Tommy Bowden Discusses James Franklin's Fourth-Down Call Against Ohio State

Penn State fans may never get over Franklin's fourth-down call against Ohio State

Taz and the Moose
October 29, 2018 - 9:38 am

The biggest Big Ten game of the season came down to one play Saturday night, and James Franklin made a call that Penn State fans, quite frankly, may never get over.

Facing 4th-and-5 on Ohio State’s 43, Franklin took the ball out of the hands of Trace McSorley – who had torched the Buckeyes for a school-record 461 yards of offense – and ran a read-option hand-off to Miles Sanders, who was stuffed for a loss.

A couple of kneel-downs later, Ohio State escaped with a 27-26 win.

What was Franklin thinking?

“If you notice right before the play, there was a Penn State water boy or ball boy on the sideline,” ACC Network analyst Tommy Bowden began on Taz & The Moose. “He handed James Franklin something to drink, and I think he drank before making that call.”

Bowden was joking, of course, but Franklin’s decision stunned just about everyone.

“I was really surprised,” Bowden said. “Fourth-and-5, the percentages of a run play – unless you’re physically dominant of that team, I don’t think it’s got a chance to be successful. You could see him on the sideline. It looks like he was listening to the conversation of that offensive staff. He probably had a chance to veto it but didn't veto it. I don’t think he made the call. I know he said he did, but he's a good head coach. He took the knife.”

Almost any running play – or play-action play – likely wouldn’t have worked in that situation, Bowden said.

“A play-action pass wouldn’t have been good because they’re probably bringing heat, and most people think you’re not going to run anyway – so they’re not going to honor the play-action pass,” Bowden explained. “But some kind of sprint out, a three-receiver route – something like Clemson ran against Alabama. What it is, it’s a two-point play with 4th-and-5 in the middle of the field. It’s just about the same amount of distance. You usually carry three or four two-point plays. I would have pulled one of those. . . . If you look at the run options on 4th-and-5, you won’t carry but one or two.”

Ohio State (5-0) moved from No. 4 to No. 3 in the AP Poll, while Penn State (4-1) fell from No. 9 to No. 11. Worse for Penn State, the Buckeyes have, in essence, a two-game lead in the Big Ten East standings. They also, as of now, play just two more games against ranked teams: at No. 20 Michigan State (3-1) on Nov. 9 and against No. 15 Michigan (4-1) on Nov. 24.

Penn State, meanwhile, must win out and hope for a couple of upsets to reach the Big Ten Championship.

Elsewhere around the country, Clemson (5-0) survived Syracuse, 27-23, but fell from No. 3 to No. 4 in the standings, this after losing Trevor Lawrence to a head injury in the first half.

“I think it’s critical that Trevor Lawrence stays healthy,” Bowden said. “Chase Brice went in and played well, but with Kelly Bryant, Trevor Lawrence, Zerrick Cooper ad Hunter Johnson, he’s in essence the fifth-team quarterback. They’ll struggle with Chase Brice. They need Trevor Lawrence to get in the playoffs, there’s no doubt about that.”

Syracuse (4-1), meanwhile, came oh-so-close to upsetting Clemson for the second straight season.

“I don’t think he’ll be there very long,” Bowden said of Syracuse coach Dino Babers. “I think he’s got some signature wins in his career. They’re going to have a hard time keeping him. They’re going to have to come with more money, and Syracuse traditionally doesn’t do that. But I think he’s an excellent coach."