season — including Hackenberg’s regression and the fact he was sacked 42 times — stems from the fact that former coach Bill O’Brien was unable to recruit the kind of offensive line depth needed to compete in the Big Ten.Franklin said Penn State had “basically seven guys” in its rotation, with one upperclassman playing either tackle position. Any injury caused the entire line to shuffle, which meant young players who were struggling to adjust to starting had to learn multiple positions instead of being able to focus on one.But unlike recruiting defensive backs or receivers, where freshmen can make immediate impacts, developing quality starters for the offensive line usually is a three-year process.And until that happens, it’s hard to know what Penn State’s identity will even be on offense.“I’ve always been in a position where I’ve showed up somewhere and we had to grind through fixing a problem first before we could get established. Then once we do, I’ve had to leave,” Franklin said. “We’re at a place now where we have a chance to solve our problems and build it long term.”last_img

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