Learn about the Penn State Sour Patch Guy and how he came to be.
Cameron Clark, York Daily Record
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — James Franklin embraced the moment after one more victory that was hard on the eyes.
He walked into a postgame interview room full of reporters focused on watching the end of the Ohio State-Maryland game on their phones and laptops.
So Franklin took a seat and broke down the final plays of regulation before talking about his own game.
He let down his guard for a few moments.
What can he really say about his Nittany Lions, who are riding a perpetual spin cycle to the end of the season?
He eventually tried his best after a numbing 20-7 survival against try-hard but outmanned Rutgers.
Franklin sounded positive that his offense can look better for next weekend’s Senior Day game against Maryland. He congratulated a defense that suffocated another limited opponent.
And we get it. Penn State is 8-3, which isn’t far off most predictions for this transitioning team, if at all.
The overall record, though, isn’t what stings.
It’s how this team looks doing it.
Here’s the deal, though: It’s best to simply accept this team for what it is and give up hoping for what we thought it might be.
This operation really is about next year now. Penn State is expected to return every significant component of its offense for 2019 except its quarterback.
Same for the defense.
And there’s a certain truth that eight victories by mid-November is encouraging on its own.
“At the end of the day a win’s a win. It really doesn’t matter how we get it,” said junior linebacker Jan Johnson. “Obviously, some things we’d like to be a little cleaner. But winning a college football game is hard to do. A lot of people would love to be 8-3 like we are.”
It’s a push and pull.
The passing game continues to be unhinged for a variety of reasons, which has forced the offense to be dysfunctional for long stretches.
Star-to-be tailback Miles Sanders runs hard, only to lose one fumble after another.
And senior quarterback Trace McSorley, once a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, is just trying to make it to the finish line the best he can.
Can you blame him for his struggles?
His receivers kept dropping passes to start the season, his most trusted simply disappearing. He was banged up, then injured. Finally, he’s lost his downfield accuracy that was his trademark.
It’s disconcerting to watch an offense so productive the past two years stop and start each week now.
But, again, the focus must be on the future.
Among receivers, freshmen KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson and tight end Pat Freiermuth were the best on Saturday, combining for 12 of the Lions’ 17 receptions.
Freiermuth, of all people, leads the team with six touchdown catches.
“He’s got great body control. He can contort his body in different positions and come down with the ball,” Franklin said. “He’s got a lot of confidence.
“It’s hard to say that about a true freshman.”
McSorley put it this way about his tight end: “He (practices and plays) like he’s 20 year old. He’s like the oldest young guy ever.”
There’s plenty of promise there, even if the offense can’t truly be fixed until the off-season. A healthy quarterback and more growing up for the youngest receivers, tight ends and linemen is required.
At least the defense is getting there more quickly. It will be responsible for subduing fast-flying Maryland, then whoever it meets in its bowl game.
Better yet, take one more step back: This Penn State team always was about leading into bigger possibilities next year and in 2020.
And, just because it looks rougher than expected right now, that promise remains.
Rather, it’s impressive that these guys are in position to win 10 games.
In years to come, most won’t remember how the beginning or end looked like against Iowa, Wisconsin or Rutgers.
Because wins for some teams really are just wins — as long as they do lead to something more.
That, easy or not, will be what next season is about.