PSU can’t savor 5-0 taste for too long
UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin’s typical post-game routine has almost never included much of a peek ahead.
After a win, he’s generally deflected such inquiries with, “I’m going to enjoy this one for the next few hours.”
Saturday night, however, brought a different approach.
The Nittany Lions’ 24-0 victory over Indiana, which improved them to 5-0 to likely maintain their ranking in the Associated Press Top 5, was less than an hour old before Franklin was admittedly going to lose sleep over this week’s trip to unbeaten Iowa.
He likes to have doughnuts with his daughters on Sunday mornings, “but it’s too early so now I leave them on the doorstep, and then come into the office. There were a lot of things we’ve got to correct from this game, and we got a tremendous challenge on the road.”
He was recruiting in the Philadelphia area on Friday night so he didn’t see the Hawkeyes’ 51-14 destruction of previously unbeaten Maryland but was keeping tabs while being driven back.
“I followed it on social media,” he said. “I think we all realize Iowa is a really good football team. They always are, but they’re playing on a different level.”
Penn State checked a bunch of boxes against Indiana as the Lions’ suffocating defense handed the Hoosiers their first shutout in 21 seasons. They also displayed outstanding special teams, led by Jordan Stout, and continued to showcase Jahan Dotson, who is becoming one of the best receivers in school history.
Dotson made eight catches for 84 yards, and his two touchdowns from Sean Clifford set a PSU record for the most prolific QB-receiver combination with 18 scores, breaking the mark held by Todd Blackledge, who announced Saturday’s game for ABC, and the great Kenny Jackson.
The much-maligned run game produced 209 yards, led by Keyvone Lee’s 74, which is actually a season high for any running back, and a figure helped by Lee’s 44-yarder when the line finally opened a gaping hole.
“We were able to get the running game going,” Franklin said.
But he acknowledged the reoccurring failings in short yardage. PSU running backs have been thrown for losses 30 times through five games.
“We’ve got to get better,” Franklin said. “It’s important to be able to impose your will.”
There’s no question about Iowa’s will. Led by the Big Ten’s most senior coach in Kirk Ferentz and longtime defensive coordinator Phil Parker, Iowa isn’t trying to trick anybody.
Iowa leads the nation in turnover margin (2.4) and has already intercepted 12 passes – six at Maryland.
“What’s amazing is, you turned on the tape from yesterday, from six years ago, 12 years ago, they do what they do, and they do it well,” Franklin said. “The fact (is) they’re always in zone coverage and they always have eyes on the quarterback.”
That’s part of what makes this matchup especially intriguing, along with the high stakes.
“We know we have a very good football team coming,” Dotson said. “I watched the game (Friday night). We know it’s a great challenge for us.”
“I watched (Iowa) a little bit,” defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher said.
Asked to elaborate, Mustipher smiled and said, “I watched a little bit.”
Penn State is quietly confident, feeling its first-half schedule of at Wisconsin, despite the Badgers’ struggles, and win over Auburn have fueled preparation.
“I think we’re tested,” Franklin said. “I think we’re mentally and physically tough. And we haven’t put it all together yet. That’s exciting for our future.”
The future of 2021 will be partially defined this week and Franklin, too busy to be picky over his Sunday morning donut selection, knows it.
“I am looking forward to the hospital, and waving to those children (cancer patients, an Iowa tradition),” he said, “but that’s the only thing I’m looking forward to.”
So, even at 5-0, no sprinkles.
Rudel can be reached at email@example.com.