COLLINS: After startling upset and embarrassing 0-3 start, what comes next for Penn State?
The old postgame standbys are starting to sound tired now. James Franklin has to know that much.
Three games and three losses into the 2020 season, Penn State's head coach has given pretty much the same answers to the same questions. After its convincing 35-19 upset of the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Franklin said Maryland deserved credit; same with Indiana two weeks before and Ohio State seven days earlier. Those teams made plays, and his didn't. Those teams made the most of opportunities, and his team squandered them. Those teams jumped out to early leads that got them comfortable, while his team limped into halftime.
Maybe, as Penn State prepares for a road trip to Nebraska this weekend, changes to a team that looked rusty against the Hoosiers, outmatched against the Buckeyes and uninspired against the Terrapins. But, Franklin said again Saturday, he "has to watch the tape" first.
"There's a lot of things we've got to get corrected," Franklin lamented. "Ultimately, that's my responsibility. We'll get started on it in practice (Sunday)."
Where are the answers? Question is, where could they possibly turn for answers with a roster that suddenly doesn't look as deep as advertised or as explosive as expected. Especially after linebacker Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 season and both running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain were lost, perhaps for the rest of the campaign, because of medical issues and injuries, respectively.
Change may not come at the quarterback position, even after junior Sean Clifford struggled with accuracy yet again, completing less than half of his program record 57 pass attempts and getting intercepted twice by a Maryland defense that had forced just one turnover all season before Saturday's nightmare.
Backup quarterback Will Levis led the Nittany Lions to a win against Rutgers last season with Clifford sidelined, and coaches have talked up the progress of prized four-star freshman Taquan Roberson. But, Franklin seemed intent on not letting either get snaps against the Terrapins, insisting the Nittany Lions were within striking distance of a comeback throughout the second half and Clifford was the best player to lead that potential charge.
"Obviously, nobody wants to be 0-3. That's not what anybody came here to do," Clifford said. "It's the little things. We've got to do every little thing right, and we're not doing it. That's all across the board, and it starts with me. We've got to clean it up. We just can't lose these types of games."
Some possible changes: If hints were to be gleaned from Franklin's postgame comments, there were two other areas more likely to see some shuffling moving forward.
Freshman running back Caziah Holmes out-carried sophomore starter Devyn Ford, 6-3, in the second half, showing ever-so-slightly more of the ability to make defenders miss and gain extra yardage that Franklin said is missing without Brown and Cain.
The Nittany Lions also worked in a handful of different offensive line combinations throughout the second half.
They used three different players at right guard: starter CJ Thorpe, backup center Juice Scruggs and Will Fries, the starting right tackle who shifted inside to give freshman Caedan Wallace some run at tackle. Franklin was critical of the offensive line's play following the loss.
"Just trying to see if we can find the right five," he said.
Something has to give: One thing is certain: Something has to give. And Penn State players know it.
"We've had 100 Zoom meetings during quarantine. We came back up here and ran routes and put in a bunch of extra work in the summer. The coaches are putting us out there to run a certain play," tight end Pat Freiermuth said. "If we're not getting the right depth or technique, it's on us. We've got to figure it out and get back on the same page on offense, and do it now."