Late 4th down decision looms large in loss
ORLANDO, Fla. — Armchair quarterbacking is one of the favorite pastimes of our football-loving society, and plenty of Penn State fans were second guessing coach James Franklin following Tuesday’s 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.
The Nittany Lions fell behind by 20 points before staging a comeback behind record-setting senior quarterback Trace McSorley, who may or may not have been playing on a broken right foot.
Penn State trailed, 27-21, with 4:15 left to play and faced fourth-and-7 from the Kentucky 14. Instead of letting McSorley and the surging offense go for it and try to get a go-ahead touchdown, Franklin instead decided to kick a field goal.
The hope was Penn State’s defense would hold Kentucky and give the ball back to the offense. But the Lions’ defense couldn’t stop the Wildcats, who picked up two first downs and ran out the clock.
“When you don’t stop them and they run four‐minute offense and they’re able to get a first down and burn timeouts, then obviously it looks like you should have went for it,” Franklin said after the loss, which ended PSU’s season at 9-4.
Many fans felt Franklin should have gone for it and voiced their displeasure on social media. Others, though, agreed with the decision, saying it was the right football call.
A Twitter poll conducted by a Mirror reporter received more than 900 votes as of late Tuesday, with 75 percent of respondents saying Franklin should have gone for it.
“At that point, I had full confidence we were going to get the ball in the end zone,” McSorley said of the drive. “That was the mindset of our entire team. When it got to fourth down, I think it became, you kick it and make it a field goal game, it’s still manageable at that point.
“We could have rolled the dice and been in a worse spot had we not converted,” the quarterback added. “So I understand why we kicked the field goal. We kicked it through and gave ourselves an opportunity.”
And for the armchair quarterbacks second guessing the decision?
“Everyone’s going to have hindsight’s 20-20 and be like, it didn’t work out, we should have went for it at the end,” McSorley said. “In the moment, I think from the perspective of Coach Franklin and everything, it made sense.
“There’s armchair quarterbacks that are always going to be out there,” the quarterback later added. “They’re not the ones in meetings, they’re not the ones going through workouts, they’re not the ones putting their bodies on the line. So that honestly is just all noise to me.”
McSorley was injured late in the first half and did not start the second half. A Penn State spokesperson told reporters at the game that the quarterback had suffered a broken foot, but just minutes later he was back in the game and leading a comeback.
He did not get the chance, however, to see if could make one final heroic play on fourth down.
“If they decided that we were going to go for it, I had full confidence that we were going to get that down and be able to score,” said McSorley, who was wearing a walking boot after the game and said there’s no official word on his injury.