Penn State may be just one win away from becoming bowl eligible, but James Franklin's philosophy is still the same: one game at a time. Up next: Temple.
COACH FRANKLIN: First of all, it's Veterans Day, so I want to thank all the veterans out there for allowing us to have the freedoms and the opportunities that we have every single day. I think a lot of times it's taken for granted. My dad was in the Air Force and stationed in Manchester, England and met my mom. So I have a little bit of an understanding of the type of commitment that they make, but I don't think we're appreciative of that enough day in and day out for the sacrifices and the commitment made by our military.
I love the fact that the Penn State community has donated over 6,000 tickets to active duty and veteran military personnel and their families through the Seats for Soldiers Program. I also wanted to make a plug for the Stuff a Bus for Thanksgiving that will happen on Saturday. If everybody could bring a canned good for feeding the hungry, that would be awesome as well.
Q. James, in all your 20 years as a coach, have you ever been part of a team like this one that's been in so many close games? I think in 8 of the 9 games when the issue has kind of been in doubt in the fourth quarter, what's that high wire act been like for you and your staff? What have you learned about your team that's had to kind of perform in this kind of environment every week?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's awesome. I love it. I don't know if you guys remember the opening press conference when I got the job and I had this huge afro. That's gone now because of how the games have gone, but it's been fun (laughter).
I think to me this is what you want to do. You want to find ways to win close games. We were able to do that early in the year. Then we had a couple of games we didn't. Now we're getting back into that again. So I'm pleased with the guys.
Like I said after the game on Saturday, it's the prettiest game I've ever seen because the guys stuck together. Our offense has been unbelievably supportive and appreciative of our defense. Our defense has been unbelievably supportive of our offense, and everybody rallying on special teams.
I thought on Saturday we were able to play a little bit more of a field position game because Daniel Pasquariello I thought punted better, and that's how we needed to play the last probably three or four weeks. So getting that to be a factor in the game I think was really, really important.
So, it's been interesting. I sure would love to have a little bit more breathing room in there. But I think these tough games and emotional games build character, and that's why we do this in the first place.
Q. After the Indiana game, Christian Hackenberg talked about he wanted to win games to get a bowl game for the seniors. You don't have a lot of seniors on this team, but tell me how they've impacted this group this season?
COACH FRANKLIN: I would say in a lot of ways maybe even a stronger impact. Don't get me wrong, we'd love to have 30 seniors right now, but when you don't have 30, the few that you have, have to have really strong voices. We've been fortunate to have that. Where it's been magnified is we have some guys that haven't been with us. Not having (Ryan) Keiser in the last couple of weeks, his leadership has been unbelievable. Not having Dieffenbach all year long. So I actually think it makes their role even more important than if you had 30 because you can kind of spread the wealth a little bit there.
Q. James, now that you've had time to evaluate the film, how did Miles Dieffenbach play? Do you expect him to get more playing time in the coming weeks?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, Miles didn't get a lot of reps, but we were able to get his feet wet. Probably could have played him a little bit more, but we'd rather have been cautious on the front end than overly aggressive. I know he wants to have a bigger role this year, this week, and we'll see how he practices and go from there.
You'd love to be in a position where you get Donovan (Smith) back and Miles back. Donovan was our only returning (O-Line) starter with any game experience; starting game experience coming into the season. We haven't had him the last couple of weeks. Being able to have him and Miles is exciting just from an experience and leadership standpoint if nothing else. But I thought overall he did some nice things.
Q. Your defense has played well. Is there one or two things you could pick out that maybe actually surprised you a little bit at how well they've played or maybe over-exceeded even some of your early season expectations?
COACH FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, I was pretty confident. I was pretty confident. Again, I've been together with this staff now for four years, so I'm confident in their ability and the things that we've been able to accomplish in the past and that is in all three phases. Then on defense, I said to you guys early on in the spring and in the summer that when you looked out there on the defensive side of the ball, it felt really good, about basically all of our starters and that we had depth.
You look at our two-deep on the defensive line, I think you could make the argument it's one of the better in the Big Ten in terms of a two-deep.
We're fortunate because where we’ve had to play some young guys, are positions where I think you can afford to do that. In the secondary, Grant Haley's had an impact, Christian Campbell's had an impact, Marcus Allen has had an impact. And I'm hoping that (Troy) Apke will have an impact. So you're relying on inexperienced players, but you're relying on them in positions where I think you can get away with it.
Having a two-deep at defensive line and rotating those guys and keeping them fresh and active I think has been really helpful. Having a special player at the linebacker position, Mike Hull, I don't care what the Butkus people think, I can't imagine there is a better linebacker in the country right now than him. And I think he's been a great example for our whole team, and also Nyeem (Wartman) and (Brandon) Bell. He's one of those guys, that we felt like with Keiser, not only does he play at a high level, but he makes the guys around him better as well. And to get some reps out of (Jason) Cabinda and some of the other guys and playing nickel and star and those things has been beneficial for us.
Q. What's impressed you most during the summer and pre-season camp about Nyeem Wartman's work ethic? And did you notice him at all following Mike Hull's lead? He said that's part of what he did during the summer.
COACH FRANKLIN: I didn't really notice that. Nyeem's not really kind of loud, outspoken guy at practice. He just kind of does his job. Where I noticed Nyeem is, Nyeem is probably the one linebacker that we've got that really has some lead to him. He's a big, thick, strong guy. When he hits you, you go backwards. So he would make some plays.
Mike Hull would do it because of a combination of traits -- his speed and how aggressive he is, and how quickly he makes decisions. He hits you and knocks you back because of all of those traits. Nyeem has those traits as well, but he's 240-something pounds or something like that. When he hits you, you feel it. You really do. I think obviously him being slightly limited with something on his wrist, getting a little bit more mobility back in that hand I think has been helpful for him as well.
But again, I see him growing. You're not asking him to come in and be the man from day one. He could kind of follow the man in Mike Hull, but also be able to make a name for himself and make some splash plays as well and kind of grow into this role. I see him growing into the role really nicely. We think he's playing at a very, very high level right now and very fortunate that he's here with us on our side.
Q. You guys had struggles, but you talked earlier or last week about red zone wrinkles, and I think the QB draw may have been in. I don't think I've seen that before this year. What did you see on tape from that red zone series against Indiana before the field goal was blocked? And what do you have to do better to score more touchdowns in red zone?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's the same thing. I've been kind of answering the question all year long. We've got to run the ball better in the red zone. The answer is not really going to change. To me that wasn't really a red zone issue, it was a goal line issue. We got down to the one-yard-line and couldn't punch it in. We got knocked back. What you have to do is you have to score with your man. If you're blocking the defensive end, you have to block the defensive end into the end zone. If you're blocking the defensive tackle, you have to block the defensive tackle into the end zone. You've got to sustain those blocks, and there's always going to be one guy unblocked, that the running back has to break the tackle or make miss. We weren't able to do that. We weren't able to do that on Saturday.
I didn't look at that as a red zone issue. That was more of a goal line issue in that circumstance. But to me, the answer in the red zone is the same as it's been all year long is being able to run the ball.
We also went back and watched some tape from last year and some of the things that were going on that they were doing. The interesting thing, I'm probably going to tell you something that you guys probably already know -- Allen Robinson, I mean there are a lot of plays where guys were covered and they threw the ball to Allen, and Allen went up and snatched it in single coverage or double coverage. I think that's one of the things we can do a better job of is making plays. But running ball is going to be huge for us.
Q. James, I'm wondering, following up on the previous question, against Ohio State, even with the makeshift line and changes, it seemed like you guys were starting to hit a stride in the second half. You scored 24 points in just a little over two quarters. Did you think you guys were on your way to putting some pieces together consistency-wise on offense? And I don't know about disappointed, but did you think you may be further along after that performance from where you are the last couple of weeks?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I still think we are, to be honest with you. I think playing Ohio State, the white out, the emotion, all those types of things was helpful. I think the crowd had an impact in the game. I think the platform of the game had an impact. I don't want it to. I want us to play the same high level, week-in and week-out. But I'm not naive. That played a little factor in it.
But we've just got to eliminate it. We can't have a penalty on first or second down, it's second and two and we jump off-sides and now it's third and 8 or third and 12, whatever it may be. We can't do those things. We can't have the turnovers. The turnovers have been really kind of our issue. Making great decisions with the ball and the way we're carrying the ball and protecting it. So things like that.
I think we're really close. I mentioned that to you the other day. We watched film as a team of a number of plays that were that close to making it. You make those plays and things feel a lot different right now.
So I understand the point that you're making. I would agree with you to a degree. But I think in general we're a lot closer than maybe it seems, the way maybe it seems right now. I know it could probably be frustrating at times to watch. I know everybody has the answers. If you do, please email them and specifically what they are and how they work.
But I believe in our guys. I've been around this coaching staff for a long time. I've seen them break record after record after record running these schemes on offense, defense and special teams. I believe in our players and I'm hoping every single day as we continue to compete and stay positive that the tide will turn.
Q. You've mentioned just a minute ago about the success with the scheme and those kinds of things. Obviously, you're not the first coach to go through this and you won't be the last around the nation. But what are some of the difficulties just in general of playing guys who you didn't recruit? Because I know you mentioned the measurables before, but what are some of those challenges of getting people to fit into a scheme when you inherit players when you take over a program?
COACH FRANKLIN: I don't really think that's the issue here. I really don't. It's one thing if you're following a guy who ran the wishbone or if you're following a guy that runs the spread and you want to run the wishbone or you want to run a downhill, power offense, and they don't have a fullback in the program. It's all spread philosophy. So I think that's where the issue is the same. I know people probably don't agree with this, but a lot of the schemes and a lot of the things that we're doing are similar. People can have different opinions on that, but I've watched the film and I've studied it.
Is there a little different way of doing it? Is there knowing when to call certain things? Is there playing to our strengths a little bit? Yeah. I don't think there is any doubt that we all could be doing a better job, including myself. But I don't think that is the situation that we're in. You've seen places where a new head coach comes in and he's going to force his system in no matter what. I don't see us doing that, and I'm standing back and looking at this from a distance. I spent time on the defensive side of the ball. I spent time on the offensive side of the ball and on special teams. I don't really see that is the issue.
For us, these are all our guys from day one, the time we got the job, there is not this whole guys that you recruited and guys you didn't recruit. They're all our guys. I feel like we have a staff to take advantage of the strengths and hide the weaknesses.
Q. You guys have run the no huddle sporadically this season. What determines or how do you determine when to use that within the framework of a game? Would you like to do more of it?
COACH FRANKLIN: That's really kind of how we want it to be. We want it to be sporadic. I think if you do one thing all the time people get used to that. So our philosophy really over the last 7 or 8 years has been we want to be multiple formation. We want to be multiple tempo, we want to be multiple personnel groups, and we want to do those personnel groups and formations out of non traditional sets.
So, that's kind of who we'd like to be long term. I think that's what you're going to see. We've done no huddle at times this year, and it's worked successfully. We've done no huddle at times this year and it hasn't worked. We've put our defense back on the field too quickly. We've had the whole gamut. But that's who we want to be. We want to keep the defensive coordinator uncomfortable and on his heels because he can't ever get used to what we're doing and how we're doing it.
Staying on Schedule:
Q. How much more difficult is it to call a game when you're off schedule maybe 25, 30 percent of your drives?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yes, very much so. Obviously 1st and 10, 2nd and 6, 3rd and 2 is what you want. Now you get into a situation where you're 1st and 15 or 2nd and 12 or 2nd and 15 or 3rd and 10. There are a lot of offenses across the country that are going to struggle with that. Whether it's jumping off-sides or holding calls or whether it's inefficient runs or inefficient plays, sacks being a big factor for us this year as well. All of those things set you off schedule and now you get into a situation where you're more likely to throw the ball. Now you're getting in throwing sets and you're either max protecting and they can drop eight, or they're trying to pressure you and put you in even longer yardage situations.
So I think sometimes you kind of hate this as fans and you hate this as coaches, but sometimes you merely just reserve the right to punt and reserve the right to add to the punt. So you may run the ball. It's 3rd and 12 and you run the ball and everybody boos. But you get six yards, and now you're able to pin them deep in the punt. I know that maybe isn't the sexy thing to do and the exciting thing to do, but in a lot of times, what we've been trying to do the last couple weeks is play great defense, find a way to make some plays on offense and special teams and play field position football.
Now with our punting game coming on, I think we're going to be able to do that and allow our offense time to continue to build confidence.
Q. There is a certain perception out there that the only way a team can show improvement is if it's exponential from week to week. The way you looked against UCF you have to look completely different where you are right now. How do you measure improvement and success? When you have a team as young as this one is, when you've talked about the long haul so much, aside from the fact that you want to win every week, how much do your goals become objective based rather than big picture; we have to beat Ohio State this week?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's all the things you talked about. It is the wins. It is the statistics. It is watching the guys improve their foot work and their fundamentals. It is watching the staff work together and be creative and bounce ideas off each other and challenge one another. It is recruiting. It is selling out the game against Temple and showing everybody in this country that we're headed in the right direction and we have an unrivaled fan base. It's all of those things. That's kind of what I'm looking at. That's why I wake up every morning, do a backhand spring out of bed and excited about what we're doing. That's why I can come into the press conference after the game and have my chest up and my chin up because I know where we're going and I know what we're doing. It may not be as obvious to people on the scoreboard. It may not be as obvious to people in (looking at) the statistics. But I see. I see the foundation being laid. I see the attitudes. I see the hard work that's going in. I get the academic report every morning. "Did all 125 guys go to class and were they there on time and were they prepared?"
Coach (Dwight) Galt's staff comes up and talks about how hard they're working at this point in the season. And we lift harder during the season than they have in the past. "And how are they approaching that?"
It's talking to our training staff and how the guys' energy is when they're getting their ankles taped and getting ready for practice. It's all those little things.
So would we all love for it, like I said after the game, for us to go out and win the game 173 to negative 10, and would everybody be excited about that? Yeah. But it doesn't work like that. So to me, I think the point you're making is a good one. It's not just the stats, it's everything that goes into it that I am fortunate enough to see. Because my linebacker coach is focused on his world of linebackers. The offensive coordinator is just focused on offense and so on and so forth. So, what I get to do is hear information from all those people, as well as look at it all and feel very comfortable with kind of where we're going and what we're doing and how we're doing it, and the type of people we're doing it with.
Q. You mentioned that you've never seen a team that has 17 fumble recoveries. What have you seen from Temple that's made them so effective in that area? How do you maybe put in extra safeguards to combat that this week?
COACH FRANKLIN: We're going to stick to our plan. We do a turnover circuit on defense and a turnover circuit on offense every single day, stressing the fundamentals. I think it's like anything else. I think our defense is having success and that confidence breeds success. It's contagious. Same thing with getting turnovers. You start to have some success with it. You get one, and then you get two, and they kind of come in bunches. That is kind of how it happens.
So watching them on film, they do all the things that we preach all the time as well, which is playing hard and running to the ball. When you have an opportunity to be aggressive and make a play on the ball in the air, go after the ball. When you're making a tackle, secure the tackle first, and the next two or three guys coming in to strip the ball out. It's offensive linemen sustaining blocks so that defenders can't fall into plays. It's getting the offense to cover down so that if a ball does come out, the offensive line and other people are in position to pick it up. It's all of those things.
What we do a great job of, too, and I think and I hope, is showing them examples of what's going on across the country. We talked about the game the other night where you guys saw the guy was running in for a touchdown and thought he was in the end zone (but dropped the ball before crossing the goal line). To me it's not just the discipline of finishing the play, but it's getting the entire offense to run down the field and cover. For two things, to cover to protect your buddy, but also that if the ball comes out, you're there to pick it up. Then third of all, to celebrate. One of the things I loved watching with Bill Belton's touchdown run is Saeed Blacknall is sprinting down the field behind him. He was the first one to celebrate with him after the touchdown.
So there are a lot of reasons why we want that to happen. It's the same thing on defense. That runner gets on the edge, and the corner turns him back in, and he may not make the tackle we want him to. But if he doesn't make the tackle, he's going to turn it back into the other 10. Then when we stop that film, all 11 guys on defense should be in the camera. That's how you show your value and importance to the team is when the camera stops, are you around the ball? So we talk about those things as well.
I think Temple on the defensive side of the ball is doing a really good job of that right now.