Penn State coach James Franklin fielded question after question about his offense Saturday.
His evaluation of the unit after five games?
“Not where we need to be,” Franklin said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Is he confident the offense can turn it around?
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“We got a long ways to go,” the coach said. “I’m not happy with where we’re at.” When asked about wide receiver separation, his answer hit on the same point: “We got to be better. We got to be better in all those areas. There’s no doubt about it.”
He said playcalling — a part of the game he reiterated he’s been more involved — could have been more aggressive in certain situations.
By the end of his postgame press conference, Franklin was reminding the media the Nittany Lions beat Army West Point 20-14 at Beaver Stadium.
“We won today,” Franklin said. “We’re 1-0.”
But the Nittany Lions’ offensive struggles overshadowed the final result. Army came into Saturday with a 1-3 record, with a loss to FCS opponent Fordham. Penn State’s offense managed just 264 yards of total offense and couldn’t pull away from Army in the win. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed 10 of 19 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown, and running back Nick Scott led the team with 54 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries. The Nittany Lions picked up 108 yards rushing on 34 attempts, averaging 3.2 yards per carry.
The offense was missing running backs Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch and offensive lineman Andrew Nelson, all out due to injury. Defensively, safety Marcus Allen and linebacker Brandon Bell were also out.
Army gave Penn State opportunity after opportunity in the first half.
The Black Knights botched the snap on their first offensive play, giving the Nittany Lions the ball 42 yards from the end zone. Army turned it over again on its fifth drive, when running back Jordan Asberry bobbled and dropped a pitch to the turf, where Penn State linebacker Von Walker fell on the loose ball. On its following series, Army quarterback A.J. Schurr lost the ball before he made a move, and linebacker Manny Bowen was there for the recovery.
“Something’s bound to happen,” Walker said. “We just took advantage of those opportunities.”
But the Nittany Lions converted those three first-half opportunities into just one touchdown, allowing the Black Knights to hang around. Army’s first fumble set up Penn State’s eight-play, 42-yard drive capped by redshirt freshman running back Nick Scott’s 11-yard touchdown run. It was Scott’s first career touchdown.
The Nittany Lions didn’t score again until Joey Julius’ 37-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the half. Hackenberg was 6 for 14 for 43 yards in the first two quarters.
Penn State pushed its lead to 13-0 on a 27-yard field goal by Julius with 9:53 left in the third quarter. Army pulled within six points after an eight-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Schurr finished it with a 3-yard touchdown run with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
Hackenberg later connected on back-to-back big passing plays to help Penn State build a 13-point lead that Army couldn’t overcome. The Black Knights trailed by six points when Hackenberg lofted a deep ball for wide receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin made the grab falling to the turf, good for a 49-yard gain — surpassing Hackenberg’s first-half total. The Nittany Lion quarterback found a wide-open Mike Gesicki on the next play for a 33-yard touchdown.
Penn State led 20-7 going to the fourth quarter.
“It was a bit of a relief,” Godwin said, “just a sign that showed that we can execute no matter what.”
Godwin said the offensive struggles come down to execution.
“I don’t think any of it’s the playcalling,” Godwin said. “I think it’s just us executing the play. No matter what the play call is, we have to go out there and execute.”
Penn State failed to put together another scoring drive, leaving the door open for an Army comeback.
Schurr ran 56 yards for a touchdown to pull the Black Knights within 20-14 with 11:04 left. Army drove to the Penn State 43-yard line in the final minutes, but Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda sacked Schurr on fourth down.
Penn State took over with just more a minute to go and ran out the clock to seal the win.
“Our goal is to go 1-0 every week,” Scott said. “And that’s what we did.”