Li­ons need to re­gain their fo­cus

Same old story for Penn State af­ter 2nd straight Big Ten de­feat

The Republican Herald - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - ( Collins cov­ers Penn State foot­ball for Times- Shamrock. Con­tact him at dcollins@ timessham­rock. com and fol­low him on Twit­ter @ psubt) DON­NIE COLLINS Staff Writer

We can start the lat­est in what is be­com­ing a long

line of somber post­mortems fol­low­ing yet an­other Penn State loss in so many ways.

We can of­fer the same, tired analo­gies. We can fol­low up with the over­anal­y­sis of key plays that look so much like the same key plays from weeks and months and sea­sons ear­lier, we can throw the old def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity out there and we can cer­tainly wrap it all up with a pre­dictable warn­ing that it bet­ter change soon, or the sea­son is go­ing to spi­ral away like Dorothy and Toto in the twister, full of re­gret for the past and fear of what is to come.

It can’t be enough for Penn State now. It just can’t. Not for the coaches, who have done an un­ques­tion­ably amaz­ing job lift­ing this pro­gram from the ashes of scan­dal. Not for the play­ers, who came to Happy Val

ley to take the blue and white to a dif­fer­ent level. It shouldn’t be for the fans, ei­ther, who were handed prom­is­sory notes back in 2016 on a team rid­ing high and go­ing higher, asked to buy in to a pro­gram and sell out sta­di­ums and travel en masse and kick big dol­lars to­ward cov­eted seats to get in on the ground floor of a cham­pion. That can’t take the shape, now, of be­ing noth­ing more than a bill of goods.

For the sec­ond straight time af­ter a sec­ond straight dev­as­tat­ing loss at Beaver Sta­dium, James Franklin de­liv­ered his sec­ond straight mis­sive about fin­ish­ing and know­ing roles and do­ing what it takes to be elite, this time on an af­ter­noon when merely be­ing great might have been good enough.

But No. 8 Penn State, a more than two- touch­down fa­vorite against a Michi­gan State team that buck­led against North­west­ern last week, did its typ­i­cal fourth- quar­ter face plant.

With one of the best quar­ter­backs in col­lege foot­ball on the Nit­tany Li­ons’ side and a slew of vet­eran wide re­ceivers no­body seemed all that con­cerned about in the pre­sea­son, they couldn’t find a way to con­sis­tently gain yards against a team that en­tered the game not just as the Big Ten’s worst pass de­fense, but the sec­ond- worst in ma­jor- con­fer­ence foot­ball.

With a tal­ented de­fen­sive back­field led by a cor­ner­back who earned All- Big Ten hon­ors last sea­son stand­ing be­tween the Spar­tans and the end zone, the Nit­tany Li­ons dropped two in­ter­cep­tions that likely would have ended the game, then watched as quar­ter­back Brian Lew­erke com­pleted a 25- yard touch­down pass to Fel­ton Davis III to take the lead with less than 20 sec­onds to go.

The end re­sult: An­other close game against an­other Big Ten blue­blood, and an­other loss, 21- 17. An­other night and an­other week and maybe an­other sea­son of woul­das, coul­das and shoul­das.

“We had a chance to put away a proud pro­gram, a good pro­gram with a very good foot­ball coach ... sev­eral times, on of­fense, on de­fense and on spe­cial teams,” Franklin said, again. “And, we didn’t do it.”

It’s a tired story, and make no mis­take, there’s no­body more sick of telling it than Franklin. To his eter­nal credit, he’s not mak­ing ex­cuses for the same thing hap­pen­ing over and over and over again.

Tight game against a good team, with a lead to pro­tect. A big play needed to seal the deal. A big play just missed. Lo and be­hold, a loss.

Hap­pened against USC in the Rose Bowl.

Hap­pened against Ohio State and Michi­gan State in back- to- back games on the road in 2017.

Hap­pened against Ohio State and Michi­gan State in back- to- back games at home in 2018.

Hap­pens be­cause the de­fense gets pushed around when the op­po­nent wants to push it around. Hap­pens be­cause the of­fense can’t be phys­i­cal and time- con­sum­ing when it needs to be — or isn’t de­signed to be phys­i­cal and time- con­sum­ing when it needs to be, de­pend­ing on your view. Hap­pened be­cause the kick­ing game isn’t able to be re­lied on, and the cov­er­age teams con­tinue to get tricked by teams tak­ing ad­van­tage of their ag­gres­sion or their in­ex­pe­ri­ence or their un­will­ing­ness to stick to the sim­plest of de­tails.

Per­haps the most damn­ing state­ment from Franklin about his team’s over­all slop­pi­ness came from the ad­mis­sion that the coach­ing staff is see­ing things dur­ing games from play­ers that they just don’t see dur­ing the week of prac­tice lead­ing up to the games. That’s not a tal­ent prob­lem, or an in­ex­pe­ri­ence pro­gram, on its face. That’s a fo­cus prob

lem.

“We’re just mak­ing stupid mis­takes that we can eas­ily fix,” de­fen­sive tackle Kevin Givens said.

Well, good teams — never mind great teams and elite teams — elim­i­nate “stupid mis­takes” eas­ily enough. Penn State doesn’t seem to be get­ting it, though, even when they’ll be so easy to spot on film.

Case in point: Michi­gan State’s first touch­down. The Spar­tans have a first- and- goal from the Penn State 1 and get stuffed three con­sec­u­tive plays. Af­ter Lew­erke is turned away on the third- down rush, de­fen­sive tackle C. J. Thorpe is called for an un­sports­man­like con­duct penalty. The Spar­tans get an­other chance, and La’dar­ius Jef­fer­son scores from 1 yard out.

“We just gave it to them,” Frank

lin said. Penn State keeps giv­ing good team chances in close games.

Twice in the fourth quar­ter, the de­fense held a Michi­gan State drive without points, pre­serv­ing a 17- 14 lead. Both times, the of­fense fol­lowed that with mon­u­men­tal col­lapses in the four- minute of­fense.

With 5: 19 to go, Penn State got a first down on a 15- yard throw from quar­ter­back Trace Mcsor­ley to Juwan John­son, then didn’t get a yard on their next three plays and punted. With 1: 46 to go, they gained two yards on three rush­ing plays, Michi­gan State called two time­outs, Mcsor­ley ran out of bounds to do the Spar­tans the cour­tesy of stop­ping the clock on the third down run, and the Nit­tany Li­ons punted again.

Two drives. Seven of­fen­sive plays. Just 17 yards.

A whop­ping 1: 37 taken off the clock.

So, when cor­ner­back Amani Oruwariye and safety Gar­rett Tay­lor both dropped po­ten­tial in­ter­cep­tions on Michi­gan State’s game- win­ning drive — and both should have been caught — that stood as an ex­am­ple of the slop­pi­ness. But this game should have been over long be­fore that.

It wasn’t, be­cause the en­tire team failed when it mat­tered most. Again.

“We’ve got to fig­ure out ways to win,” Mcsor­ley said. “Mis­takes. Self­in­flicted wounds. Just not ex­e­cut­ing. They’re prob­a­bly the keys where, if I’m just look­ing at the big, gen­eral com­mon­al­i­ties of what hap­pened in all these games, that’s what I’m look­ing at. If you’re not do­ing those things in any game, you’re not go­ing to win.”

No­body has shown that, when it mat­ters most, quite like Penn State.

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