Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

James Franklin does extra homework after Auburn game, checking out controversial calls and non-calls against Penn State

The coach reviewed the tape of the Nittany Lions' 28-20 win, read the rule book and called knowledgeable people for help in trying to understand some officiating decisions.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford passes during the victory over Auburn on Saturday.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford passes during the victory over Auburn on Saturday.Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

In addition to his usual postgame film study, James Franklin gave himself plenty of extra homework after Penn State defeated Auburn.

Simply put, Franklin wanted to understand some controversial calls against the Nittany Lions that were made by the SEC officiating crew Saturday night during his team’s 28-20 victory.

“After watching the tape and studying it,” he said Tuesday at his weekly Zoom conference with reporters, “and asking a bunch of questions to a bunch of different people … I’m not going to get into how the calls were ruled by the conference.

“But in terms of my interpretation, the way I understand the rules and reading the rule book again, I wanted to address those questions that were asked of me after the game.”

Franklin used the last four minutes of his media session to discuss four calls and non-calls, “not from a critical standpoint.”

  1. An intentional grounding penalty against Penn State’s Sean Clifford in the second quarter.

  2. What Franklin felt was intentional grounding by Auburn quarterback Bo Nix that was not called in the third.

  3. A fake punt play in the third quarter in which the Lions’ 325-pound defensive tackle, PJ Mustipher, took a short snap into the middle of the line for no gain on fourth-and-1.

  4. A fourth-quarter personal foul penalty against Lions linebacker Brandon Smith, who brushed Nix after he ran out of bounds.

“It’s one thing to have a feeling during the game about how a certain play plays out,” Franklin said, “it’s another to go back and watch the tape and make sure that we understand the rules correctly and that we’re teaching the rules correctly with our team.”

On first down, Clifford threw a pass that was ruled intentional grounding, meaning a loss of down, but it actually cost the Nittany Lions two downs. Penn State ran a play after the penalty, but the field officials and the replay official all ruled the next play would be fourth down. The SEC issued a statement after the game saying the officials had erred in their count.

Franklin said in reading the rule book and speaking with people who “study the game and interpret the game,” Clifford should not have been called for grounding because he was not “under duress” in the pocket. The fact that the receiver broke the route off short when Clifford expected him to go deep also should have factored into whether the call should have been made, he said.

Nix threw a pass out of bounds late in the third quarter that had fans howling for intentional grounding, but there was no call. Franklin said the Auburn quarterback was out of the pocket on the pass.

“Interpreting the rules and trying to learn from what happens in games and educate my staff and educate myself — again, not being critical but just making sure we understand these situations — I think the ball was snapped from just inside the hash and the quarterback threw the ball from the hash, so I would not interpret that as outside of the pocket,” he said.

On Mustipher’s failed fourth-down run, Franklin said the Tigers had a man over the Penn State center.

“In punting situations and kicking situations, it is illegal to have the center covered in kicking situations,” he said. “Looking at that play and studying that play and interpreting that play, I don’t think you can cover the center on those plays.”

As for the personal foul call, Franklin said he felt Smith was “trying to pull up and hold the player up” when Nix went down.

“That one, I guess, could go either way, but I think if you’re trying to pull up on the sideline after running full speed, that’s challenging,” he said.

Following Villanova

The Nittany Lions began preparations Tuesday for their game Saturday at Beaver Stadium against Villanova, a school that Franklin wished had recruited him out of Neshaminy High School.

“Villanova gave me the stiff-arm just like Penn State did,” said the coach, who played his college football at East Stroudsburg. “I had a really good experience where I played and where I went.

“I’ve watched [Villanova] closely. There’s a lot of guys that we recruit in the state that end up having an opportunity to go to Villanova. It’s a great school. I remember when they won the [2009] national championship. Football has a great history all the way back to Billy Joe and Howie Long. I’m a big fan of their history and tradition and what they’ve been able to do in the state of Pennsylvania.”