It's been the same old story for Penn State football this season, with the same issues keeping James Franklin's team from joining the elite teams in the Big Ten.

An offensive line that has blocked poorly for the run and the pass. A quarterback who has been sacked 36 times. Special teams that keep making mistakes. A team that continues to commit errors substituting or lining up in formations, forcing Franklin to waste timeouts.

Meanwhile, the fans wonder why the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-3) haven't achieved more significant improvement from 2014.

Franklin said Tuesday he hears the complaints. He would like the program's progress to proceed at a faster pace. But he feels there has been improvement on offense, defense and special teams.

"If you look at our conference record, it's better right now," the Penn State coach said at his weekly teleconference. "We've done some nice things, so I think we have improved. We have more wins right now than we did at this time last year, so there is progress being made.

"Is it to the degree that everybody wants it to be, including myself? No, it's not. Is it the pace that everybody wants it to be? No, it's not. But there is progress being made. Our O-line has improved from the beginning of the year."

As for the folks on the outside who don't see improvement, Franklin said, "Let me say this: I am aware of our challenges, and more so than anybody else that's looking at it."

Franklin said he and his staff could have performed a quick fix for the Nittany Lions coming off sanctions by signing junior college players but he wanted to build a program "for the long haul."

The Nittany Lions, 0-5 against ranked teams in Franklin's two seasons, get another chance Saturday when they face No. 6 Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich.

Franklin said he feels his team is about where he expected it to be.

"We're about on schedule, to be honest with you, in a lot of ways," he said. "We could win nine games or 10 games and I'd still hope that we were further ahead. You're always going to feel that way. But I think in a lot of aspects, we're on schedule. We have a lot of work to do."

One area is to stop the needless burning of timeouts if the defense is not aligned correctly or the offense is in the wrong personnel group for the play that was called.

"I'm not pleased with it whatsoever," he said. "Haven't really had this issue for five years that I've been together with this staff, and I've made it very, very clear that those things are going to change moving forward. . . . We've got to do a better job and that starts with me."

Franklin, who does not discuss injuries, admitted that his team is banged up this week. "That's shown up as the season has gone on, but probably more so this week than really in the year and a half we've been here," he said.

One of the injured is defensive end Carl Nassib, the senior from West Chester and Malvern Prep. Nassib started last week on senior day but left the game after only a few plays.

For all the work the Nittany Lions need to do to improve, Franklin said his sole focus is on preparing for Michigan State.

"Any other discussions, any other conversations, I don't see how they help us get ready to beat Michigan State," he said. "I want to make sure that everybody is aware, I can see the problems and the challenges that we have like everybody else can. We're addressing them every single day."

Nassib a finalist

Nassib was named one of three finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy given to the best player in college football who began his career as a walk-on. The other finalists are Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Washington State quarterback Luke Falk. Fans are allowed to vote in the competition, with information at www.burlsworthtrophy.com.

Nassib is also a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award given to the nation's best defensive player.

@joejulesinq