The Mind of James Franklin

Story posted October 6, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Eric Oakley

A field goal from the 1-yard line. A punt from the opponent’s 32-yard line. A timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty to protect a 21-yard field goal. James Franklin makes these decisions that he explains in press conferences by saying something to the tune of, “I went with my gut.” This has led many Penn State faithful to wonder what goes on in Franklin’s head. How can he make so many foolish decisions? Well I hate to be the one to break it to you, but he really doesn’t.

Franklin is well aware of when he wants to take chances or play it safe. Take for instance punting while in opponent’s territory. Penn State punted the football on its opening drive at Pittsburgh when the ball was on the 35-yard line on a fourth-and-4 situation. Any year prior to this, the offense stays on the field and they go for it. Penn State is averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season, while other top-tier schools are hovering around five. The offense already threw an incomplete pass on the third down play so Franklin, who knows he has an elite punter, played it safe and opted to battle for field position. In this scenario, the choice didn’t pay off.

Here is one that did. In last week’s overtime thriller against Minnesota, a first-quarter field goal from the 1-yard line would have turned into a nightmare for James Franklin in his postgame press conference. Instead, he gave his team a chance to win for later in the game and ultimately, they did. On the team’s second drive, a decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Minnesota 28 resulted in no gain from Saquon Barkley. Keep that in mind. A drive later, the decision to kick a 19-yard field goal from the 1-yard line was made for two major reasons. One, Barkley was stuffed on the last fourth-and-short. Two, Penn State trailed by three and Franklin was willing to take the points while he had the chance. This lead to the final drive where Penn State only needed a field goal instead of a touchdown to force overtime.

Another situation where Franklin was criticized was punting against Temple on the first drive from the Temple 32-yard line. He has made it obvious that he will not take chances early in the game. Once again, he trusted Blake Gillikin to pin them deep and he did just that, placing his punt at the 1-yard line. The ensuing drive resulted in three-and-out and Penn State scored on the next series on two plays. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this was clearly the right decision by Franklin.

A decision that is still talked about is a two-part situation. On fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Franklin elected to kick the field goal at Michigan while trailing by 28. A controversial decision, but not his worst. Penn State was on one of its best drives of the year, a seven-play, 73-yard drive. If it doesn’t end in points, it is useless and deflates the team. Nothing would be worse than being shutout and Franklin knew this. What was the truly questionable decision, was calling a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty, which he admitted was a mistake. The real mistake was his indecision to decide to kick the field goal, which led to the near delay of game.

Despite popular belief, Franklin will put his players in the best position to win games or leave with some pride. Where the improvement needs to come, is not his decision making, but instead his indecision that forces him to waste timeouts. So, don’t blame James Franklin’s decisions for losses. Blame the team’s slow starts that allow opponents to be stay in games or just flat out lose before the end of the first quarter.


Erik Oakley is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email