What will USC do next?
UNIVERSITY PARK — There has been speculation that USC could fire coach Clay Helton after a disappointing season, and Penn State’s James Franklin has been mentioned as a possible replacement.
The Trojans had a strong showing in their season finale Saturday, giving No. 3 Notre Dame a tough battle before losing. USC finished 5-7, but the fight it showed against the Fighting Irish could help Helton’s cause for keeping the job.
There could be some resolution as early as today if USC backs Helton. If not, the speculation will continue until the school announces something — either to fire or keep the coach — and Franklin’s name likely will remain part of the discussion for any potential opening.
Franklin said Wednesday he has no plans to leave Penn State, and after Saturday’s win, he talked about how things will proceed as business as usual.
“Today we will go into a bunch of meetings, then the coaches will go out recruiting, and then we will get into bowl week,” Franklin said.
Ohio State’s win over Michigan did not help Penn State from a bowl standpoint, unless the Buckeyes wind up getting into the College Football Playoff.
If Michigan had won, then it would have reached the playoff by beating Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game. But with the Buckeyes winning, it will be tough for them to get into the playoff, so they probably will go to the Rose Bowl. That would put Michigan in a New Year’s Six bowl, either the Fiesta or Peach.
Penn State would have been in position for a Peach or Fiesta at-large bid had Michigan won. Now, the Citrus Bowl seems more likely, against an SEC opponent such as Kentucky or perhaps Florida.
It also didn’t help PSU that Washington beat Washington State on Friday night. The Huskies could wind up being ranked ahead of Penn State in the CFP, which would be another obstacle to the Lions getting picked for a New Year’s Six game.
“Wherever they tell us we are going, we will be very appreciative of the opportunity,” Franklin said.
Gross-Matos has huge game
The coaches have raved about defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos since early in his career, and we’re starting to see his production on the field match and even exceed the early expectations.
The sophomore has made huge strides the second half of the season and become a dominant force on the defensive line. He had 3¢ tackles for loss in Saturday’s win over Maryland, giving him 20 TFLs for the season. That’s tied for eighth most in a season in PSU history.
“A huge emphasis for us this week was to stop the run,” Gross-Matos said. “In the last couple games they’ve had offensively, their running back (Anthony McFarland) has been exploding all over. So I think we came out and played well.”
The Lions have had 26 tackles for loss in the past two games.
“The defense is much improved,” Gross-Matos said.
A lot of that is because of how Gross-Matos has played of late.
“He’s a guy that we always had a lot of faith in and belief in,” Franklin said. “He’s got all the things you’re looking for — he’s long, strong, athletic, quick, explosive, and he’s one of those guys that does whatever you ask him to do.
“Yetur never questions anything. Whatever we ask him to do, there is no push back, no question. He just does it and does it to the best of his ability. Those guys just get better. They don’t waste six months, they don’t waste a year questioning things.”
Sanders’ fumble issues continue
Miles Sanders ran for 128 yards on 14 carries Saturday, giving him 1,223 yards rushing this season. He has proven himself to be a quality back with the yardage totals, but there’s one thing that continues to plague him.
Sanders fumbled after a big gain Saturday, the fifth time he’s fumbled this season.
“For me, I think that’s the most important part of being a running back, and I kind of slacked off in that area,” Sanders said. “But when stuff like that happens, you can’t just dwell on it, you’ve got to keep playing. But that’s something I’ve definitely got to get better.
“Today was the first time I got in open field and got hit from behind. … I’ve just got to keep it tight for situations like that so nobody comes behind me and gets it. The other times I’ve just got to finish with the ball with two hands.”
WR Johnson back in action
Juwan Johnson returned to action Saturday after missing the past four games with an injury. He helped set up a late TD, catching a 38-yard pass to the Terps’ 18, then another 8-yard pass to the 5.
Johnson was expected to PSU’s top receiver this season, but he was hampered by drops early on before his injury. He has 23 catches for 339 yards and one touchdown.
Shuffling on O-line
Center Michal Menet did not play Saturday because of an undisclosed injury. Guard Connor McGovern slid over and handled the center duties, while Mike Miranda took his spot at guard.
“Mike’s a great player,” McGovern said of Miranda. “All year he’s been working right, left guard, so as soon as we got the news, we switched him right in and he did not skip a beat at all.”
Terps end tough season
It’s been a tough year for the Maryland football program, which endured tragedy over the summer with the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair. Matt Canada took over as interim coach for D.J. Durkin, who was later reinstated, only to be fired a day later following intense criticism.
The Terps had an opportunity to become bowl eligible with a victory Saturday, but they never had much of a chance against Penn State. Whether it was their season as a whole getting to them or the disappointment lingering over from last week’s crushing 52-51 loss in OT to Ohio State, the Terps didn’t have much fight left.
Canada was asked how he would like these Maryland players to be remembered.
“Just as a group of kids that stuck together, that had to deal with things nobody should have to deal with. How they matured and how they responded to adversity from all the things that came out every day they went back to work. They’re an unbelievable group of kids.”