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Penn State Football’s 25-Game Stretch is a Model of Consistency

by on September 09, 2018 8:40 PM

James Franklin tries not to change — anything — from week to week.

With his players, with the media, with his staff, with his message.

You know the drill: Kent State, Kent State, Kent State.

Franklin strives for consistency. Lives for and by it.

Which manages expectations, creates familiarity, reduces stress, plans for contingencies, enhances learning and levels the emotional highs and lows of a long college football season — to say nothing of the academic semester.

It can be numbing, at times.

Franklin admitted as much last week, at his Tuesday press conference — the one he has held dozens of times, sitting at the same dais, in the same Beaver Stadium media room, with the same core cast of Fourth Estate characters that have remained the same over the past five years.

(Audrey and Neil in the same first row; Mark stands off to the same side; Ben sits the same place a few rows back; Josh is in the same row against the same wall.)

Franklin had just finished a dissertation on why every week is Super Bowl Week, for which he offered a mea culpa.

“I know you guys, this is your job,” said Franklin, now 1,702 days into his stay in Happy Valley. “I pretty much come in and say the same thing every week. And I apologize. You guys show up for it. But it hasn’t changed.”

Franklin is a creature of habit, borne of preparation, a bit of fear, some OCD and a big dose of micro-managerism. He does not like surprises. And he has taught his players that it is a good thing.

That consistency breeds comfort and confidence. It forestalls panic when an Appalachian State comes from behind and scores 28 points in the fourth quarter. (Of course, it does not always work; see, Ohio State, 2017; and Michigan State, 2017. The unexpected marathon weather delay in East Lansing was anathema to what Franklin is all about.) And it provides continuity when coaches and big stars take the lion’s share of their winnings and leave town, via graduation or job migration.

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AND IT MAY BE BORING

For a very large part, Franklin’s approach has worked. Take halftime in the Pittsburgh game, for example. Penn State led 14-6 in the driving rain, but Pitt was running up and down the field, and save for some miscues and poor judgment, the Panthers could have had a lead going into the locker room. They had knocked off No. 3 Clemson and No. 2 Miami the previous two seasons, so Pitt definitely had the potential to be upsetting.

Yet Franklin, his players said, was his usual self in the soggy Penn State locker room.

“His message was the same as it always is,” said linebacker Cam Brown, who has heard it for the past three seasons. “ ‘Trust our teammates, trust our coaches. Play our football, play how we should be playing.’ He’s pretty consistent in everything he says.”

It was nothing new. Franklin himself says he’s no Knute Rockne. Brown concurs.

“It gets boring sometimes, but it’s consistent,” Brown offered. “That means the world to him — to play consistent. That’s what we try to do.”

It’s a workmanlike approached, albeit celebrated and punctuated with home run swings and secret handshakes and post-game hip hop fests. It has become PSU’s DNA.

“We try to hold our composure no matter what the situation is,” said offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez, who was a freshman back in 2015, when the Nittany Lions were struggling and 7-6. “We take a look at what happened and move to the next play.

“We look to the coaches and each other. We especially look to the players. Coaches tell us what we need to work on, but it’s really up to the players. We look each other in the eye and hold each other accountable. If a bad play happens, it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s move to the next one.’

“And,” he added, “we do that every week.”

STREAKING LIONS

Since the Nittany Lions lost to Michigan 49-10 at the Big House back on Sept. 24, 2016, they have played 25 games. And they’ve won 22 of them, beginning with a 29-26 overtime victory over Minnesota in Beaver Stadium the very next week. (The Irv Charles Game.) Only two teams in all of major college football — 2017 national champion Alabama and Oklahoma, under 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield — have had a better record. Both are 23-2 over their last 25 games.

Along with Penn State, Clemson — the 2016 national champion — and Big Ten West boring bully Wisconsin, Penn State is 22-3 in that time. The Nittany Lions’ three losses have come by a combined seven points. Alabama’s two losses have been by 16 points, Oklahoma’s two by 13, Wisconsin’s three by 19 — that includes Penn State’s 38-31 win over the Badgers in the 2016 Big Ten championship game.

If you recall, Wisconsin led 28-14 at halftime of that game in Indianapolis. But Penn State remained consistent, embued no doubt by a boring — yet consistent — halftime message, and thanks in no small part to some brilliant play-calling by Joe Moorhead, they outscored the Badgers 24-3 in the second half to win the Big Ten title.

BIG FOR THE BIG TEN

Here’s how impressive Penn State’s current 25-game stretch is:

Only once in Penn State’s 26 years of play in the Big Ten Conference has it had a better 25-game stretch, extending over multiple seasons. That would be from 1993 (8-2 over the final 10 games) through 1994 (12-0) and into the first three games of the 1995 season (3-0). That equated to a memorable 23-2 mark.

Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions matched the current 22-3 string from 1995 through 1997, with a 4-1 record to finish 1995, followed by an 11-2 record in 1996 and a 7-0 mark to start 1997.

Franklin and Penn State are in groundbreaking territory.

Just don’t ask him about it during Tuesday’s press conference.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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