The sequence in Iowa City was crazier than anything seen by those who have watched and followed college football for a long, long time.
Penn State fans certainly remember the possession: A Nittany Lions touchdown called back by a holding penalty. A play called a touchdown by one official that was ruled short of the goal line on review. Another holding penalty moving the ball back from the Iowa 1. A third holding penalty nullifying an 11-yard TD run by Sean Clifford.
The Lions managed a field goal on the drive and eventually won the Oct. 12 game over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Naturally, the first question asked of James Franklin after the game was to comment on the bizarre third-quarter series.
The head coach hesitated, then replied, “I’d love to do it, trust me.
“I’d love to have a lengthy conversation about this,” he said. “I know our fans want me to have a lengthy conversation about it. It’s not going to do any good. I’m going to enjoy the win. I’m going to focus on the things that we can control. I know, I get it, but I’m in a no-win situation here.”
Franklin declined to say anything more three days later, when he admitted he had spoken to the Big Ten Conference office, saying, “It’s not appropriate to talk about it.”
Franklin wasn’t going to risk a fine from the Big Ten for public criticism of the officials, and he explained his stance further three days after the Lions’ harrowing 28-21 White Out win over Michigan.
“I’m not going to come in here after a game and talk about penalties and the impact they had on a game,” he said. “We’ve done that the last couple of weeks, a bunch of questions about officiating. The officials have a very tough job to do.
“Each week there’s going to be calls our opponent doesn’t like, and there’s going to be calls we don’t like. I’m going to handle it through the process that the Big Ten has, to be able to communicate one-on-one and be able to send plays in and try to learn and try to grow and try to coach my team and control the things that I can control.”
It isn’t known whether Franklin read Jim Harbaugh’s postgame comments after Saturday night’s game, but the Wolverines’ head coach took issue with some of the calls and non-calls.
Harbaugh specifically mentioned a defensive holding penalty early in the fourth quarter on third-and-11 that gave the Lions a first down and led to Clifford’s 53-yard touchdown pass to KJ Hamler. He also wondered why Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth wasn’t called for pushing off on his first-quarter TD catch, when replays showed that he did.
“It will be interesting to compare some of the different scenarios in the game in terms of the calls,” Harbaugh said. “I thought some of our receivers were getting tackled there on the last couple of plays of that [final] drive.”
Speaking Monday at his weekly news conference, Harbaugh was asked whether the game film confirmed what he thought. He replied, “Some, definitely,” and that his postgame comments were a “human reaction.”
“Sometimes it’s not fair,” he said, “but I remember being told a long time ago, ‘The only fair is the county fair.’ If you expect it, then you’ll be disappointed sometimes. So, yeah, I looked at those, and we go on with a stiff upper lip, make no excuses, and continue onward.”
As for Penn State penalties this season, the team is good in terms of numbers – 4.7 per game, tied for 11th in FBS – but not in yards (51.9, 44th). Only four of the Lions’ 33 penalties have been of the 5-yard variety, and their 11.0 yards per penalty is second in FBS, behind Oklahoma, another Top 10 team, which has been flagged 54 times.
“I think there’s penalties that are avoidable, and those should never happen, ever,” Franklin said. “They are unacceptable. But then there’s aggressive penalties … you don’t want them to happen, but they are going to happen.”
Whatever the penalty, however, Franklin promises to continue to keep his thoughts to himself.
“I’m going to try to avoid [complaining] and be respectful of the process and be respectful of the officials,” he said. “Also, I think it sends the wrong message to my team. I’m not going to come in after a game and talk about calls or officials."
Patterson charges eye-gouging
Michigan’s Shea Patterson accused at least one Penn State defensive player of intentionally eye-gouging the quarterback during his fourth-quarter sneak for a touchdown on Saturday night.
“I’ve never been in a pileup as violent as that one,” Patterson told the Detroit News. “Got the touchdown, but that wasn’t fun.”