All of the assembled media found it incredibly odd. Usually you’re welcomed into the press room, grab your seat, and await Coach James Franklin. Not this week, friends.
No - this week, media were told to wait outside the doors. Then, we each were given “Lord of the Rings” orc-style Halloween costumes. The Blue Band drum line swung by, started pounding out a march, and after about 30 seconds of confusion about left-foot versus right-foot, all of the media fell into step - even David Jones.
The press room doors swung open, and into this breach we marched. And once we crossed the threshold, it finally made sense. There, on the podium, amid an apparent rain storm, stood Coach Franklin in medieval armor. He surveyed the scene, and with grim determination uttered just a single phrase - “So it begins”.
And Then The Press Conference Started
HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Appreciate everybody coming out. Kind of quickly review Michigan State.
Actually, before we get into Michigan State, address Fred Hansard. I won’t get into the specifics of it, but Fred will be done for the season. Had to undergo a surgery and will be done for the season. I know all the guys and the families and the coaches and his parents are very, very supportive of Fred, but he will be unavailable for the rest of the season.
Getting into specifically Michigan State, critical, critical statistics that we talk about every single week, the turnover the battle, we were even and we didn’t really have a bunch of opportunities to really win that. That was significant in the game. Penalties were significant in the game, especially either the pre-snap penalties or the post-up penalties that are correctible.
Drive start I think was big. The difference, you know, we ended up winning that by a little bit but we had two inside the ten-yard line, one inside the two-yard line and one inside the ten. I thought that was a major factor in the game.
The sack battle, although they had eight and we had one, we were pressured a lot. That, and the explosive play battle, I think probably one of the mistakes that we played is we were pretty focused on being patient with the running game and we were able to get the running game going and ran the ball on them better than anybody had all year long, but we weren’t as explosive as we need to be in this offense.
I think they are the main things that kind of jump out and then the last point I’d make is, you know, we had gotten better all year long. I felt like that week-to-week, watching the tape, felt like that during the games. Felt like that after the games, watching the tape, and did not feel like that this past week. So obviously we need to get back on that track.
From an Indiana perspective, got a lot of respect for Coach Allen and what he’s done. Really a good guy. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him, both personally and professionally. Really a good guy. You know, kind of looking back from a historical perspective, lost to Indiana the year before we got here in 2013 but Coach Allen, this is his second season there and has done a nice job. Got a defensive background. I think everybody realizes that.
You know, you look at their staff, Mike DeBord, the offensive coordinator has been doing it a long time, 36 years, 18 years as a coordinator. Been very successful. They do a nice job on offense. They are a spread offense. They have got a dual-threat quarterback who has improved dramatically as a thrower. They are spreading the ball around. They have six receivers with 18 catches or nor and they are an 11-personnel or a 10-personnel team but majority in 11-personnel: One back, one tight end and three wide receivers.
Guys that stand out: As the quarterback, Peyton Ramsey is doing a nice job. A kid from Cincinnati, Ohio. A 68 percent completion ratio, but is really distributing the ball around well.
Running back, Stevie Scott is an interesting guy. Forced us to kind of go back and look throughout the recruiting process, kid from New York playing for them as a freshman. He’s a big kid, 6’2, 236 pounds and doing a nice job.
And then they have got four wide receivers, J-Shun Harris, Donovan Hale, Nick Westbrook and Ty Fryfogle I, think is the way you pronounce that.
Obviously J-Shun Harris is a guy not only on offense, but also on special teams, has made a bunch of big plays. He’s a guy you get the ball in his hand in space and he’s challenging.
Then defensively, Mark Hagen is the defensive coordinator, but him and Tom Allen, you know, are doing that together.
I think the big thing with them is turnovers and disruption. They do a lot of different things on tape. They are very specific game plan week-to-week. They change a lot week-to-week. They have got seven games -- six out of seven games with an interception. So doing some really about things there. And then obviously decent amount of sacks. I think they are 11th in the FBS in sacks and 20th in tackles for loss.
They are a four-down defensive front. They play robber coverage. They pressure a decent amount, 46 percent overall. And then we are impressed with No. 99 defensive end Allen Stallings; linebacker No. 42 Marcelino Ball, and then strong safety No. 9, Jonathan Crawford, guys that stand out to us.
The defensive coordinator William Inge I’ve known for a long time, is doing a nice job with them.
And then obviously I already talked about J-Shun Harris is a guy that we target going into the game saying that we’ve got to make sure that he does not impact the game as much as he has impacted others to this point.
So open it up to questions.
Q. You said Saturday that the issue on offense was not being able to throw consistently or successfully against Michigan State. After watching film, why did that happen, and Miles Sanders has just nine catches. Is that by design or are teams taking that way?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: No, you know, you guys have asked those questions before about design. You know, for us, we basically draw up our routes and our schemes that are very similar to what they have been in the past with a few tweaks here or there, and it’s all about what the defense is doing and quarterback going through his progressions and things like that.
So we don’t have a whole lot of situations where we’re really getting to a point where we’re saying the ball is going to this guy on this play, unless it’s a screen or something like that.
You know, we need to be more detailed. We need to protect a little bit longer. We’re not giving up a whole lot of sacks, partly with Trace’s -- how mobile he is.
You know, making sure that we can hold on to the ball in the pocket and be able to get the ball down the field more consistently in clean pockets. A little bit more detail-oriented in our routes, the depth of our routes, being able to create separation in our routes and then being able to consistently make the open catch or be able to make the contested catch.
It’s kind of a combination of all those things, and I think obviously also, you know, being a little bit more accurate, as well, all those things. It’s not one thing. It’s all of it together.
We’ve just got to be a little bit better in all those areas.
Q. Midway through the season, I wanted to get your thoughts on special teams overall, how you’re playing, and what are the areas you feel like you definitely need to improve during the second half of the year?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Special teams? Sorry, sounded a little muffled.
I think, you know, for the most part, our return game has been pretty good. You know, kicking, from a kickoff perspective, some stuff that you guys probably wouldn’t know in terms of the calls we’re making and things like that, I think we’re getting good distance and we’re able to kick the ball into the end zone more the most part, but a lot of times our location can be a little bit better in terms of what we’re trying to get done.
From a field goal perspective, obviously we need to be better there. We need to probably create a little bit more pressure in practice, making sure that on offense, defense and special teams, that we’re treating our preparation Sunday through Friday as game-like as possible.
Because I think last week, in practice, I think field goals at mid- to high-90 rate. We’re seeing good things but we have to be able to transfer those things from the practice to the game field at a higher rate.
The fake punt is something we have to do a better job of. We worked on those things all week long. Had a plan. Had somebody responsible for that, as well as other guys, and we just didn’t do our job consistently there.
Obviously we have to do a better job emphasizing it and showing plays -- most of the things that showed up, that fake field goal that they ran is the same exact fake field goal that they ran against Notre Dame. Had shown it on tape and watched it on tape and it repped it during practice, as well. You know, obviously we need to be clearer with those things.
Q. Being in a similar situation last season, what are some of the things you think that helped the team get back on track on or off the field after the Michigan State loss a year ago?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think the biggest thing for all of us, coaches, players, everybody involved in the organization, is sticking to our process and focusing on the things that we can control.
You know, making sure our players are doing that as well as the coaches. You know, focusing on our schemes. Making sure that we’re being as detailed as we possibly can in meetings; that we’re holding everybody accountable to that standard every single day at practice and that the old guys are helping the young guys mature as much as they possibly can to understand, you know, the seriousness and the significance of that standard.
So you know, I think that’s the biggest thing that we have to do is make sure that we’re, you know, sticking together, that we’re staying positive and that we’re focusing on the things that we can control and get those things fixed and get better at them, because obviously, last week we did not do that.
Q. What are the attributes in your mind of a successful spread offense and do you think you have them right now?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously that’s something we spent a lot of time talking about since we’ve gone to this offense. We’ve had a lot of discussions about this part of the game.
You know, obviously when you go to a spread offense, it’s a little bit different than running a traditional offense, and had these discussions, really, over the last three years.
I think the challenge is you want to run the ball as much as you possibly can to burn time-outs, but ultimately, just like Trace’s run on the last, on the third down play, the most important thing you have to do is get first downs.
For us that, is running our offense and doing both throw and pass. The challenge is, if you throw the ball and you throw an incompletion, the clock stops and that’s obviously, you know, not what anybody wants. But if you run the ball and you don’t pick up the first down, it really doesn’t matter.
You know, you’ve got to be able to do both and you’ve got to be able to pick up first downs. That’s the No. 1 most important thing. I think that’s what happened with Trace is we tell them all the time, you know, if it comes down to getting the first down and running out of bounds, the first down takes priority because being able to get a new set of downs is much more important than staying in bounds.
You have to make that decision. If you can fight to get the first down, you’ve got to fight to get the first down. Obviously that wasn’t the situation on Saturday. I think that’s the challenge is when you’re running a spread offense, and they can outnumber you in the box, you have to be willing to throw the ball. And we also have to understand when you throw the ball, they better be high-percentage throws where you’re able to get people in space, because if you throw an incompletion, the clock stops, and we don’t want that either.
That’s the challenge. We have had a lot of discussions, have had a lot of those discussions with Joe and a lot of those discussions with Ricky and Matt and our staff now, and I think that obviously is a very, very important piece of the puzzle for us over the last, really, two and a half years. We have to get better in that area. There’s no doubt about it.
Q. Your defensive tackles, seems like you’re losing bodies frequently now. What do you do or how do you see that situation beyond your starters?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we’ve got to keep developing those other guys, P.J. Mustipher, Antonio Shelton, C.J. Thorpe and Damion Barber, we’re going to have to develop those guys. Damion is going to have to factor in now and be able to get some work for us.
P.J. is going to have to grow up fast. Obviously is a true freshman.
And having Antonio Shelton, we’ve seen some good things from him.
Those guys have to play bigger roles, there’s no doubt about it. That’s the situation we’re in. Feel good about what Kevin and Robert are doing, but they are going to have to help those other guys out, as well.
C.J., this is all new to him and we need these young guys and guys that we have moved positions, need to, you know, have a chance to mature and grow up and understand the responsibility and what they need to do for our defense to be successful.
Q. Another question about the defense. Seemed like you played more of your backups on defense during the Michigan State game. Were you pleased with the way they played? Did you think the depth is developing a little bit better and was fatigue any factor down the stretch as it was against Ohio State?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: What was the last part?
Q. Was fatigue any factor like it was against Ohio State down the stretch.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Fatigue. Okay. The fatigue word was what I missed, sorry.
To be honest with you, I think defensively, we played good enough to win that game. I think what I would say is, you know, if we get the turnovers that we should have got in that game, and that was -- I think they had the most fumbles in the country last week without losing any. I think they had four fumbles and a couple interceptions that we didn’t get.
We get a few more of those turnovers, the game is completely different than the way it played out. So that’s the area that we have to get better is the turnovers.
I thought we did a pretty good job. I think they had been averaging about 123 rushing yards a game. I think we held them to 123 rushing yards; so about where they had been.
The passing game, they made some plays but we also had some opportunities to make some plays, as well and could have made more. I think that’s the difference; we have to get more turnovers, when we have opportunities to make those plays. I think we all realize we’ve got to make more of those.
Q. Are defenses, I guess Michigan State in particular, in general, are they doing anything different or putting more emphasis on taking away Trace’s passing lanes and even running lanes?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: When I would say, I think the biggest difference on Saturday is we didn’t hit enough explosive plays or throw the ball well enough. When you’re able to throw the ball and now stretch the field horizontally and vertically, that makes it more challenging for them to defend Trace in the running game, as well, because if we keep completing balls down the field stretches, the underneath part of the defense, those guys loosen up and start getting under those throws and that’s when Trace pulls down and takes down.
When I sit down with the defensive coaches, that’s what’s so challenging. We were able to run the ball Saturday better than anybody had against that defense. We were not able to throw the ball as effectively as we needed to throw the ball on Saturday. That was the difference if the game.
I think, really, Traces running, usually if you look over the last three years, his running comes as a byproduct of how well we are throwing the ball. Now the defense can’t be right; you’re running the ball; you’re throwing the ball and now Trace is able to hurt you for a couple runs a game and that’s when we are -- that’s when we are our most dangerous on the offensive side of the ball, when you feel like we’re able to do all three at a pretty efficient level.
Q. Tommy Stevens has only played a handful of plays since he was deemed ready to return. What needs to change for his number of snaps to increase?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: If I’m correct, I think he’s only been available to us two games, the last two games.
We talked about him earlier being available but then we felt like it was probably still in our best interest to hold him. So we fully cleared him to go Ohio State; that’s the coaches, trainers, everybody being comfortable, Tommy being comfortable.
Last week it was more of a scheme thing. We didn’t think it made sense in that game. But we’ll look at it every single week to see if it gives us the best opportunity to keep the defense on their toes and keep the defense uncomfortable, whether he is a decoy or whether he is a runner or whether he is a thrower and whether he is a receiver. We look for those options each week.
A lot of it deals with formations. If certain formations we look at against our opponent create opportunities, and they are plug-and-play plays, where we can put Tommy into that role and it makes sense against this defense in that scheme, then that’s when we do it.
So everything is pretty much formation driven from that point on.
Q. This is Ricky Rahne’s first full season calling plays. How would you evaluate his performance overall and what areas would you like to see improvement?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think we had a decent amount of turnover on our staff this off-season, and overall, short-term and more importantly, long-term, I feel really good about the people that we got sitting in the seats that they are in and feel really good about that from a long-term perspective.
Does experience count and does experience matter? Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. All of us get better every single day the longer we’re in the positions that we’re in, as long as we’re open to listening and to learning and to challenging ourselves and challenging others and being challenged ourselves, then you have an opportunity to grow.
But experience matters, there’s no doubt about it. I think Ricky is doing a really good job. I think like all of us, there’s a few calls that he wishes he has back, and I think you’d probably say that for every offensive coordinator in the country and we’ll be saying that five years from now, as well.
But overall, big picture, I feel really good about my staff and where we’re going. But you know, again, I don’t want that to be misconstrued. We’ll get better and we will get better.
Q. Given the lack of production of some of your veteran receivers, do you think it’s time to take a look at some of the younger kids, especially the true freshmen and with that said, what are the challenges for true freshmen receivers playing at this level that the ordinary person may not take into account?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. I think we do that every week. We are constantly looking and saying, is there someone that can help us.
We do have a lot of confidence in those vets, and I think obviously we feel like, you know, they are going to have one of those breakout games, and we feel like that every week.
But yeah, is there some young guys that we’re looking at? Yeah. Obviously Justin Shorter had a setback during camp, which kind of slowed his production experience, you know, being able to gain those reps and experience in practice.
Daniel George has done a really nice job, and Jahan Dotson has done a really nice job. You see some of the other guys getting reps in complimentary roles.
For Daniel, he’s big and strong and explosive and plays that way. Jahan, he’s one of these guys that the game comes very easy to him. He’s a natural football player, and Justin has a lot of ability.
But I think your point is a good one. You know, running routes in high school, when you’re very rarely going against another Division I athlete, and you may see one, maybe two, on a crazy week, maybe three coverages; and then also, how those coverages affect your routes.
So now not only do you have to be able to beat the defender over you physically, but then you also have to know all the nuances in terms of how the routes get adjusted based on certain coverages or pressure or blitz or those types of things. And that time and that chemistry with Trace, I think that’s what you’ve seen a few times this year where you see Trace go to throw the ball, and he’s pulls back because he’s expecting a guy to run a route differently than the way it was run.
So what we are trying to do is kind of a combination of those things, get those guys up to speed, but also be a little bit more consistent with our running backs, receivers, tight ends in the passing game, because that’s obviously an area that we’re not probably as explosive or as efficient as we need to be right now.
Q. You guys are something like 6-of-31 on third downs the last two games combined. What are you seek on first and second down that’s not setting that up, and how do you go about making sure that improvement happens week-to-week?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think a couple things. I think the first thing, we’ve talked about this before: The reality is, the best offenses have the least amount of third downs. You’re picking up most of your downs on first and second down.
The other thing, I think is important, obviously the more efficient you are on first and second down, then you’re in more manageable third-down situations.
Obviously those two things, I think are the two main indicators. I think all the way back to the Bowl game against the University of Washington, that was probably the difference in that game, how well we did on third down with our plan and our execution of that plan.
But I think the biggest thing is the same thing you’re seeing on third down, are the same things that we have to get better on first and second down. It’s the details. It’s the consistency. It’s the contested catches or creating separation in our route running.
It’s a little bit more protection. It’s all of it. It’s not one thing. I think if it was one thing, it would be easy to solve, but obviously it’s an emphasis for us.
Q. Right now, after the last two weeks, is now a good time for you guys to get out on the road, circle the wagons a little bit and what are some of the benefits you guys can get from getting out to a road game?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: So you’re talking about an away game?
Q. As a team. Is now a good time for you to get out on the road?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I’m not sure. To be honest I had auto like to play all 12 games in Beaver Stadium if we could. I don’t know if the conference would allow us to do that.
Yeah, I think obviously, being able to go play on the road; I know Tommy Stevens, Mac Hippenhammer, excited. It’s a change of pace. It’s different. It’s a 3:30 game, which allows us to get there, play the game and get back at a reasonable time, as well.
To be honest with you, home, away, wherever it is, it’s really more about us. I think as I said in the very beginning of this, I think we played really well, you know, week one, week two, week three. We kept getting better. You know, we did not play that way last week. I think everybody’s probably focusing on the last two weeks and I get that.
You know, I did not like the result of the former -- of the previous game. But watching a tape and watching the game, we played well. We got better that week. We didn’t do that this past week.
Are there a lot of reasons for that? Yeah. And we just need to get back to focus on the things that we can control. Away game, home game, whatever it is, we’ve just got to make sure that we don’t lose our focus and we’re making sure that our guys are concentrating on the things that truly matter, which is us and our execution and our passion and our fundamentals and techniques and our execution of the assignments. That’s what we need to focus on, not where the game is played, not who the opponent is. It’s about us.
Because if we just would eliminate five or six of the unforced errors, missed assignments, penalties, dropped balls, things like that, things that we can control, then I think we’ll like the results.
Q. After the game, Trace said that this team needs to be stronger now more than ever and needs to come together. You guys were able to do that last year after a couple losses, but there were a lot of key seniors behind that. Are you concerned the team is too young to do that this time around, or are there any challenges in that regard with how young this team is?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we have a younger team. There’s no doubt about it. There are less of those guys that have been through this type of adversity before, but the ones that we do have I think have really strong voices and are culture drivers for us and have been really good.
But does it strain those guys? Yeah, because there’s less of them. There’s no doubt about it.
Obviously each week when we watch the cut-ups and go through situations as we’re coming up with the game plan, we’re typically watching the previous game against that opponent from the year before, and you see guys like Marcus Allen who played a lot of football for us and Jason Cabinda who played a lot of football for us and the D-tackles and so on and so forth.
We have less of those guys on offense and defense, so those guys have to have stronger voices for us, there’s no doubt about it. They have been through this adversity and they have been through the challenges before and we have to push our way through it.
Q. You mentioned Trace McSorley showing some reluctancy to fire the ball down the field in certain situations. His completions are down 12.5 points through six games. How much do you attribute that to Trace, and how much goes towards maybe that trust and disconnect downfield when you said, not quite as efficient where it needs to be at receivers.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it’s a little bit of all of it: Too many drops. Not enough detail in the routes and the execution. Protection, a little bit longer, you know, so he can be a little bit more comfortable in the pocket, you know, more consistently.
I think it’s a little bit of all those things. You know, I truly do, and I think what happens sometimes is early in the game, if he gets in a situation where he’s expecting one route to be run, and they don’t, it gives him hesitation. He’s got to have a one-play mindset where, okay, that may have happened earlier in the game but you’ve got to trust it’s going to happen the next play.
So it’s those type of things, but I think it all affects; it all affects it.
Q. How reliable was that aspect of the receiver group last year, because it sounds like this may be kind of a new element for Trace and his approach.HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think obviously Mike Gesicki had played a lot of football for us. DaeSean Hamilton had played a lot of football for us. Saeed had played a lot of football for us.
So you know, obviously those guys were obviously people that we had spent a lot of time talking about in the off-season that we were going to need to replace. Juwan had played a lot of football for us in a complementary role and Polk and DeAndre, as well, they need to take the next step.
Obviously coming into the season, we felt very confident about that, and still do. But we need to do it week-in and week-out consistently at practice and in games.
Q. Over the last two years, Indiana limited Saquon Barkley to less than 60 yards and less than three yards a carry. What is it about their scheme that makes it so tricky, and how do you see Miles Sanders having success this time around?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think that goes back to what I was saying before is this head coach and his defensive coordinator, from what we see on film and from what we have studied, they probably more so than most -- most people are going to stay to their base plan and have subtle tweaks each week.
They have a very specific plan against each formation and back alignment set on how they are going to stop what they think are the two or three things that you do the most from a tendency standpoint, and it can be pretty different, you know, watching them on tape. That’s always the challenge is what the defense of the week going to be.
So I think that’s where you have seen them improve defensively. They have done a really good job. They play aggressive, they play fast and they have got a pretty good fan.
But also, it’s a lot of check-with-me stuff. You see on tape where they are looking to the sideline, the expression the coach uses is who is going to have the chalk last to try to get the perfect call into the game. There are some things that we think we can do to help with that, as well.
But you know, we’ve been pretty consistent this year. Probably more consistent in our running game in terms of eliminating negative yardage runs and tackle for loss and things like that, and I think that’s really helped us this year. I think that’s Miles and his approach, as well as the O-Line and tight ends factoring into that, as well. But there’s going to be some of those things that come up, as well, Saturday. They are going to have some times where they catch us.
And I also think that’s an area where Ricky is doing a really good job, where there’s not too many plays where the ball is being snapped, and you’ve got a free blitzer coming off the edge as soon as we’re handing the ball off. I think there’s been less of that; so a combination of all those things.
Q. A lot of emotion, obviously, these last couple weeks, and you mentioned you didn’t see improvement this last game and you also talked about some different fundamental things that came up in the last game, carrying the ball, line of scrimmage. Was there so much emotion invested two weeks ago against Ohio State and how have you reined all of it in and processed these last two weeks as you look forward?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, obviously, whenever you lose a game, there is an emotional investment that you have made as an organization, as a program, for the season, for week, and for many he to sit here and say those things don’t have an effect, yeah, they do.
But you have to find a way to push through them, as a player, coaches, a whole organization, everybody has setbacks and that is football and that is life.
And you can’t allow, whether it’s one play to affect the next, or one game to affect the next. And that is internal; the things that we can control, and that is also our guys doing a great job of muting the external noise, as well.
I’ve said this before. Obviously you don’t fill up a 110,000-seat stadium without passion, and when we win, it’s the greatest thing ever.
Q. You’ve mentioned before that you don’t feel like your staff gets enough credit for developing players as much as recruiting them, guys like Garrett Taylor, Jan Johnson coming in and not being big names, but then play very well for you. On the flipside of that, as a developer of talent, how do you know when a guy is stalling in his development or maybe isn’t getting better and how frustrating is that for you?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it’s obviously, most importantly, those things show up on Saturday, which at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Were you able to produce when it mattered most and that’s for players, that’s for coaches, that’s for all of us.
But obviously, the games are a part, but also things that you’re seeing every single day at practice. What you’re hearing in the weight room. What you’re hearing academically, that’s a huge piece for us here at Penn State and within our program. That’s what I’m hearing from the strength staff. That’s what I’m hearing when our guys are doing community service. It’s all of it.
I think that’s what is so special about college football, and I think that’s what so special about Penn State is the greater impact, and I get it. We’re in-season, so the focus is on football, and that’s ultimately what we’re responsible for.
But I also know at Penn State, we take great pride in all the other things. So when we talk about development, it’s development of all of that. It’s development are they getting bigger and stronger and faster and more explosive; are they getting more fundamentally sound in techniques and things that we ask them to do on the football field that are going to translate into games.
It’s maturity and that’s how they are dealing with the fans and how they are dealing with the people in the community and how they are interacting with people on campus, off-campus, when it comes to community service.
It’s all of it. It’s all of it. It’s how we handle with challenging losses. That’s a football lesson. That’s a life lesson.
So when I’m talking about development, I’m talking about all of that. I’m talking about how the program has developed over the last four or five years. I’m talking about how our players have developed. I’m talking about graduation rates. I’m talking about all of it.
Obviously, you know, last week was hard and the week before was challenging. There’s no doubt about it. But I will tell you, just like I tell our players, that I want us to do everything we possibly can to prepare Sunday through Friday so that they can put their head on the pillow Friday night and be confident waking up Saturday morning, and I think our guys do a really good job of that.
Now, I do the same thing. Don’t get me wrong; losses are tough and I agonize over them as much as anybody, and I know our fans do, as well, because they are invested.
But I also know that I sleep well at night knowing that our program has grown dramatically over the last five years.
Is it where we want it to be right now? No. Is it where anybody wants it to be exactly right now in no. But I know we’re headed in the right direction. I know our players are growing and getting better both on and off the field and academically. I know our coaching staff is, as well. And then type of father I am, and the type of husband I am. When I talk about development, it’s all of that. It’s all of that.
And when you see guys like Saquon Barkley come back last weekend, and the things that he says to you privately in the locker room; and you get a chance to talk with Michael Mauti and he stops by the offices and how he’s speaking about the program and so on and so forth, I know we’re doing it the right way.
What happens is, in any organization, with any CEO, with any team, there’s typically three steps forward and one step back, and that step back is painful and you’ve got to learn from it and you’ve got to grow and you’ve got to evolve and you’ve got to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Q. Your second sentence of your Media Day opener, you said that you had more question marks to answer this year and a very, very, very challenging schedule. Not that you expect to lose, but did you expect a season like this and do you think people under-appreciated the hill that this particular team had to climb to get back to where you wanted to be from the drop?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that with the conference that we play in, and the side of the conference that we play in, it is always going to be challenging. That’s why you come to Penn State and that’s why you come to the Big Ten.
But it is going to be a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. When you have Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, go on, keep going right down the list; it’s going to be a battle week-in and week-out. And we compete with those teams 365 days a year, and we graduated a bunch of experienced players.
So yeah, I think obviously we knew we had some tremendous challenges to overcome, but also had a lot of confidence. Had a lot of confidence.
I think as we all know, whether it’s high school, college, the NFL, one or two plays, each game, are significant, and sometimes those plays go your way and sometimes they don’t. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to keep focusing on your preparation and the things that you can control so that more of those plays go your way.
I think we’ve talked about that in the past. I mean, I remember in the past coming into these and there would be, you know, calls that media and fans were questioning in terms of officiating and things like that. My response then was we have to make sure that we do everything that we can; that that margin or error is not so small; that one or two plays or one or two calls that go against us don’t determine the game.
And that’s really where we still are. We have made tremendous progress and I like where we’re headed and I like what we’re doing. But I also think, your point in the beginning was, we’re very aware of the challenges that we had coming into the season, but I also think we had tremendous confidence, and still do. Back to the point I think I was asked earlier, we have some guys that we have to lean on and there’s less of those senior experienced players right now.
Q. Garrett Taylor had his best game of the year on Saturday. How would you assess his progress at the safety position?HEAD COACH JAMES FRANKLIN: I think Garrett is a great example of kind of what we’re talking about. He’s a guy that joined the program, came from a great family and great high school program. Wasn’t ready a couple years ago and kind of kept getting better and his role continued to improve and his role continued to grow. He’s one of the guys that I think the coaching staff feels like he is really maximizing his ability and his opportunity here,
We talk about setting our guys up for success when they leave here with championship habits when it comes to football; when it comes to life; when it comes to business. He’s a guy, every single meeting, he’s sitting there, he’s taking notes. You know, he’s taking notes. He’s writing down things that are important. He’s highlighting things. He’s underlining things. He’s jotting stars down.
He’s just one of those guys that really gets it and says: Look, I have this amount of time. I’ve got these opportunities and I’m going to maximize them. He’s killing it in school. I couldn’t be more proud. He’s one of a bunch of examples that we have on our team.
I think he’s also an example of everyone’s journey is going to be different. We’ve talked about that here. Some guys are going to come in and start from the fourth game of their freshman year and then they are going to get drafted No. 2 overall and that’s going to be their journey.
Or there’s going to be another guy like Grant Haley who has a great career here and has a great career academically and gets assigned to the practice squad and gets bumped up to the 53-man roster today and Big Ten Championships, and all these things, and everybody’s journey is going to be different.
But I think that’s also where understanding that and supporting that and understand that not only is every single player’s journey’s going to be different; every season and every team is going to be different.
And we’re on this journey together. Our players, our coaches, the fans, administration, the media, we are all on this journey together.
I will tell you the one thing, that’s probably for me, is a pretty good reality check is I turn on the TV on Saturday after our game and I watch other people. There’s a lot of other programs across the country that are on similar journeys that we’re on. Some are emotional highs and some are challenging weeks and adversity that we have to overcome. You know, we’re going through a similar story that a lot of programs across the country go through.