Last weekend’s opening loss to Temple was so nasty that Penn State players decided to bury the game tape. Which may explain the revisionist history we heard Thursday night.
During head coach James Franklin’s weekly radio show, host Steve Jones closed the first of Franklin’s two segments by talking about injured middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White.
As you no doubt recall, Wartman-White sustained a season-ending left knee injury on a punt play in the second quarter vs. the Owls, a moment that was THE turning point. The Lions led 10-0 at the time and would go on to lose, 27-10.
Some (including me) questioned the use of such a vital player on special teams (Wartman-White called the plays and made pre-snap adjustments for PSU before the injury). I even asked Franklin about it after the game (see above) and he very politely disagreed with my premise and explained that starters will always be on his special teams. In Wartman’s case, I still did not agree with Franklin, but he gave a fair answer to the question.
Thursday afternoon, Dave Jones of PennLive.com and the Harrisburg Patriot-News (and some other name they like to use that I forgot) wrote a column that was critical of Franklin for using Wartman-White on special teams. I can only guess that’s what led to what we heard Thursday evening on the radio show.
Really, without being asked, Steve Jones said, “All right, one quick note on Nyeem: that was a punt-safe situation. You keep your defense in (on) fourth-and-2 or less, or on plus side of the field on punt safe, correct?”
Franklin answered, “Yes, and probably also when we’re playing teams like a Temple where I think going into the game they may take some risks, you know, to swing momentum and things like that. So yes, you’ll go into a punt-safe situation so they can’t run a fake on you. You discourage them from doing that. You give up a little bit on your punt return game with that, but it’s more of a (way to) prevent them from being able to swing momentum to get a big play.”
There is, however, one tiny flaw in the punt-safe argument.
Penn State actually had the ball and was punting on the play during which Wartman-White was injured. And you can’t really play punt safe on offense.
Well, unless the idea was for Wartman-White to prevent his own punter (Daniel Pasquariello) from attempting to run or pass for the first down. ;)
In all seriousness, Penn State was facing a fourth-and-24 from its own 20 early in the second quarter when Pasquariello came in to punt. Wartman-White was one of only two starting position players on the field for the Lions, lining up just to the left of the snapper. He was trying to block an Owl defender when his knee gave out.
As you can see in this photo, the next dead ball after Wartman-White went down was at 10:54 of the second quarter. And the play-by-play summary tells us that it was right after Pasquariello’s 36-yard punt and right before Temple began its next drive.
Again, the Owls did NOT have the ball when the play began. Penn State’s defense was NOT on the field. Nobody was in punt safe.
The point here is not to make a huge deal of what I’m sure was a honest mistake by a radio host who happens to have one of the more incredible memories of anyone I’ve ever met. The day he starts nitpicking the stuff I say, I’m in a world of trouble.
But for the sake of accuracy and fairness, it would have been nice for Franklin to set the record straight rather than simply following along and not bringing up what actually happened on the play.
Anyway, the much bigger mistake was the coaching staff using the Penn State defense’s most important player on a unit where so many others could have taken his place.
I guess what got me about the radio show recollection of the play in question were those two words, “punt” and “safe.”
It was a punt, all right. But as far as the Penn State defense was concerned, there was nothing safe about it.