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Penn State Football: Ohio State Looms, But Nittany Lions First Have Three Games To Address Development Challenges

by on September 06, 2018 1:40 PM

At the end of the day the idea that Penn State looked like a team stuck between two different rosters shouldn't have come as a huge surprise.

The old guys looked good, the young guys looked young. Put them together and you get the kind of game that raises your eyebrows for both the good and the bad depending on the moment.

In turn it makes nothing about Penn State's opening four weeks of the season look easy. Saturday's game against Pitt won't be simple, Kent State, another competent team and Illinois for all its struggles is a Friday night contest in the Big Ten on the road. 

That being said, if the Nittany Lions continue to improve and continue to play more like the good parts of Saturday's win than the bad, then it's not all that difficult to imagine Penn State finding itself heading into a meeting with Ohio State undefeated. If not, Ohio State will be the least of Penn State's concerns.

So in a sense James Franklin's biggest challenge right now is getting to 4-0 while developing his team to a point where beating Ohio State isn't an unreasonable proposition. You get over the hump against the Buckeyes and things are slightly easier heading into an unfriendly slate of Big Ten games. If nothing else you feel like you have a punchers chance against everyone else.

The problem, you can only grow so fast.

"We've got to force feed that maturation," Franklin said after practice on Wednesday. "We've got to force feed the experience as much as we possibly can."

It shows in the brief glimpses of practice the media can see. On Wednesday the music was loud, and in a span of just a few minutes Franklin, Ricky Rahne and Brent Pry could all be heard shouting at various players, there was an intensity and urgency about the session. This isn't a team with the luxury of time, but unfortunately for them it's still team expected to meet certain standards.

"I'm more intense in practice than I ever am in games," Franklin added. "We're going to be intense in practice and those types of create that sense of urgency. But I think if you act like that on game day you're going to get guys who are hesitant and are concerned and don't handle things well."

It's a balance to be sure, Franklin doesn't articulate his concern the same way, but the pressure is on his shoulders perhaps the most it has been during his time at Penn State. His staff has as many new faces as old, his team not much different, aside from Trace McSorley, Franklin has become the other constant in an era where things won't be quite as easy as they were the past 24 months.

For Franklin it's a matter of navigation, getting a team ready for this weekend while on some level knowing the clock is ticking when it comes to the games that will truly define the season. As last week proved, he can't afford to take any of the opening games for granted, but it is equally true that there is an urgency as Penn State knows all too well what awaits the program at the end of the month.

"I think there's always a high level of pressure in practice and that is intentional, to try and get them prepared for what it's going to be like on Saturday," Franklin said

"I want to find out on the practice field, not on Saturday afternoon. So we're always coaching them that we have to be ready for Saturday, there's always that sense of urgency. But I think as coaches, when you go back in the meeting rooms you know the big picture that you're not going to go from A to Z in one week, you just have to keep chipping away at it. You go into meetings and practice with the menaltity that you have to get it fixed yesterday, but you also have an understanding as a coach that it's going to take time."

Are four weeks enough time? Everyone will find out soon enough.

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