Blue White Illustrated

June-July 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 4 of 67

J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 2 2 5 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M E veryone in the Beaver Stadium media room saw it. Penn State head coach James Franklin, coming off back-to-back dis- appointing seasons, exuded a genuine sense of enthusiasm following the Blue- White Game. His post-scrimmage re- marks weren't those of a guy wallowing in penance for past letdowns. Pleased with the progress he had seen throughout the spring, and with hopes of seeing further development through the summer, Franklin set a purposeful tone. "Let's be honest," he said. "I want the fan base excited going into next year — that there's a buzz and they're talking about it. I want you guys to write nice columns, please. All of these types of things. I think there's value in it." Emerging from the doldrums of the past 26 months with a bright outlook, Penn State wants to push forward into a future marked by possibility instead of focusing on what hasn't gone well. And those challenges, of course, have been especially plentiful. To list them all isn't possible in this space, but certainly, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic served as the first domino to fall for the program. Penn State took the pandemic seriously, and the ramifications were wide-ranging, manifested throughout the 2020 season. The devastating forced medical retire- ment of running back Journey Brown, linebacker Micah Parsons' opt-out, poor performances leading to an 0-5 start to the campaign and tight end Pat Freiermuth's injury-shortened season all played out down the line. And it wouldn't stop there. A 5-0 start to the 2021 season came undone in spectacular fashion. Wins over ranked opponents Wisconsin and Auburn came to seem like distant memories after a defeat at Iowa, a demoralizing follow-up setback against Illinois in nine overtime periods, and ultimately, six losses in the final eight games on the schedule. That was enough to put anyone in a foul mood, but the example that Franklin set for Penn State this spring was any- thing but dour. It was for good reason, too. Welcom- ing Manny Diaz as the program's new defensive coordinator, Franklin said he was pleased with the foundation estab- lished this spring. With steady progress over the summer and into the start of preseason camp, the defense will have an opportunity to again be strong. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich returned for a second season and, for the first time in his career as Penn State's starting quarterback, super senior Sean Clifford will enjoy the continuity that comes from having the same OC two years in a row. The benefit extends to the receiving corps, which Franklin believes is well-rounded and deep, and an offen- sive line that has been much maligned in recent seasons. Even on special teams, where new co- ordinator Stacy Collins has taken over for Joe Lorig, Penn State left the spring feel- ing as though it had established a solid footing. In the absence of Jordan Stout, the Nittany Lions' do-it-all specialist, finding a perfect replacement will be challenging but not impossible. And maybe most important, there's plenty of potential in the newcomers to the program, both in the form of transfer receiver Mitchell Tinsley and a nine- man class of early entrants that includes spring standouts at running back (Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen) and defensive tackle (Zane Durant). None of it is meant to deny the im- provement that's still needed with the season approaching. At one point in his spring-wrap press conference, in fact, Franklin rattled off a list of outstand- ing questions for the summer, of which punting, the offensive line, and the line- backer positions were all part. But with the slate wiped clean on the schedule and, maybe more importantly, in the minds of the Penn State players, coaches and personnel that make up the program, there is a decision of critical importance to be made. Should Penn State approach the lead- in to the 2022 season as vindication for past wrongs and shortcomings? Or is the moment one in which the program has an opportunity simply to perform at its best without needing to carry that baggage? If Franklin's demeanor through the course of the spring is an indicator, the positive take is the one more likely to permeate the program in the coming weeks and months. "We answered some questions this spring, but we still have some ques- tions going into fall camp," Franklin said. "There's a lot of work that still needs to be done." With the right perspective, one that Franklin has tried to model and one that seems to have been absorbed by the pro- gram's stakeholders, the work that is now underway can lead to demonstrable gains ahead of the Sept. 1 opener at Purdue. Focused solely on the future, unwilling to dwell on the disappointments of the re- cent past, Franklin and those around him will do well to hold onto that perspective moving forward. ■ James Franklin is 67-34 in his eight seasons at PSU. He has purposefully set a positive tone heading into 2022. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL O P I N I O N NATE BAUER HOT READ PSU Has Reason To Feel Hopeful Ahead Of The 2022 Season

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