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Penn State Football: Slim Victory Has Franklin Looking For Improvements In Key Areas

by on September 03, 2014 7:00 AM

The number of cliches about football being a game of inches or won in the trenches or simply men battling to see who "just wants it more" are endless.

But they are all to at least some degree accurate.

You really can lose a game by inches and sometimes a team really does want to put in that extra effort.

Those kinds of details are hard to track as a stat. It's not as though Penn State gained 30 yards of effort on Saturday or that Sam Ficken simply wanted to make his game winning field goal more than any given UCF defender wanted to block it. But there are invisible yards and points to be had that James Franklin knows can make the difference down the road.

"Number one, we lost the turnover battle and we lost the penalty battle, which they are two things that are going to be a major point of emphasis for us this week," Franklin said Tuesday. "Seventy-five percent of college football teams will beat themselves with those two statistics. We want to get those things cleaned up."

And Franklin is right. Those little things, such as penalties and turnovers, can suddenly become big things over the course of a game. A UCF roughing the kicker penalty would turn into a Penn State touchdown. A personal foul on the opening play would add yards to UCF's opening drive. Every turnover or penalty has the potential to open the door for your opponent. And good teams don't need that door open very wide to take advantage of mistakes.

Of course, Penn State did a lot of things right on Saturday. The Nittany Lions did win and made enough plays to take care of business when it mattered most.

"What we were able to do, which was also a big factor, which is explosive plays," Franklin said. "We were able to play a lot of explosive plays for our offense. Our defense, we didn't meet our goal.  I think if we had done that, then I would have thought we would have played lights out on defense. We need to get those things cleaned up. We were five‑for‑five (on offense in the redzone) but only one‑of‑four when it comes to touchdowns, which is what we want to be able to do."

One such area that Franklin didn't touch on but can be one of the most crucial aspects of a game is third down conversions. This past weekend the Nittany Lions converted 10 third down chances. In 2013, Penn State took four full games to make its 10th third down conversion. That kind of figure will change weekly depending on a variety of reasons. Still, the fact that Hackenberg and company were able to keep the chains is certainly a good sign for Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan.

If nothing else, extended drives mean less time that your opponent has the ball which can help win games that maybe you shouldn't have won.

All things considered though, generating over 500 yards of offense and holding your opponent to 24 points isn't a bad way to start the season.

"I think one of the things we talk about all the time is winning minimizes the issue. Losing magnifies the issues, but either way, the issues are still there, and we have to resolve them."

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