After finally earning the sixth win of the season and becoming bowl eligible, James Franklin is once again focused on finishing this week 1-0.
Q. I'm curious if you know much of the background with Tim Beckman and kind of the rivalry when he took the job or when Bill O'Brien was here. Does that linger or have you created much of a rapport with him?
COACH FRANKLIN: I've talked to him at the Big Ten Media Days and the head coaches' meetings. From everything I see, he seems like a pretty good guy and he's working hard to represent Illinois and get their program where they want it to be. So that's kind of what our focus is on.
And the film, and the things that we see on film this year and the things that we can find out by searching the internet and the media, things that are relevant this year to our team and what we have to do. I know we're aware of some things that happened in the past. Probably as far as we'll go is last year. I think in this game it went to overtime last year. I'm always kind of interested in looking at games last year compared to this year and how things have gone, to be able to measure growth and things like that. But that's probably as far back as we'll go.
Q. I wanted to ask about two areas of your special teams. The first is on punts. You had said you were going to have to put more pressure on the coverage unit while your punters worked through some things. How do you think the group has handled that situation the last couple weeks? The second is on field goals. Obviously, Sam (Ficken) has done very well, but you've had four kicks blocked now from varying distances. Has there been any common thread there that you've seen between those blocks?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yes, sir. Good questions. I think obviously our coverage units have done a nice job, especially on punt. We haven't had the type of hang time or distance that we'd love, but it's been much better. But, because of our coverage units been so good and they've gotten very little return, our net punt has been pretty good in the last week or so. So I am pleased with that. We'll continue to do that.
The field goal block, I think the one against Rutgers was no one's fault. They're on scholarship, too. The guy made a great play. He's 6-6. Supposedly he's got a 42inch vertical jump, and he jumped up and put his righthand in the perfect spot on a field that's 53 and a third yards. So he made a great play.
The other ones have been low. The one on Saturday, we hit it low. If you watch it, they didn't get a whole lot of push. We just hit it low, and he knew as soon as he hit it, came to the sideline and said, "That's on me." So, obviously we want to be a little bit more consistent there, but it's hard to argue with the type of success that Ficken's had this year so far.
Q. Coach, another one on Daniel Pasquariello: Have you noticed any difference in the last few weeks, as he's been able to separate himself a little bit and he's kicking better during games? Another part, some freshmen struggle at college being two or three hours away from home. He's a little bit further than that (Melbourne, Australia). How has he adjusted to the college life? And how much is having his family be able to visit him seem to help him?
COACH FRANKLIN: There are also some cultural things that go with it. In Australia, I didn't know this, most kids stay at home and go to the local university. They don't live on campus. They live with their family and go to school and do it from home. So, the funny thing is probably the biggest adjustment was on mom and dad, because it's so unusual that your child leaves the home before maybe 21, 22 years old. That was probably the biggest adjustment.
I think it helps that his dad does business here (U.S.) a lot, so they're able to come. I think that's been great. He had a cousin at practice last week. Before that I think his brother and mom and dad were here for two weeks, and that's usually what they do, is come for a couple weeks at a time.
He's been really good. The team has helped with that. We have a close knit team and they've kind of embraced him. So I think he's handled it really well. I think he's handled it really well. I know for me running into that stadium for the first time was a crazy experience; for him and his family to be in that stadium was even more of an amazing experience.
Q. I want to ask you about Bob Shoop. A lot of your players say he's known to make defensive predictions before games regarding turnovers, yardage, what have you. What effect do you think that has on your defensive players? And how often is he right with his predictions?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it definitely has an effect. I think whenever you're able to talk about how the game is going to go and it goes that way, it gives you credibility with the guys and the guys start believing and get excited. Then it's amazing. Because once that happens a few times and now you say it, sometimes it happens because you've said it and they believe. That's a factor. I truly believe that. I really do.
But our guys are playing confidently right now. They're playing aggressive. They're having fun. They're playing an exciting style of defense, which I think the fans enjoy; I think the recruits enjoy. I know our guys enjoy playing it. So I'm excited to watch them. I'm excited to go out and compete. I love sitting in the meetings and hearing what they're talking about and what they're doing, and going over to practice and seeing what they're talking about and what they're doing and making a few comments.
They've got a good thing going right now. We want to keep that going. We want to build on that confidence.
Q. In a defense that's ranked highly in so many categories, Top 3, Top 5, whatever it is. First off, I know wins are most important in terms of everything, how much would it mean to you or the players to be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 nationally (defensive rankings)? Do you follow that? As an accompanying question, you've been around the game for a while, how good do you think this defense is compared to the defenses you've been part of or played against over the years?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think our defense is really good; really good. I actually think I've seen some stuff out there on Twitter and in the media about our defense and how it compares to other defenses. I don't even know if it's fair to do that because the game has changed offensively. In the old days, if you had a 400yard game on offense, that was a huge deal, and now that's a common occurrence. Now when you're comparing statistics now to 10, 15 years ago, I don't even know if that makes a whole lot of sense.
But I think it's really good. It's an awesome thing. We're very proud of the accomplishments that they've made. But ultimately, it's about wins. If we could finish this season going undefeated one week at a time and trade some rankings on defense, we'd do that. We'd do that. I know our defensive players would do that and our defensive coaches would do that. I think for us to do that, we're going to need our defense playing well. So those things go hand in hand. If the statistics work out that way, at the end of the year we'll be excited. But our focus is to do whatever we have to do to win in all three phases.
Q. It seems like your tackling has been pretty solid. Would you agree with that and to what do you attribute that?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think a lot of times, and don't get me wrong, we work techniques and fundamentals as much as anything. But you'd be amazed when you just run to the football, even if you miss a tackle, there should be at least six or seven other guys there to make the tackle.
I also think the fact that we're able to stay fresh because we're rotating so many guys on the defensive side of the ball is helpful as well. I think the fact that athletically we're in pretty good shape. So, I think you have all the things that you need to be successful when it comes to tackling. You have to have great fundamentals and technique, which we work very hard at. You have to keep guys fresh, so they're able to close the distance, because space is not your friend as a tackler, you're trying to close space. Then obviously having the speed and athleticism to get it done. I think all of those things are important. I think the two things that are most important are we're running to the ball really well and we're tackling where we should be tackling.
What I mean by that, if you're the force player, you may be tackling through the outside leg. So if you tackle the guy, great. If you miss, you've just sent him back to the other 10 defenders. I think that's one of the things we've done a better job of as the year has gone on is understanding where our help is coming from. No different than the offensive linemen, in protection, you've got to know who is helping you. Whether the guard is helping you, the tight end is helping you, and that affects your sets. It's the same thing on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to tackling.
Q. How about Akeel Lynch? What is maybe the biggest thing that he's improved, in your eyes, in maybe the past month or so?
COACH FRANKLIN: To be honest with you, like I've said before, I don't really think it's Akeel Lynch. I think he's done some nice things, don't get me wrong and I'm pleased with him, but I think the offense goes the way the Oline goes. I think the defense goes the way the Dline goes.
So I'm happy with Akeel, and I think Akeel has done some nice things. But, we didn't go from Bill (Belton) almost having 100 yards (92) and Akeel having over 100 (130) yards in a game because they're doing something different or that Coach Galt got them in the weight room and they're stronger and faster than they were four weeks ago. It's the development and the confidence of the offensive line and getting some of those veteran guys back.
Q. Looking at a lot of the things that you've talked about all year as sort of being complementary to the passing game, and obviously the running game and offensive line and being on schedule and having 2nd and 6 instead of 2nd and 11 or whatever. A lot of that stuff was the best it's been all year last week. And the passing game probably was not. Why do you think that is?
COACH FRANKLIN: Well, it's not like those other things go away and everything just falls into place after not being as consistent as you wanted to be the weeks before. When those other things fall into place, it's not like everything falls into place at that point moving forward. There are still some things that we've got to get cleaned up in terms of footwork, in terms of consistency and route running, a lot of different things. A lot of different things.
You're right, there is no doubt about it. We were better on Saturday, but there are still some things that we have to get cleaned up.
Q. You sat Bill Belton for a little while after the fumble. I'm just curious your philosophy on the quarterback. If the quarterback has had some turnovers or is playing inconsistent, what is your philosophy on whether or not to take him out of the game for a series or two? Because you had not done that this year with Christian.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, we rotate running backs. It just happened when he fumbled the ball that was the end of the series, so it was Akeel's (Lynch) turn to go in after that. Nothing more than that. Christian Hackenberg is our quarterback, and we love him.
Q. Christian Campbell was was one of those kids that came on really late into the (recruiting) class. What was his recruitment like on your end? How much did you first hear about him? What kind of pitches did you have to make him to get up here from Alabama?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, Christian was highly recruited, the way we look at it. I mean, it's all about how you see it. We've been recruiting Christian for two years. He had come to camp and broad jumped over 10 feet and vertical jumped almost 42 inches and ran a :4.4. We had known about him for a long time. He went to the Alabama AllStar Game and was one of the top performers. So we knew about him for a while.
For us in the transition, it was finding out what we had at Penn State, what we needed. How many scholarships were available and all of those things working through it. Once we were able to get a good feel for that, we picked up the phone and called him and Torrence Brown, who I think we haven't talked about a whole lot. But, I think you guys will be excited about him. He's 249 pounds right now with 13 percent body fat, and is doing really well. I think he'll be a 255 pound defensive end next year, who is working into the rotation.
But both of those guys committed without ever seeing the place. They took their official visit for the spring game, and we're excited about both of their futures. We really are. We've known about Christian for a while. We think he was a huge get for us. You’re talking about a 6-1 corner who runs :4.4, and has over a 40inch vertical jump and is appreciative and humble about being at Penn State.
Q. You talked a few weeks ago about scaling things back in practice as you move on into the season. Can you expand on that a little bit? How have you scaled things back and how do you strike a balance where guys are still getting their conditioning in and that conditioning isn't waning? Your defense looks like it's played pretty good in the fourth quarter.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, it's changing tempos. So instead of going from thud, where we're going from full speed and banging, you might go to a tag off, which is basically like two hand touch. Then you might go, as the season goes on, you go to an actual jog through. Where you're not taking every period and going jog through. You might say we've got three team periods; one of these is going to be a jog through. Now two of them are going to be a jog through. I allow the coaches to handle that on their own. We have some discussions about it, but I think they know best what their positions need and what the team needs.
Then, I usually have a record of what we've done for the last four years of when we start cutting back periods, which we did a couple weeks ago, and then we start cutting back time as well. So periods obviously eliminate time. Then what I'm saying is, today we start now to the point where we cut back time from practice, so we're not cutting any periods out, but now we go from five minute periods to four minute periods and certain amount of individuals and things like that.
So we ended up probably cutting 15 minutes off our practice a couple weeks ago. We're going to be cutting another 10 minutes off of practice today going forward. Then on top of that you change the tempos as well to change some of the banging and running off of them.
So those things, I think, are important. I think they're helpful. We do a lot of stuff on Sunday in terms of re-generation, in terms of massages, in terms of cold tubs, and hot tubs and those things. Nutrition is huge. Hydration is huge. Probably the most important thing that gets abused as much as anything else on college campuses is sleep and getting guys to be disciplined enough that after they get done their day and their homework, that they don't stay up until 2 o'clock in the morning playing video games and stuff like that.
So all of those things are important for the health of the individual, and all of those things are important for the health of the team.
Q. What is your lifting schedule for the ones and the twos (first and second teams) throughout the season? I remember Dwight Galt talking about June and July being the really heavy months for those guys so it wasn't that way at the end of the season.
COACH FRANKLIN: One of the big changes here is we lift heavy throughout the season. If you look at our track record over the last four years, our guys' strength numbers usually go up during the season. They'll put on pounds on their bench press and everything. Obviously, you've got to be careful with your legs. Do we squat and power clean and things like that during the season? Yes. Is it early in the week? Yeah. A lot of that is from a durability standpoint and a strength standpoint. Because if not, you can shrink and shrivel up as the season goes on.
So, making sure the nutrition is right. We weigh them in every week to make sure that they're either holding the weight that they're supposed to be or if they're supposed to be gaining some weight or losing some weight. The Bod Pod is a really important tool for us as well that we have in the building. So now you can get a Bod Pod of a guy. If you're not familiar with a Bod Pod, it is able to check bodyfat percentage, bone density, how much lean muscle mass they have, all those types of things. So now you're able to see a guy. They all came in as a freshman. We Bod Podded them all, they started out with 28 percent body fat and now they're down to 22 percent, or (came in at) 20 percent body fat and now they're down to 16 percent body fat. So you can see they've gained 10 pounds of muscle mass, but have lost 3 percent of body fat. Those things are really important and it's a tremendous tool.
So we're looking at those things throughout the year.
Q. I wonder if you could give us an injury update on (Director of Football Operations) Mike Hazel. It looked like he took a pretty hard shot after the game.
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, it's interesting because everybody said that I tackled Michael Hazel, but I didn't. I just hugged him really hard, and he went to the ground and he took me with him, is really what happened. After that I don't know if you saw, but I turned around and got up, and went to hug my boss, Sandy (Barbour), and hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Have you ever gone to kiss someone and they turn their head at the wrong time that you do? It almost didn't go well on the camera (laughter).
I'm an emotional guy. I'm a passionate guy. And we're going to enjoy wins around here and we're going to have fun. I'd probably do the same thing with you guys, if you were too close. Mike Hazel and our whole administrative staff, those guys do a great job. When we go in the locker room, we usually celebrate the wins, but we want to make sure that everybody feels that they've had a part in it. That's the people that work the games, the managers, the administrative staff, the doctors, the video people. Everybody has a part, the players and the coaches. Everybody has a part in the wins, the fans showing up to the game. I truly want people to feel that way. When we win, everybody had a part in it. Everybody had a role in it. We've got different roles, but I want everybody to feel like they had a significant impact in the game and in the win. That's how we're going to do it here. And that's how we're going to build it, with a tremendous sense of community.