Some fans among the Penn State faithful take such pride in the program’s reputation for class that they’re raising red flags about late scores in blowout victories the past two Saturdays.

The concern for sportsmanship is deeply rooted in Happy Valley, a foundational principle of Joe Paterno’s grand experiment to achieve success with honor. The idea is that a competitive environment should not preclude mutual respect, courtesy and common decency.

Should such a concept extend to the field in regard to blowouts? If so, how and when should it be effectuated? What are the unwritten rules in lopsided games? Is fifth-year coach James Franklin crossing any lines?

Here’s my take:

Don’t relax too soon

As the Nittany Lions were reminded in Week 1, opponents can sometimes score as many as 28 points in a single quarter. And PSU is as susceptible as any program given that it has been on the short end of time-of-possession in every game this season.

Penn State should never ease up prior to the fourth quarter, and then only when the opponent has clearly conceded (punting on fourth down, not trying on-side kicks, playing backups).

Even then, the Lions should not take a knee or run every play straight up the middle because …

Backups deserve meaningful reps

State fans, myself included, don’t even want to think about it, but redshirt freshman QB Sean Clifford could go from mop-up duty to highly meaningful snaps in the blink of an eye. If Trace McSorley gets injured or concussed and Tommy Stevens (foot) isn’t ready, Clifford could find himself staring down the defense of Ohio State, Michigan or Wisconsin.

So maybe, just maybe, his reps should involve running Ricky Rahne’s full offense rather than practicing straight hand-offs. Maybe his 4 passes are too few, rather than too many.

When Clifford entered the game against Kent State to start the fourth quarter, the score stood 49-10. At that point, what’s left is a 15-minute scrimmage, and both teams should try to get something out of it. The Golden Flashes conceded the deep ball from the start and never adjusted. Clifford’s program-record 95-yard bomb is on them.

Don’t stop the clock

In the final 3-4 minutes, the dominant team should not call timeouts, or spike the ball to practice the 2-minute drill. At a certain point, the goal has to be to get both teams off the field without risking injuries. If it’s first-and-goal from the 5 with 1:10 on the clock, it is time to take a knee three times. The sportsmanship-vs.-meaningful reps balance needs to tilt toward sportsmanship at that point.

Don’t challenge a call

My only beef with Franklin so far is challenging Ricky Slade’s second fumble against Pitt. No need to delay a 51-6 game with 1 minute remaining, whether to jab Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi or out of concern for the psyche of a true freshman running back. Let the game end. Get to 0:00 as quickly as possible.

No need to apologize

Franklin is not in uncharted territory.

Sometimes, there’s not much a coach can do, no perfect way to get off the field. Under Paterno, the Lions whipped up on Pitt 65-9 (1968), 55-18 (1971) and 57-13 (1992).

In Big Ten play in 2002, the Lions crushed Michigan State 61-7 despite holding Larry Johnson out for the entire second half.

Unlike boxing, in football the ref cannot stop the fight. Consider 1991: PSU 81, Cincinnati 0.

“Nobody¬†ever wants to be in a game like that,” said Paterno, who played almost all backups in the second half but stopped short of asking them not to try.

Bearcats coach Tim Murphy absolved his counterpart of any desire to run up the score. “I’m embarrassed, not Joe Paterno,” he said.

Looking ahead

Next year, the Lions start the season with home games against Idaho and Buffalo. In subsequent years, FCS schools Villanova (2021, 2025) and Delaware (2023, 2027) are slated to visit Beaver Stadium. I dare say Franklin will take more heat if any of those games are surprisingly close than he will for less-than-perfect handling of a blowout.

I, for one, am confident he’ll strike a good balance. He’s a class guy who should only get better with experience.

Penn State’s legacy and tradition are in good hands, in this or any other football-related matters.

No need for Franklin to challenge that!