STATE COLLEGE — Asked whether Penn State has played or coached to its standard this season, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin was short and to the point.
After jumping out to a 4-0 start, the 20th-ranked Nittany Lions have gone 2-3 since, and are all but officially out of the Big Ten East race after a 42-7 beatdown at the hands of now-No. 4 Michigan this past Saturday.
Dropped passes, special-teams errors, questionable in-game coaching decisions, untimely turnovers and bone-headed penalties have piled up with regularity this season. Penn State sits at 6-3 with three games to go (plus a bowl game).
A third straight 11-win season is no longer achievable.
“Obviously our standard and our expectation is to win every game we play. We have not done that for a number of reasons,” Franklin said. “I think you can list them all out, but at the end of the day, we have not played up to the standard that we have because our standard is to go out and put ourselves in the best position to win every single game, and we haven’t done that. “So you know, we will not be satisfied until we’re in that situation. But yeah, you know, we have very, very high standards and expectations of who and what we want to be.”
The opportunity for a Big Ten championship and New Year’s Six bowl appearance are gone, but safety Garrett Taylor said there is plenty of left to play for Penn State.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to show how resilient we are as a team,” Taylor said. “I know right now we’re going through what some might call a little bit of adversity. “But this team, we have a lot of fight in us and we have a lot of strong-willed guys. We’re not going to go out. We’re going to go out every week and prepare how we need to prepare and we’re going to work hard and we’re going to come out and put together a full four quarters each and every Saturday from here on out.”
Gross-Matos showing out
Despite the lopsided scoreline against the Wolverines, Penn State’s defense continued to perform well, keeping the Nittany Lions in the game for as long as they could before the dam broke.
The key to the defense’s improved play in the second half of the season has been the defensive line, in particular defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.
The Spotsylvania, Virginia, native has been on a tear as of late, including his four-tackle and solo-sack showing versus Michigan.
That comes on the heels of an outstanding showing in the win over Iowa where he recorded nine tackles, four tackles-for-loss and a career-high two sacks.
He earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors for his performance against the Hawkeyes. Gross-Matos ranks No. 2 the Big Ten and ranks No. 17 in the nation with 1.5 tackles-for-loss per game.
“We were excited about Yetur and thought he had the chance to make a move this year, but you never know,” Franklin said. “Obviously his production is probably as good as I’ve been around at the defensive line position, in terms of a complete game. Tackles, tackles-for-loss and sacks. That type of production is pretty productive.
“We need him to play that well again on Saturday against another tough opponent in Wisconsin.”
Offensive tackle Charlie Shuman said Gross-Matos is always a handful to match up against, even in practices.
“It’s hard,” Shuman said. “I have the benefit of having my own length so that helps me but it’s really hard, because I don’t know if you’ve ever seen his ankles. They look like most people’s mid-calf or thigh. He’s just a big dude. He’s strong and powerful. He’s quick. He has a huge repertoire that he can go to, if he gets beat on his first move, he has move, two, three and four that can beat you just as well.”
Vincent Lungaro covers Penn State football for CNHI Pennsylvania media properties. Follow him on Twitter @VinceLungaro.