Chris LowESPN Senior Staff Writer
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State coach James Franklin shouldered the blame for a curious fourth-down call Saturday night that saw running back Miles Sanders stuffed for a 2-yard loss with just over a minute to play, sealing a 27-26 loss to No. 4 Ohio State.
The Nittany Lions squandered a 12-point fourth-quarter lead to suffer their first loss of the season.
“They changed the look [on defense], so we called a timeout and had some discussions,” said Franklin, who called two timeouts before the ill-fated fourth-and-5 play was smothered by Ohio State’s Chase Young at the Buckeyes’ 45-yard line.
“We obviously didn’t make the right call in that situation, and that’s on me, nobody else. We didn’t make the right call, and obviously, it didn’t work. We have called something similar like that in other situations, and it broke for a big play. But that’s on me.”
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who set a school record with 461 yards of total offense, agreed with the coaches that based on the defensive alignment Ohio State was in that there would be a “crease” up the middle for Sanders, who was held to 43 yards on 16 carries.
“We came out and tried to get them to jump a little bit and see if we could get them to move,” said McSorley, explaining the second timeout. “I know exactly what the coaches saw. I saw the same thing. It was there to be made. We just didn’t make the play. They ran a twist and were able to get into the backfield quickly, and we weren’t able to pick up that twist. They hit Miles right when he got the handoff.”
McSorley, who had 175 rushing yards, said it’s easy to second-guess after the fact.
“It was the coaches’ decision, and I agree with the call. We just didn’t make the play,” McSorley said. “We didn’t think they were going to be set and could get a hole up in the middle and crease them. That’s what our thought process was, but we weren’t able to pick up the twist.”
Miles Sanders gets tackled for a loss on fourth down by Chase Young as the Buckeyes take over and hold on for a 27-26 win.
Penn State has won 24 of its past 28 games, and those four losses have been by a combined eight points. Franklin said it’s the little things that are costing the Nittany Lions in those defeats and part of the problem is that too many in the program are comfortable.
“The reality is that we’ve gone from being an average football team to a good football team to a great football team and worked really hard to do those things,” Franklin said. “We’re not an elite football team yet. … Right now, we’re comfortable being great, and I’m going to make sure everybody in our program, including myself, is very uncomfortable because you only grow in life when you’re uncomfortable.”