Bye week comes at perfect time for Nittany Lions

Penn State head coach James Franklin looks around before an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Penn State head coach James Franklin looks around before an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State’s bye week could not have come at a better time, according to James Franklin.

Halfway through a 12-game regular season and the Nittany Lions are right where they want to be. All of the goals set at the beginning of the year are still within reach for the undefeated team about to enter its most daunting stretch of games thus far.

The next three games are all against ranked opponents. A home contest against Michigan, followed by a trip to Ohio State that is rounded out with a game in East Lansing against Michigan State has the Nittany Lions busy preparing for their next opponent during the bye.

“(The Big Ten) loves us with that schedule,” Franklin said. “Obviously we did what we needed to do. We got to the bye in a good situation from a health perspective and a win perspective. We’ve got to take advantage of this week and find a way to go out and play with confidence next week against Michigan.”

As Penn State readies for the Oct. 21 showdown with the Wolverines, memories of last year’s embarrassing 49-10 losing performance that dropped the Nittany Lions to 2-2 are invoked in Franklin’s mind.

“(The Michigan) loss gave us a shot in the gut,” Franklin said. “Everybody took a look at the mirror and wondered what we need to do to move forward and take the steps that we need to take.”

Since the blowout, however, Penn State has gone 15-1, won a Big Ten title, appeared in the Rose Bowl and is playing well enough to have a serious Heisman contender.

Last year’s Michigan game, as well as the game against Minnesota proved crucial turning points for building momentum in addition to using the loss against USC at the Rose Bowl to provide extra motivation for a successful 2017 campaign that finds the Nittany Lions ranked third in the country.

“That loss as well as 100 positive steps in the right direction, everything just came together at the right time,” Franklin said. “We had a young football team last year, and we grew from all those experiences. The season ended in a way we didn’t want it to end. That’s a little bit of a motivator. A combination of a lot of things factored into us having a very focused, a very determined offseason to get us to this point where we’re headed in the right direction.”

Crucial to a successful bye week for Franklin will be the ability to self scout and address any issues that need fixed. Something needing addressed will be the issue of the right tackle position.

Following Saquon Barkley’s slowest performance of the season at Northwestern, Franklin was asked if he’ll continue the revolving door at right tackle ahead of Michigan’s staunch defensive line or make a more permanent move of shifting Brendan Mahon from guard to tackle.

“That’s a possibility because he’s done it before,” Franklin said. “The problem is now you’re going to be moving multiple guys. Now you’ve got one guy playing a different position and another guy inexperienced at another. So right now we’re going to leave the model that we have.”

With the added time to tweak and correct any apparent flaws, Franklin’s Nittany Lions will be rested and ready to face the toughest opponent to date.

“Right now we have a confident team that is playing well in all three phases,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a tremendous challenge with Michigan coming here. The bye week is at a good time, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

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