Penn State is still chasing elite under coach James Franklin.
The seventh-ranked Nittany Lions lost a seventh straight game to Ohio State on Saturday, needing more than 59 minutes to finally get into the end zone against the third-ranked Buckeyes.
Defense mostly ruled the day in first of three games matching the Big Ten’s three top-10 teams. The difference? Ohio State has All-American Marvin Harrison Jr., who set a career high with 11 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.
It was 2018 when Penn State, for the second straight season, let a second-half lead get away against the Buckeyes and lost a 27-26 heartbreaker. Two years removed from Franklin’s only victory against Ohio State and Big Ten title, he made a comment that still hangs over his program.
“We’ve gone from an average football team, to a good football team, to a great football team,” Franklin said then. “But we’re not an elite team yet.”
Five years later, that’s still the case.
Penn State hoped things would be different this season with its new former five-star quarterback in Drew Allar and a defense loaded with NFL talent.
Allar, who left his naive Ohio and his childhood team to play at Penn State, looked overwhelmed. He was sacked four times and finished 18 for 43 for 191 yards.
“Sucked,” was Allar’s self-assessment.
There were ominous signs coming in for Penn State’s offense as it dinked and dunked its way to an 6-0 start behind mistake-free offense and swarming defense.
Against an Ohio State defense that is every bit as formidable as Penn State’s — and maybe not getting as much credit as it deserves —the Nittany Lions’ lack of weapons outside was glaring.
“Drew needs some guys to make plays for him on a more consistent basis,” Franklin told reporters.
Getting Allar out of Ohio was huge for Penn State, but Ohio State pulling Harrison Jr. out of Philadelphia was the difference between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes on Saturday.
Heck, Buckeyes receiver Julian Fleming, another five-star from Pennsylvania, would probably be the No. 1 target on Penn State.
For Franklin, unquestionably one of the most successful coaches in the country during 13 seasons at Vanderbilt and Penn State, the record in big games remains an albatross.
Penn State has four 11-win seasons since 2016 under Franklin, but here are the numbers that exasperate Nittany Lions fans: 1-9 against Ohio State; 3-16 vs. top-10 teams; 1-13 vs. Ohio State and Michigan teams ranked in the top 10.
Franklin took over Penn State just a few years after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The program was still digging out from NCAA sanctions, its supporters still stinging from fallout of the end of Joe Paterno’s career.
He has restored the Penn State’s pride and placed it again among the best programs in the country, but not quite among the very best. Penn State fans can clamor for better, but good luck finding a better coach.
Franklin’s name often comes up when big-time jobs open because there is a presumption that maybe, unable to break through the Ohio State-Michigan ceiling, he would try something else.
Franklin is in the second year of a 10-year contract worth $85 million. Good luck finding a better gig.
The Nittany Lions will get another crack at a narrative-changing victory in three weeks at home against No. 2 Michigan. Hard to imagine the outcome will be much different than Saturday’s.
Franklin and Penn State seem stuck together on a hamster wheel, running after a goal that remains out of reach.
ABOUT THAT REMATCH?
Maybe we penciled in that Oklahoma-Texas rematch in the Big 12 championship game a little too quickly.
The Sooners and Longhorns both escaped three-touchdown underdogs Saturday and another contender —- or two — in the conference might be emerging.
No. 6 Oklahoma missed a chance to build a big lead in the first quarter and then needed to stop a late 2-point conversion attempt to hold off UCF.
Not to be outdone in the Big 12, No. 8 Texas escaped Houston with the help of a third down spot that went the Longhorns way late in the game.
If anybody thought the Big 12 officials were going to be out to get the departing Sooners and Longhorns, that third-down call that left Houston short of a pivotal first down disproved the conspiracy theory.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has come alive like the Undertaker sitting up in his coffin meme.
Behind Ollie Gordon’s 282 yards rushing, the Cowboys won their third straight game at West Virginia.
The Big 12 would love to avoid another Red River Showdown in the home of the Dallas Cowboys in December.
Oklahoma State and maybe Kansas State, which was playing TCU on Saturday night, have a chance to turn this into a four-team race.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: No. 17 Tennessee looked as if it was heading for its first two-game winning streak against Alabama since 2004, but the 11th-ranked Crimson Tide shut out the Vols in the second half to make it 16 out of 17 in the rivalry. “Obviously a pretty fun second half,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. For all the angst about ‘Bama, it rolls into its off week unbeaten in the SEC and waiting for another huge game against No. 19 LSU … Mississippi State’s 7-3 victory against Arkansas was the fewest points to win an SEC game since Auburn’s infamous 3-2 win over Mississippi State in 2008. More importantly, it was a real bad loss for Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman who is working his way onto a hot seat in his fourth season. … For the first time since 2014, Rutgers has reached six wins and bowl eligibility. The Scarlet Knight (6-2) won the game they badly needed to win at Indiana because the remaining four game include three ranked teams and Maryland (5-2). … This week in the wild, wild Big Ten West: No. 24 Iowa gave away control of the division by losing to a Minnesota team that didn’t score a touchdown and took Floyd of Rosedale for the first time since 2014; Wisconsin rallied with 18 points in the fourth quarter to beat Illinois on a touchdown pass in the final minute to an offensive lineman; Nebraska moved into the wide open race by beating Northwestern. … Toledo is making its case as the best team outside the Power Five. The Rockets have won seven straight after beating MAC rival Miami (Ohio).