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James Franklin Press Conference: Michigan

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After a productive bye week, Coach Franklin is taking his team to Ann Arbor.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are headed to Ann Arbor following what Coach Franklin described as a "really productive" bye week.  Michigan may be 2-4 but their strengths compliment the Nittany Lions’ weaknesses a little too much.  Michigan has a strong defensive line, and by now we are all too familiar with how weak/young/inexperienced Penn State’s offensive line is.

Coach Franklin compared the two teams to open his press conference:

"We have the advantage in turnover margin.  We do not have the advantage in penalties; they have that.  We have the advantage in total offense, total defense, scoring offense and scoring defense."

If I had to guess, this game will be closer than most people (myself included) are comfortable with.

Resilience:

Q.  What did you learn from them [the team] coming off a loss, rather than coming off a win, what did you see from them?  Were you impressed with the way they washed it off to go into the next game?  What did you learn from your team seeing them come off a loss for the first time?

COACH FRANKLIN:  I think for the most part, the young men that I've been around, they are really resilient.  They bounce back.  They come back, and a lot of times probably faster than the coaches.

And I think the other thing that I’ve found in my career is they are waiting for that next meeting.  I think that's one of the things that's really important.  You play the game on Saturday, and then whether you have that next team meeting on Sunday or Monday, depending on your program, they are sitting there waiting to see how you as the head coach or the assistants, how they are going to handle that.

So, walking in there and sending the right message that we are all in this thing together and we all want to improve and we all want to get better; and let's correct the issues without attacking the individual.  That's not what it's about.  They want to be successful.  We want to be successful and we are all working together to do that.

So, I think between them bouncing back and handling it, and this isn't the first game that they have lost in their careers, but they also are looking at the coaching staff to see how we are going to handle that.

Again, they have been under different leadership for the last couple years, and to see how we are going to handle that is really, really important.  I think any time you go through adversity as a family or as a team or as an organization, and you handle it the right way, there's opportunity for growth.  And that's really what we try to do with everything.

This Damn Run Game:

Q.  What do you think is the key to sparking your run game right now?  Are there one or two things that stick out to you maybe on film that could give you sort of a jump start there?

COACH FRANKLIN:  It's funny, because we get these questions a lot.  I just did two interviews before coming in here and I wish it was that magic wand that you just kind of wave over people's heads or situations heads, but football doesn't work like that and life doesn't work like that.

You want to get better at something.  You just have to keep working and you just have to keep practicing.  Our kids are committed to doing that and our coaches are committed to doing that.  It's no different than it's been for the last 150 years.  It's footwork.  It's fundamentals and there's an aspect of it that's experience.

It's guys getting up there and getting in their stance and making some calls and they are seeing a front or they are seeing a blitz, and they have seen it before, they have recognized it, and they have had success with it before.  That's where the experience at the OLine and the experience at the quarterback position are so important, and I would also say probably the same thing at middle linebacker.

So, we are just going to stay positive and we're going to keep grinding through it, and I think one of the things that we talked about over the bye week is we can't abandon the run game, and that's myself and that's the rest of the coaches.  You get frustrated because you're not getting as much positive yardage as you want and you're trying to stay out of third and long.

But we've got to commit to the running game and we've got to be patient.  There may be what people would call an ugly three yard run.  Those are beautiful.  Those are beautiful and you've just got to keep grinding them out and you've got to stay patient.  That will help our pass game, that will help protection, that will help Christian (Hackenberg) and that will help a lot of things.  The way our defense is playing, they allow us to do that.  They allow us to do that.  I think that's going to be important for us.

Hack:

Q.  Christian Hackenberg, the week off, how do you think it could benefit specifically a guy like him?  He took a lot of hits the first five weeks.  Can you talk about how he handled the bye week?

COACH FRANKLIN:  I think he handled it extremely well.  He got in and watched film.  He was able to take care of his body and get in the hot tubs and the cold tubs and all the different things that we do with our guys with soft tissue and things like that, massages and whatever else we have to do to get them back as healthy and fresh as possible.

But, one of the things that I will say, and he's taken some hits and we want to protect our quarterback, but so does the Oline and so does the DLine and so do all those guys.  He's a football player, just like the rest of those guys.  We've got to protect him because that's going to give us our best chance to be successful.

But he's handled it no differently than the rest of our guys.  Get in and watch more tape of our opponents, but probably more importantly watch tape of ourselves, be critical of ourselves; all of us, myself included, and things that we can do better to put a product on the field that everybody can be really proud and excited of.

Q.  Following up on Christian, he has six interceptions and a fumble in five games and he's trying awfully hard to make a play for his offense, but would you like to see him maybe tone it down a little when it comes to trying to make the heroic play?

COACH FRANKLIN:  I think it's a fine line.  The way our offense has been the first couple weeks, there's been a lot on his shoulders, and it's always easy to find fault when things don't go well, but a lot of those plays that he has been aggressive, have gone well, have gone well.

I always get a kick out of watching games on TV and the announcers after the fact, questioning why somebody did something or why something was called.

You know, that's easy.  But when you're out there and you're competing and you're being chased by 300 pounders and things like that, Christian is growing just like we're all growing, and I've been pleased with it.

So, I think obviously at the quarterback position and a lot of positions, we want to continue to make great choices and make good decisions with the football.  But, a lot of those plays that he's made have been extremely valuable to our program, as well.

Play Calling:

Q.  You talked before about the running game.  The inconsistent offense, how does it affect the play calling in terms of trying to achieve what you like to call explosive plays?  Does it affect that at all?

COACH FRANKLIN:  It does, because now what you have to be careful of is now you become too conservative in how you're calling the game, and that can make you a little bit predictable, as well.

Because to create explosive plays, there's usually some risk associated with that in terms of play-action or drop back or holding on to the ball a little bit longer.  Well, now you have a chance for negative yardage plays to put you in third and long and it makes it difficult to sustain drives and things like that.

So I think all those things factor in, and it's like a lot of things in life, one thing doesn't standalone.  It affects another.  So yeah, I think you have to be careful that you don't fall into that trap.

Q.  You talked before about the running game.  The inconsistent offense, how does it affect the play calling in terms of trying to achieve what you like to call explosive plays?  Does it affect that at all?

COACH FRANKLIN:  It does, because now what you have to be careful of is now you become too conservative in how you're calling the game, and that can make you a little bit predictable, as well.

Because to create explosive plays, there's usually some risk associated with that in terms of play-action or drop back or holding on to the ball a little bit longer.  Well, now you have a chance for negative yardage plays to put you in third and long and it makes it difficult to sustain drives and things like that.

So I think all those things factor in, and it's like a lot of things in life, one thing doesn't standalone.  It affects another.  So yeah, I think you have to be careful that you don't fall into that trap.

Special Teams:

Q.  You've had a couple of field goals blocked, a punt blocked and pressured.  How do you work on tightening that up during a bye week?  And conversely, are you hoping to get more of those types of aggressive plays from your own special teams?

COACH FRANKLIN:  Yes, great question.  Going back and studying our special teams and looking at some of the things that we are doing, there's a couple areas that we had gray area in terms of responsibility and you don't ever want that.

I don't want the kids second guessing themselves, the young men second guessing themselves at the line of scrimmage or right before a play.  So, we were able to clean up some of those assignments and responsibilities which I think is going to be helpful.

And we are trying to create some plays.  It's funny, we kept talking about big plays, big plays, big plays and then we were able to get one from Jesse Della Valle, that was a big play from us in terms of swinging field position (punt return vs. Northwestern).  But we need more of that.  We need more of that in our return game.  We need more of that in our coverages and things like that.  But once again, we are just going continue to practice and talk about the importance of these things and show it to them on tape and keep working at it, and they are going to come.

Michigan:

Q.  When Devin Gardner, the Michigan quarterback is on, what traits of his are the most disruptive to a defense?

COACH FRANKLIN:  Well, I think it's a combination of things.  The fact that he's a veteran guy and has played a lot of games, I think that shows up.  I think the fact that he's 6’4", 220 pounds and probably one of the more athletic guys, in terms of being able to pull the ball and take off.

You saw him do that a couple times the other night and was able to get to the edge of the defense and really make some positive plays for them.  And that's challenging, because on defense, there's so many things that you're trying to stop, and now you have to deal with a quarterback as well.

So, you have a traditional running game, you have the passing game and now you have a quarterback who takes off and scrambles, whether it's a designed run or not, it's just another thing that you have to deal with.  I think also the fact that he's 6’4", 220 pounds, he's able to run through arm tackles and he's durable, he's durable, which is I think another factor.

You look at his completion percentage: he's been accurate, as well.  I think from what I understand and from what I've seen, him and (Devin) Funchess are like best friends and that shows up in the games, as well.  Those guys will probably spend a lot of time together and when he needs a play, he goes to that guy.

Q.  From a defensive standpoint, what are some of the things that defensive coordinators can do, without you giving anything away, but what can they do in general to keep a quarterback like Gardner contained in the pocket, etc.?

COACH FRANKLIN:  I think, obviously, it's discipline with your rush lane, your defensive line, what they call "caging" the quarterback.  So that's getting push with your interior tackles, your nose guard and your three technique; and that's what the defensive end coming off the edge and containing the guy.

I think a lot of times what happens is a guy gets out of his lane to try to make a play and no different than what we were talking about, the quarterback, sometimes that goes well for you and you get a sack because of it.  Well, other times it creates a rush lane and the quarterback is able to hurt you.

The other thing is obviously you could spy, you could go one look or one robber or whatever term you call it in your system where everybody is in man coverage, and typically you play man coverage to allow you to blitz, because you're not worried about zones obviously.  Where man coverage can also allow you to rather than blitz, to have somebody responsible for the quarterback.

But you also need to make sure it's somebody responsible for the quarterback that can catch them.  You can have somebody that's responsible for the quarterback and they run :4.7 and the quarterback runs :4.4, so I don't know if that makes a whole lot of sense.  So, personnel will factor into that as well.

And obviously some things you can do from a coverage perspective and making sure you have containment of the offense in terms of your defense in terms of two alley defenders on either side, whether it's a strong safety or outside linebacker.  But again, that creates weaknesses in other places.  So you've got to pick and choose your places and your battles.

Q.  You mentioned you had not been to Michigan and neither team is ranked this week but it's still Penn State-Michigan.  Can you sense a little extra enthusiasm not only from the team but the staff, as well, because of it?

COACH FRANKLIN:  Again, I think you guys have heard us talk about this before.  We try our hardest not to do that.  Whether it's out of conference games or conference games or things like that.  I want our routine and our preparation to stay as consistent as we possibly can.

I'm not sitting here with blinders on and I'm not naïve to think that certain games aren't different for certain players, and is there  when you go to the stadium, is there an energy that comes along with it?  Yeah.  And I want them to experience that and I want them to have fun with that.

But it's not like we are going to talk about it differently or approach it differently.  We're going to make sure that we are doing everything in our power to prepare week in and week out to play as consistent as we can.

Q.  In your experience in college football, especially in the SEC, going into a lot of hostile environments, do you put any extra emphasis on establishing the run early to establish tempo and take crowd out of it?

COACH FRANKLIN:  I think the biggest thing that you're trying to do is deal with not having the homefield advantage with the noise and things like that.  We have been trying to establish the run every single week and since spring football.  That's not new and that really has not changed.

You know, obviously, being able to go into their stadium, I think it's going to be important that we handle the initial rush of emotion that's going to happen; that they are going to have and that we are going to have, and that we ride that and stay consistent and be able to make it a four quarter game, is what you would really like to do.

Q. When you're watching a game like that (Michigan-Rutgers) live, how much can you take away from it?  And what do you zero in on, or are you just watching everything?  How many times would you estimate you watched Michigan film during the course of the week and leading up to it?

COACH FRANKLIN:  Yes, obviously you watch  I'm not going to watch the game like I watch our tape where you rewind it and see it from the end zone view and you see it from the sideline view and you watch each play like 12 times before you go on to the next play looking for things.

For me, when I watch a game, you're obviously looking a little bit at scheme and execution and things like that, but I'm also studying a lot of things.  I'm studying body language.  I'm studying the pace of the game and tempo, because a lot of times you can't get that off of coaching film.  So, you actually will go and watch live TV copies to kind of see what their tempo is like and things like that.

It's interesting, a lot of times you can learn stuff from what the announcers are saying from interviews that they did before the game.  So it's really more of a big picture feel that you're trying to kind of get about the game.  It may be the stadium, how loud it is, and is the opposing offense having a hard time communicating and things like that.

So it just kind of gives you an overall feel.  I think it also helped that we played at Rutgers and I know what the environment is like there, so that kind of factored into it, as well.  It's more big picture than anything specific with schemes and things like that.

Recruits:

Q.  You've had some pretty strong words in the past about guys who are committed to a program, whether here or somewhere else.  Obviously you can't speak on specifics but over the past weekend, there's been some guys that said they are going to take visits to other places, or finish out their official visits who have committed to Penn State.  What is your message to recruits that see the program go through the ups and downs of the season, or maybe guys that are weighing their option at this point?

COACH FRANKLIN:  To be honest, I don't think the season has anything to do with it, I really don't.  I think what happens sometimes is this is something you're kind of dealing with all the time.

I think you guys have heard me talk about this before.  I would rather guys not commit: when guys try to commit, I tell them no at first.  I say, "make sure you understand what you're saying and what all these things mean," and kind go through it with them and everybody involved and make sure that they understand how we see it and if they are comfortable.

Some people say, "well, you know, they should be able to go on their visits."  They can.  Don't commit.  Keep going and visiting places and go seeing places until you're very comfortable in making a choice, and then once you make that choice, you've given someone your word, you go from there, and we do the same thing.

So it's a challenge and it's difficult, especially when you're dealing with 17 and 18 year old kids.  And for most of these people, it's the first time them and their family have gone through the recruiting process, and it's a challenge, it really is.  The recruiting process is sped up; it's sped up.  I think that's part of it, as well.

But we're just going to stay positive, and we're going to continue to encourage these guys and continue to talk about what we're building and where we're going, and I think they understand that and I think they see that, and I think we probably have had less than probably most programs out there.