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Franklin takes steps to save season

In starting out 0-3, Penn State has already lost what it thought was a chance to be in the Big Ten East title race, if not in the running for the College Football Playoff.

Beginning today, we’ll find out if James Franklin has lost more than just three games.

We’ll find out if he has lost the team.

Against Maryland last week, it sure looked that way as the Nittany Lions — by their own admission — lacked energy and certainly a response as the Terrapins bolted to leads of 21-0, 28-7 and 35-7.

Being dominated by Ohio State is one thing, but the Lions have owned Maryland since the teams started playing regularly in the 1960s.

Some quick history. Penn State has started 0-3 twice in the last 50-plus years.

The 2001 team came out of the gate 0-4, then regrouped to win five of its last six before losing at Virginia — in a game rescheduled to Dec. 1 due to 9/11 — and costing itself a bowl bid.

The 1964 team was 0-3, but got it together to win six of its last seven. Included among the wins was a 27-0 beatdown of No. 2 Ohio State, in Columbus, Rip Engle’s greatest victory.

Those teams got off the deck. Beginning today at Nebraska (noon kickoff, FS1) we’ll see if this one can.

Knowing Penn State’s performance went beyond Xs and Os against Maryland — and also knowing if he didn’t inject some needed urgency it could quickly turn this from an awful start into a disastrous season — Franklin made some procedural changes this week.

For one, he held a team meeting in person with the entire squad, something that had been avoided due to the virus as Zoom was utilized instead.

“I’m a relational leader,” Franklin said. “Talking on Zoom doesn’t have the same connection.”

He found desired results, saying the team had its best practice of the season after Tuesday’s heart-to-heart/face-to-face.

“They (players) felt better, and I know I felt better,” Franklin said. “I felt as connected with the team on Tuesday as I’ve felt in a while.”

The team had been using three locker rooms — at Lasch, Holuba Hall and the Pegula Ice Arena — but that’s been condensed to two with enough social distancing.

Result: Franklin senses improving team chemistry.

He also shared his own personal challenge. With his family living in Florida due to COVID-19 concerns (one of Franklin’s daughters has Sickle Cell anemia, which puts her at higher risk), the coach admitted his focus had strayed.

“I have not done a great job of managing my family being gone,” he said. “They are my fuel. I go home, they are able to pour into me and I have not done a great job of that. At the end of the day … I have to manage those things. I have to come to work.”

While he took pride in telling the media a month ago that he’s ridden the squad about masking up, Franklin is now deferring that duty.

“I’m going to let the trainers and doctors manage COVID, and I’m going to coach football,” he said. “I have a responsibility to make sure we play well. At the end of the day, we got to get it done no matter what.”

Maybe Franklin unburdened himself this week. Maybe his admission that the off-the-field issues — many of which everyone else is dealing with, too — could have been handled better will clear the air with his team.

And maybe the Lions will find the most unfortunate disclosure that Journey Brown’s career is ending because of a heart condition will serve as a rallying point.

We’ll find out more today and throughout the remainder of the season.

It won’t necessarily show up in the form of a win at Nebraska.

But it should be obvious in terms of energy, enthusiasm and organization that have been missing so far.

Rudel can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com. If you’d like to register for the Mirror’s free “Lion Online” newsletter, an account of Saturday’s game, click bit.ly/2SAy1J4. It’s emailed at noon each Sunday.

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