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Penn State Football: Close Games Have Hurt Nittany Lions, But Also Account For Third Of Franklin Victories

by on November 07, 2017 3:00 PM

It is not without cause that Penn State's late game management has been something of a talking point the past two weeks. The Nittany Lions have lost two straight, both in which Penn State was either leading or tied inside of five minutes to play.

Coming out on the wrong end of both those games makes it only natural for fans to start asking questions.

But how has James Franklin been overall at Penn State in those situations? Well a bit better than you might expect, even if there is still plenty of room for improved results.

The cut and dry, overall Penn State is 11-10 under Franklin in games that were a single-score difference at roughly the five minute mark. On four of those occasions Penn State was the team leading, only to give up that lead inside of two minutes. The Nittany Lions lost all four of those games.

  • Ohio State 2017
  • Northwestern 2015
  • Maryland 2014
  • Illinois 2014

It seems fair to note that Penn State is a significantly different program now than it was in 2015 and even more so in 2014. The Nittany Lions lacked depth, talent, experience and frankly the offensive capabilities that made a post-sanction era anything more than survival. Franklin didn't handle everything perfectly during that span, but to go back and become overly critical of it seems pointless relative to the state of the program now.

So just looking at the past two years Penn State has won six games that were just the difference of one score inside of five minutes.

  • Iowa 2017
  • Temple 2016
  • Minnesota 2016
  • Ohio State 2016
  • Indiana 2016
  • Wisconsin 2016

The losses? Mostly the big boys.

  • Michigan State 2017
  • Ohio State 2017
  • Pitt 2016
  • USC 2016

While there are a lot of different factors that play into wins and losses, this overall figure probably best illustrates where Penn State is as a program right now. Simply put the Nittany Lions are better than most, and it shows. In 2016 Penn State beat nearly everyone it played in late game situations and only really struggled against the best teams it faced. That's more or less what you would expect.

Compare that to 2014 and 2015 and it's not hard to see the difference. The losses to Northwestern and close calls with Rutgers have turned into wins down the road, the late game mistakes against teams Penn State should beat have gone away. That's not to say the Nittany Lions and James Franklin have it figured out, far from it, but with just over a third of Franklin's wins coming in close games, it's hard to argue that everything is a complete mess.

The trick now, figuring out how to do it against the elite, because those are the games that define seasons.

And in the end, all the game management in the world can only mask issues on the field, so this isn't even really Penn State's biggest fish to fry right now.





Complete list of close games:


11-10 overall in games that were one-score at roughly 5 minutes: 6-4 last two years

Given up lead in final 2 minutes: Four times 0-4

Losses are bolded.

2017: 1-2

  • Iowa: Penn State wins on final drive

  • Ohio State: Buckeyes trailing with 3:00 

  • MSU: Tied with 4:05


2016: 5-2

  • Pitt: Penn State ball with 3:56 

  • Temple: Owls ball 37 seconds

  • Minn: Comeback/OT

  • OSU: Buckeye ball with 4:27

  • IU: Penn State takes lead with 3:58 to go

  • WIS: Badgers ball 5:07 to go

  • USC: Tied 1:05


2015: 2-2

  • ARMY: Knights ball with 6:48

  • UMD: Terps ball with 1:15

  • NW: Wildcats ball with 2:13, Penn State leading.

  • UGA: Ball with 1:42 


2014 3-4

  • UCF: Ball with 1:03

  • RUT: Ball with 2:52 

  • UM: Ball with 3:53

  • OSU: Ball with 2:54, scored FG, lost in OT

  • UMD: Ball with :41 after giving up lead via FG

  • ILL: Ball with :8 after giving up lead via FG

  • BC: Ball with 1:55 tied game, won in OT


Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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