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James Franklin, Penn State called ‘classless’ after final TD vs Northwestern

The late game decision making by James Franklin at Northwestern has some calling the Penn State football coach “classless.”



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Sep 30, 2023; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Trey Potts (23) catches a touchdown pass against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

They say, “Good teams win. But great teams cover.” That’s exactly what Penn State football did on Saturday against the Northwestern Wildcats. Despite going into halftime tied at 10, the Nittany Lions rallied behind 31 second-half points to beat Northwestern 41-13 — and cover the 27-point spread. However, some on social media took issue with Penn State’s final odds-beating score, calling James Franklin and the Nittany Lion program “classless.”

James Franklin, Penn State football called “classless” for late score against Northwestern

Going into Saturday’s game, many figured Penn State was a lock to cover the 27-point spread against Northwestern. The Wildcats are statistically one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. Additionally, the Nittany Lions came into Saturday scoring at least 30 points in 11 straight games and winning the last nine contests by 14+ points.

While Penn State football continued both impressive streaks and ultimately covered the spread, it wasn’t without a little late-game drama. The Nittany Lions trailed several times in the first half and went into the break tied at 10 with Northwestern. Penn State came roaring out of halftime with 17 unanswered points and led Northwestern 34-13 with less than 5 minutes to play.

After a Northwestern interception, the Penn State offense took the field with most of its backups substituted in with 2:20 remaining. On the first play of the series, backup QB Beau Pribula hit RB Trey Potts for a beautiful 30-yard touchdown pass to put Penn State up 41-13, which ultimately was the winning margin.

But some in the sports world were not too happy with James Franklin’s decision to throw the ball up 21 with two minutes left in the game, calling the Penn State coach “classless.”

Even the in-game broadcast took some issue with the “bad beat.” In the game’s closing minutes, the Big Ten Network commentators noted that it looked like Pribula had faked a kneel-down attempt. In their view, the play should have been called dead.

Were the Nittany Lions justified with their play call?

This isn’t the first time James Franklin has had to defend late-game play-calling decisions this season. Comments from West Virginia coach Neal Brown went viral after a similar play in the season opener against the Mountaineers.

“I wouldn’t have done it, but it doesn’t bother me,” Brown said. “Stuff like that, what comes around goes around. At some point, it’ll come back around. I don’t know when. It doesn’t bother me. I’m not upset about it.”

When Franklin was asked about the decision the following week, the Penn State football coach explained that his philosophy is to allow his backups to compete and develop with precious in-game reps.

“I believe that, from the opening kick to the last whistle, you compete and you play,” he said. “Now, if you leave your 1s [first-team] in, that’s a different story. Then you should change how you play, and you take knees and run in situations that you normally wouldn’t run in. That’s different. But when your 2s go in the game, those guys get a limited amount of reps. They should have a chance to compete.”

While everyone may not agree, Franklin’s viewpoint is valid and, in some cases, necessary to build depth. Franklin has repeatedly pointed to depth as one of the greatest strengths of the Penn State football team this season.

As for the view that Penn State “sandbagged” the touchdown play by faking a kneel-down? It’s likely that some viewers were duped by a poor camera angle. In the TV broadcast, it’s fairly obvious that Pribula was faking a QB draw on the play in question. Pribula, who has 166 yards and 2 touchdowns, has been one of Penn State’s best running threats this season.

Whether you agree with the play-calling decision or not, it’s evident that Penn State football has been an oddsmaker’s friend so far this year. The Nittany Lions have a bye this week before returning to action against UMass on October 14.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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