Let's Be Frank

Editor’s Note: Let’s be Frank is a weekly column written by a member of The Daily Collegian’s football staff that aims to take a deeper dive into Penn State’s most recent game.

Let’s be frank, Penn State lacked rhythm on the offensive side of the ball following Sean Clifford’s second-quarter exit.

Despite holding a seven-point halftime lead, the Nittany Lions didn’t find the end zone in the final two frames and mustered just three points the rest of the way, as the Hawkeyes escaped with a 23-20 win.

Clifford and defensive tackle PJ Mustipher left the game with injuries and didn’t return, leaving a gaping hole on either side of the ball.

While the defense didn't miss a beat, the same can’t be said for the offense, which committed eight false start penalties and three consecutive following backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson’s entry.

The redshirt sophomore was a deer in headlights inside Kinnick Stadium, but who could blame him? He didn’t get much help from those surrounding him.

The veteran offensive line couldn’t communicate well enough on the snap count, and the run game failed to establish itself as a threat without Clifford in the game, who finished as the leading rusher, despite not playing for over half the game.

Yes, Roberson missed wide-open receivers on multiple occasions, but he wasn’t put in the best position to excel in his first critical game appearance.

Furthermore, the team as a whole can’t weather many more injuries to key contributors.

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Safety Jonathan Sutherland also left the game for good with an injury — the third team captain to do so in addition to Clifford and Mustipher.

Fortunately for Penn State, the bye week comes at a good time, giving the team an extra week before its next matchup. It can help navigate through injuries and pinpoint weaknesses that showed up against Iowa.

But this off week must be used wisely by James Franklin and his staff.

While addressing the media following Saturday’s game, Franklin took responsibility for the overall lack of preparation of his team — as he should.

Despite stressing the importance of solidifying the backup quarterback spot during the offseason, Franklin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich failed to prepare their second-string and his supporting cast for the worst-case scenario — an injury to their No. 1 guy.

There haven’t been any updates on the statuses of Clifford, Mustipher and Sutherland, but the Nittany Lions should prepare for the worst.

The worst would be Roberson playing as the starter for the rest of the season, Dvon Ellies and Coziah Izzard filling Mustipher’s role on the interior of the defensive line, and Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown seeing more time than they already do.

Franklin and his staff must make up lost ground throughout the bye week, as well as the week leading up to the homecoming game against Illinois.

Roberson and the rest of the team should be able to handle the Illini inside Beaver Stadium, but they certainly won't have it easy the following week when the Nittany Lions travel to Columbus.

All of that preparation starts Sunday in practice and the film room, where Franklin and his team can point out where things went wrong against the Hawkeyes, how to correct them and prepare better going forward.

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