The 2022 Penn State season is just a little over a month away, and James Franklin is returning on a hefty contract for his ninth season as the man in charge.
Franklin has brought Penn State a Big Ten Championship once in his time with the Nittany Lions in 2016 but failed to make the College Football Playoff.
2021 was an up-and-down season for the blue and white, finishing just above .500 at 7-6 on the season.
There were a couple of situations where the Penn State faithful scratched their heads at Franklin or his staff’s coaching.
His past two seasons, Franklin has been pulling in the recruits but hasn’t had the records to pair with the players on the roster.
In the eyes of some Nittany Lion fans, Franklin is on the hot seat, so here are some numbers from 2021 that Franklin can improve on coaching-wise to win back the fans.
One of the main coaching decisions in the game is whether the offense stays out on the field or the field goal or punt unit comes out on fourth down.
When Franklin elected for the offense to stay out on the field, Penn State was only 41.67% against FBS schools converting on fourth down in 2021.
The 41.67% had the blue and white tied with Kent State and NC State to tie as the 100th-best conversion percentage in the FBS.
Penn State was 11th in the Big Ten converting on fourth down in 2021, only ahead of Illinois, Rutgers and Iowa.
Going for it on fourth down is typically decided by the head coach, and Franklin goes for it on fourth down a lot — 26 times in 2021.
However, he only made the right decision 12 times out of that 26, showing most of the time Franklin made the wrong decision by keeping the field goal or punt unit on the sideline.
In 2022, Franklin needs to have better judgment when deciding to try and convert on fourth down or prepare the team better to convert in those game-changing situations.
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In the red zone, the goal for the offense is to jog back to the sideline with six points up on the board and the PAT unit passing them by.
Penn State wasn’t the best at achieving the ideal scenario with a 47.6% touchdown rate in 2021. Coaching the red zone comes down to Franklin as well as the offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich.
The Nittany Lions had the 11th-most red-zone touchdowns in the Big Ten with 20, and the two teams blocking them from reaching Indianapolis on Championship Saturday, Michigan and Ohio State, were first and third, respectively.
Penn State’s scoring percentage in the red zone wasn’t too shabby with the made field goals from now-Baltimore Raven Jordan Stout, but when going against high-powered offenses like Ohio State and Michigan, the Nittany Lions can’t afford to trade touchdowns for field goals.
Like converting on fourth down, Franklin needs to have his offense more prepared to convert touchdowns within the the 20-yard line
Quarterback Sean Clifford is coming back for his fourth season as the starting quarterback at Penn State and sixth year with Franklin, so the two should by now know the best place to deliver the ball pre-snap
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Penn State lost four games by four points or less in 2021, and if the Nittany Lions pulled those games off, they would’ve been 11-1 in the regular season and in place for a real good shot at their first College Football Playoff — or at least a New Year’s Six bowl.
In three of those games, Penn State had the lead and gave it up, so when Franklin has his troops in the right direction, he can’t keep them moving forward.
Against Iowa, Clifford did get injured for half of the game, but backup quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson didn’t look ready on the drives he had.
Backup quarterbacks won’t be as good as the starter, but they should be ready to at least keep a lead enough for the win, and that’s on the head coach and his staff at the end of the day.
Losing in those tight situations goes back to Franklin because he can’t keep momentum going in the close games to pull out the victory.
The opposing defense and offense make adjustments at halftime, so Franklin needs to be better at seeing the adjustments and adjusting his team to win in 2022.
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