The Penn State players “wore down” in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 27-26 loss to Ohio State, a defeat that ultimately could keep the Nittany Lions out of the College Football Playoff.
That’s not an opinion of an unhappy fan or someone from an opposing school looking for a chink in Penn State’s armor. It’s a statement of fact from someone who knows Penn State’s team better than anyone: coach James Franklin.
“I think, No. 1, we played our first-teamers at a much higher rep count than we have the previous games,” Franklin said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches conference call. “I think that put us in the position we were in (ahead 26-14 with less than eight minutes to play).
“But I also think that we ran out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter. (The Buckeyes) got great players, and they got great depth and they’ve had that for a number of years. And I do think that, come the fourth quarter, we had guys play a lot more reps than they’ve ever played and we started to wear down and that showed.”
Busy bye week: No. 11 Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) is in the middle of its off week — it won’t play again until Oct. 13 against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium — but Franklin promises it will be as busy as any during the season. Players and coaches will be looking back at the first five games and ahead to their quest to catch No. 3 Ohio State and No. 15 Michigan in the Big Ten East.
“Obviously, we didn’t do enough to win the game,” Franklin said. “And we look at all those things in great detail, and we’re going to go back and do all our self-studies and where our tendencies are, and areas that we still need to improve. And then, also obviously, getting a head start on Michigan State and balancing recruiting with that, as well.
“This is painful, and it hurts. But I do think that, when used the right way, this can fuel us to continue to grow and continue to take that next step.”
Many positives since opener: Franklin said he has seen many positive steps from his team since the 45-38 overtime victory against former Football Championship Subdivision member Appalachian State in the opener.
“What I’m always looking at is: Have we improved every single week?” he said. “And I can’t imagine there’d be anybody out there that follows Penn State closely that doesn’t feel like we have improved every single week, from App State all the way to Ohio State. I think we did that.”
Since defeating Appalachian State, a team that won its next three games by a combined margin of 169-23, Penn State recorded decisive victories against Pitt, Kent State and Illinois. The Nittany Lions won those games 177-40.
Pleased with Sanders: Helping to lead the team to its fast start is former Woodland Hills star running back Miles Sanders, who is second in the Big Ten and 12th in the nation in rushing yards with 538 for an average of 6.2 per carry.
“We think he’s playing at a really high level,” Franklin said, noting Sanders often gets extra yardage after first contact. “He’s growing and he’s evolving, and he’s getting more comfortable in his leadership role. And we’re very pleased with him.
“We think Miles is one of the best running backs in the country.”