James Franklin has seen too many coaches who live their lives in misery regardless of the outcome.
That’s why he often says he and the Nittany Lions “are going to enjoy winning.”
That was definitely the case Saturday as Penn State went into Auburn and came away with a convincing 41-12 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The lengthy postgame scene was reminiscent of a season-ending bowl victory in a southern venue with the Blue Band blaring and Nittany Lions’ fans basking in the moment.
Franklin circled the field, slapping five with anybody and everybody. The team posed for group shots with fans in the stands after belting out the alma mater, the entire coaching staff, arm-in-arm, partaking.
And then there was Franklin, at the center of a raucous locker room dance, video of which went viral.
Make no mistake: This felt like more than one win, like better than being 3-0, like the program is back on track.
This was a domination, a physical pounding over a respected SEC opponent and should serve notice there are more than two teams in the Big Ten that will have a say in the conference championship.
It was easily the most impressive road performance of Franklin’s nine-year tenure, and right up there with Penn State’s best non-conference road victories since the 1990s.
So complete was the effort that it’s hard to distinguish the aspect of the Lions most responsible.
The offensive line, beleaguered for years, played like their past brethren from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Players like Farrell and Munchak, Dorney and Benson, Hartings and Shipley had to be watching with pride.
The unit allowed zero sacks and escorted a run game that averaged 6.3 yards per rush in bludgeoning Auburn for 245 yards on the ground.
The tight ends, led by Brenton Strange, were an extension of the line and have brought a physicality the Lions lacked since 2019.
Freshman running back Nick Singleton again tore through the defense, rushing for 124 yards on just 10 carries, including a pair of 50-plus yard gashes. Singleton has five 40-plus yard gains in two weeks.
The defense racked up six sacks, 11 tackles for loss, induced four turnovers and has allowed just two touchdowns in the last nine quarters.
“The game,” Franklin told the PSU radio network afterward, “played out the way we hoped it would play out.”
Franklin acknowledged the team’s early-season improvement.
“We’re getting better up front,” he said, “and we also have some dynamic backs that help create some explosive plays.”
The run game has taken some pressure off Sean Clifford, who after absorbing a vicious hit that ended an early scramble, showed his toughness by not missing a play.
“That dude (Owen Pappeo) definitely rocked me,” Clifford said. “It looked worse than it felt.”
“Sean’s a tough kid, and I’m really proud of him,” Franklin said. “This was a fast, physical game.”
Clifford completed 14-of-19 for 178 yards. He added a rushing touchdown and a 25-yard reception.
“This team has got so many weapons, and I’m just there to distribute,” Clifford said. “When you have athletes in the backfield and on the perimeter and such a stout O-line and tight end room, it’s all about balance.”
Franklin thought the Purdue game was closer than it should have been because the Lions dropped too many balls on offense and defense.
That changed Saturday.
“We made some tough, big-time interceptions today than we dropped in weeks past,” he said. “To hold that team without an offensive touchdown for the majority of the game was significant.”
And so the season is now shaping up nicely. Predictions of 8-4 or worse must be adjusted.
Though Franklin still complains about opening the Big Ten schedule on the road almost annually — 12 of the last 13 years — there’s no question the win at Purdue helped toughen the Lions for Auburn, a team that isn’t great but has great athletes and tradition.
Penn State entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 22 in the country, and the Lions should leap into the Top 15 this week.
With Central Michigan and Northwestern up next — both at Beaver Stadium — it’s likely a showdown of unbeatens at Michigan’s Big House, after a bye week, looms on Oct. 15.
Just the thought of it has the Nittany Lions dancing.
Rudel can be reached at 814-946-7527 or [email protected]