James Franklin kicked off his press conference with information that anyone who has watched a game this season already has: defense is strong, and offense has [plenty of] room to improve. As always, Coach Franklin is excited and hopeful about this week’s game against Indiana.
This seems like as good a week as any for the Nittany Lions to break their losing streak. I also really don’t want to watch PSU lose to Indiana two years in a row (Author’s Note: my apartment currently does not have cable, so the good news is if Penn State does lose to Indiana again, I won’t be able to see it).
Q. Last month you mentioned your concern over Christian Hackenberg developing bad habits because of the pressure he's been under. Do you still have those concerns? How do you think he's holding up physically and mentally?
COACH FRANKLIN: Really good. We had a meeting yesterday. Had a really good meeting, discussed a wide variety of topics. It's been a transition. I mean, it's been a transition for him, really, from the last couple of years through the recruiting process and everything. I think he's handling it well. There are areas that I think he can handle better, and we discussed those honestly in both directions.
But I think we're in a really good place. I think we're in a really good place. I know he's excited about getting out there today and working with the guys, getting better, and maybe taking a little more of an active role in some things when it comes to leadership.
We have to remember, all of us, that he's a true sophomore. He's a true sophomore and he's out there on the field as our offensive captain with our other captain, Miles Dieffenbach being out all year long.
So, I think he's handling it well, considering he's a 19 year old true sophomore with a lot of external things going on.
I'm pleased with him. I know he's going to play really well on Saturday, and we'll do everything we possibly can to protect him and give him time in the pocket.
Q. You said in reference to the answer to Rich's question, that you talked areas where Christian does well and areas where he could be better. I'm wondering if one of the other things he could be better at is demeanor. Do you get bothered by the frustration? Especially Saturday it seems he was in a couple of animated discussions with John Donovan and animated discussion on the phone, I assume with Coach Rahne. Do you like seeing that? Do you think it shows up well for his teammates and for the head coach?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, that's been a discussion point, no doubt about it. I do think right now because of what's been going on as a result of the games, that's being blown a little bit out of proportion. He's animated in general. Talking to the coaching staff about those conversations, they never really felt that way. But I do think there are some things we've seen that need to be better, and we've discussed that, and Christian has admitted that as well.
There is some frustration that is showing at times. But, in general, he's an animated guy and he's passionate about what we're doing here at Penn State. He's passionate about this team and finding ways to win, however they have to do it. But that has been something that we've discussed. There is no doubt about it.
Q. I'm curious, do you feel you guys are struggling for the right formula in the red zone? You've moved Christian (Hackenberg) out to receiver in that instance a few times. Also, with John Donovan, I know he's been upstairs and a couple weeks ago you said he was going to go back upstairs and now he's downstairs. Is he comfortable with being on the field?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think he is. It's obviously something different for us, but we felt like that was in our best interest. We felt like that was in Christian's best interest. That's what he's used to. But, yeah, we've talked about the red zone before. I think a big part of that is being able to consistently run the ball. We were able to throw the fade for a touchdown to Jesse (James). But being able to run the ball in the red zone is very, very important. So we have a few new wrinkles that we'll have this week that I know you guys will be excited to talk about post-game. We're going to be a little bit more creative than we've been in the past, to try to manufacture first downs and try to manufacture some points.
Q. You mentioned Tevin Coleman. I know you’ve coached a lot of great backs and a lot of good running backs during your career. Can you assess or kind of describe the challenge of trying to defend a talent like that? Did he remind you of anyone when you watched him play?
COACH FRANKLIN: It's funny, me and Bob Shoop were just talking about this. It kind of reminds us of (Darren) McFadden, who used to be at Arkansas, a little bit. He's big, he's strong, he's a onecut runner. The thing that was interesting too, I was looking at their offensive line, they've got a massive offensive line, but not only that, they have depth and experience. Their second teamoffensive line, I thought it was a typo that we were handing out on to the players. Their second team offensive line, but they have 26 starts, 17 starts, six starts, two starts in the backups, which I thought was really interesting. We discussed kind of why that is.
But I think the fact that he's able to do this and they've been really onedimensional since they've lost their quarterbacks and they're still able to do it, I think really speaks volumes of the type of back he is and how well they're playing up front.
I've been very impressed with him. I think it's a little bit different after you've seen them live. Probably a better opinion after that. But I've been very impressed with him.
Q. Your offensive line, more than halfway through the season now, despite all the injuries, the shifting around, the inexperience, what kind of progress do you see specifically from those guys? Who do you think is performing the best for you right now?
COACH FRANKLIN: I do think they're making progress. One of the things that's made it a little bit more challenging is not only are they making progress at playing their position, but then you lose a guy like Donovan (Smith), and you're having to move guys around to different positions as well. That becomes a challenge.
I think (Andrew) Nelson, for a (redshirt) freshman playing offensive tackle, right tackle and now left tackle, is really doing some good things. I think (Angelo) Mangiro, the flexibility that he's been able to create with not only playing center, but playing guard and tackle has been valuable.
I think the other guys are still growing and developing and doing some nice things. But it's like anything else. You've got to be more consistent. We've got to be more consistent.
Q. I want to ask you about punters: Is it easy to develop young punters? Is there a mental process that you have to get kids over sometimes at that position?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think (Sam) Ficken's a great example. Right now, Ficken can run for mayor of State College. I mean, everybody loves him. He's an awesome kid. Did an internship last summer on Wall Street. He's the whole package. But there was a time a few years ago that people weren't really feeling that way.
He's a tremendous resource for our young punters. We've got two freshmen punters. They’re figuring it out. They were really consistent and confident at the end of camp. Didn't have some success early on, and haven't really been able to bounce back from it yet. I think early on that was protection. You get some guys in your face and you're concerned about that and it throws you off a little bit. But I don't think that's really the issue.
I think it's confidence. No different than it is on a lot of positions and both sides of the ball and in life. You have some success at something. You start to build up that muscle memory, and you're able to go out and perform that task consistently. There is no doubt there is a physical aspect of it, no doubt there is a mental aspect of it and from a preparation standpoint.
They're tough jobs. You look at the NFL, those are the toughest jobs to get, the punters and the kickers and the snappers because they stay forever. Once they get those jobs, they stay in those positions for a long time.
So those guys, we're going to work them hard again this week. It will be another open competition between the two of them, and hopefully one of them can take the next step and really be able to swing some field position when we need them to do. I think our gunners have been really helpful because we haven't got a whole lot of hang time, but we've still been able to get down there and cover punts.
So, like I was saying early in the year, it's hidden some of our issues that we've had because it could be worse right now from that standpoint.
Q. I have a question separate from that: I guess, how nice is it as a coach in general with the kickers perfect long kicks to know how, I guess, automatic he's (Sam Ficken) been so far this season given how the offense has done in that area of the field?
COACH FRANKLIN: Yeah, there is no doubt he's been a weapon for us, especially in terms of field goal and PAT. I do think on kickoff that's an area he could still improve with consistency. But he's been a weapon.
I'm really proud of him. Because when I got here, that's not really what I was told. You look how far he's come, you look at the confidence that he's playing with right now, the type of leader he's been for our team, I can't say it enough what a great example he is for all of us, including myself. You keep a positive attitude, you keep working hard, you grind, you do all the things necessary physically as well as mentally in terms of preparation, and good things are going to happen. I'm really, really proud of him.
Q. You mentioned no huddle a little earlier. Just kind of going off of that, you've mentioned a few times, less is more, and trying to find the things that work. How do you feel the no huddle is working? What are the things that are working for this offense that you're trying to kind of build on? Is any of that similar to what you did at Vanderbilt or is it more based on personnel?
COACH FRANKLIN: I think it's a combination of things. We did some things at Vanderbilt that we're not necessarily doing here because our depth will not allow us to do some of those things. We ran the quarterback to try to manufacture some things. We don't feel like we're in a position to do that. You look at some of the other things that we've been able to do. We've been able to throw the short game fairly well.
The difference from the first four games is the explosive plays. We have to get that going. We have narrowed down our running game, and I do think we've had more success at doing a few things and trying to do those things well versus multiple looks.
Where things are still challenging is we're trying to run the ball and everybody knows you're trying to run the ball and being able to sustain those blocks and being able to strain for a half second longer is really the difference.
One of the things we did on Sunday was I pulled up offensive plays, defensive plays and special teams plays to show the guys how close we are. You make one play here, you sustain one block a little bit longer, you get off a block, whatever it may be; that's the difference. When you're losing games that close, whether it's by time or whether it's by points or whatever it may be, those few plays could be the difference in the game.
So just showing those examples to our guys, straining for a half second longer on a block, not running out of bounds, but lowering your shoulder and fighting for two more yards might be the difference between a field goal hitting the uprights or crossing it. So we talked about those things and just the importance of the details and doing the little things really well and how close we are.