Penn State Football

Bye week surely a busy one for Franklin

After a 29-6 loss to Northwestern, Penn State coach James Franklin had two weeks to right the ship. On Saturday, he’ll see if his work paid off against a struggling Michigan squad.
After a 29-6 loss to Northwestern, Penn State coach James Franklin had two weeks to right the ship. On Saturday, he’ll see if his work paid off against a struggling Michigan squad. CDT photo

Is James Franklin a good carpenter?

The last time we saw the Penn State coach on a game day, he promised to hitch up the tool belt and get busy hammering.

His squad had just been throttled 29-6 by Northwestern in a game that wasn’t really that close.

As he left the podium at Beaver Stadium, Franklin made a solemn vow.

“I want the fans, the media, the recruits and everybody to know that I promise we will get this fixed,” he said.

Well, the foreman and his crew of coaches got at least a little extra time to make some of the repairs. Thanks to a bye week, the Nittany Lions had almost two full weeks since the Northwestern debacle to make the needed fixes.

Will they pull it off?

Well, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” only needs a week.

Or will it be like patching the hole in the Titanic?

Or maybe somewhere in between?

Franklin’s teams do have a history of winning after a bye week. At Vanderbilt, he was 3-1 following a bye, with the lone loss to national champion Alabama in 2011.

His team won’t be facing a power like the Crimson Tide on Saturday.

Michigan (2-4) is a train wreck.

The Wolverines have lost four of their last five, including a 26-24 decision last week at Rutgers. They’re the same Scarlet Knights that Penn State beat 13-10 on the road earlier this season.

Michigan fans are pretty much marking the time for Brady Hoke’s departure. The coach that was so heralded after an 11-2 record in his first season has worn out his welcome in season four. Not even a win over the despised Ohio State Buckeyes appears to be enough to save Hoke.

Even the students are ticked in Ann Arbor.

First they staged a rally to fire Athletic Director Dave Brandon.

Now they’re threatening to boycott the kickoff to ruin the panoramic picture of the Big House that the university has taken in its previous two games under the lights.

Throw in the debacle with Hoke sending concussed quarterback Shane Morris back into a game two weeks ago against Minnesota and its a Detroit-like mess.

Yet, somehow Penn State (4-1) is a point or two underdog for this game.

What do the folks in Vegas know or think they know?

Maybe the wiseguys are doubting whether “the fix” is in.

Certainly, the offensive line is the priority for Franklin’s makeover. The problem is extreme.

The Nittany Lions haven’t been able to run against anyone of significance. The team’s trio of running backs have yet to find any rhythm. Honestly, all of them look tentative because they look like they have no idea where — if anywhere — there will be a hole.

Heck, after Northwestern they don’t know whether their own guys will be blocking each other.

If the Nittany Lions have made any progress in the ground game, it should show Saturday. As bad as things have gone for the Wolverines, their run defense has actually been decent. Michigan is giving up an even 100 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has taken a pounding the first five weeks, but he could get a reprieve, especially if Franklin has made some fixes in the pass protection. Michigan has just 12 sacks and the Wolverines are 13th in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense. They’ve also intercepted just two passes and picks (6) have been a concern for Hackenberg.

Defensively, Franklin doesn’t need a wheelbarrow full of tools to fix things. The front seven has performed well, though Northwestern exposed how much Penn State missed an injured Nyeem Wartman by completing passes down the seam to the tight end.

The secondary will get the test of facing its first big-time receiver in the Wolverines’ Devin Funchess. The junior, who has 29 catches this season, gashed the Penn State defense with four catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s four-overtime thriller.

Whatever the results Saturday, Franklin will have one more bye week to get ready for Ohio State, which has rebounded from its early season upset against Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes put a 63-14 spanking on the Nittany Lions last season that no one in that locker room will forget. And you don’t get the feeling that Urban Meyer will hesitate putting another smackdown on Penn State and another former Southeastern Conference coach.

This week is important. It already started poorly when quarterback recruit Brandon Wimbush backed out of his oral commitment and bolted to Notre Dame — one of the rare setbacks for Franklin on the recruiting trail. One has to wonder why Wimbush, who committed to Penn State over the summer, joined a crowded quarterback situation in South Bend. (Insert your conspiracy theory here.)

With the fickle nature of recruiting — and it seems more teams refuse to back off after someone commits — the perception of weakness can cost you.

So you better have your house in order.

Let’s see what Saturday’s game hammers home.