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Indiana loss is a Franklin low point

For everything that went wrong Saturday — for all the penalties and costly first-half turnovers and horrific special teams play — Penn State still should be 1-0 this morning.

And we’re not talking about the officials’ questionable and probably incorrect ruling of Indiana’s 2-point conversion that ultimately decided the Nittany Lions’ 36-35 loss.

We’re talking about one piece of coaching woefully missing when Penn State had a chance to end the game on its terms and walk–not limp–into Saturday’s game with Ohio State.

After Indiana turned the ball over on downs at its 14-yard line, just 1:47 remained.

The Hoosiers trailed 21-20 and had one timeout left. At this moment, it was PSU vs. the clock, not PSU vs. Indiana.

So what happens? On first down, sophomore running back Devyn Ford scored a touchdown to put the Lions up 28-20. He was untouched, and there was a reason for that.

The Hoosiers had conceded the TD.

‘We have a signal to our defense to let the other team score,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said afterward. “I was surprised.”

So was the Nittany Nation, which was collectively screaming at its TV and burning up Twitter.

“I was hoping he (Ford) wouldn’t go down at the 1 because if he did, our chances of winning were pretty much eliminated,” Allen said. “Fortunately for us, we got the chance.”

With 1:42 now left–and Indiana still with a timeout–the Hoosiers had plenty of time to tie the game, which they did.

The topic was brought up in three different questions of James Franklin’s post-game media session.

He took the blame but also said the strategy had been covered.

“My job as a head coach is to make sure clearly everybody understands those situations, and obviously that didn’t happen,” he said. “We went through that situation this week and on the sidelines. Obviously, we could have handled it better, and I could have handled it better.”

Franklin said the plan was for Ford “to get as much as you can and get down.”

Ford, who was not made available to the media, appeared to pull up indecisively at the 1-yard line, then crossed the goal line.

Franklin admitted the Lions were expecting Indiana to call a matador defense.

“Yeah, I think they did let us score,” he said. “Their chart was telling them to score and our chart was telling us not to score.”

For painful review:

The Hoosiers had one timeout left. If they took it after first down at, say, 1:42, the Lions could have milked the clock to 1:02 on second down, :22 on third down, kicked a field goal on fourth down or run another play. Either way, Indiana would have been in desperation mode with 20 seconds, no timeouts and 75 yards to go.

There have been other questionable in-game management issues under Franklin, and he’s typically not used the victory formation to take a knee, preferring to handoff instead.

But those situations haven’t resulted in a loss–let alone a significant upset to start the Big Ten and thus suck the air out of the season, especially an abbreviated one.

Not so much losing but the way it happened marks the low moment of Franklin’s tenure because decisive thinking would have ended the game.

Allen knew it, and Franklin presumably now knows it.

Penn State also had three timeouts left. If there was any lack of clarity whatsoever, it should have used one, even if new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarracco needed to recommend it from upstairs.

Really, the ball should never have left Sean Clifford’s hands. He’s their best runner anyway. The most trusted line of communication at crunch time has to be from the playcaller, (Ciarrocca), to the head coach, (Franklin), to the quarterback.

Because that blew a fuse, Penn State must not only get ready for Ohio State physically but regroup emotionally.

Plus the Nittany Lions have generally not played well after their first loss, something Franklin has acknowledged in the past.

Now the team heads into what was supposed to be its game of the year with its head coach knowing they’re 0-1 because of him.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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