The rancor of the Penn State fanbase spilled over and into the hardened veterans of Central Pennsylvania’s beat writers today. As SID Kris Peterson welcomed the gang into the press conference room, Altoona’s Cory Geiger cut in front of Harrisburg’s Greg Pickel. Pickel wouldn’t tolerate the slight, and he sent Geiger flying across two rows of seats with a shove.
Now, no one likes Geiger, so no one even raised an eyebrow over it. But 10 feet away, toward the front of the room, and just as Bob Flounders and Rich Scarcella began to have a heated exchange about fielding punts in a wind storm, Coach James Franklin, wearing a 1970’s-era olive-drab-green battle dress uniform, and black-and-green “jungle” boots, ran onto the stage, grabbed the microphone, and took control of the chaotic scene.
“Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! What the heck’s the matter with you?!, “ Jimmy shouted, to arrest the imminent brawl. He paused for a brief moment, confirming that he’d gained everyone’s attention, and then continued.
“We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof,” - Coach Coach Franklin put the palm of his hand on Mike Poorman’s face - “his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more lovable than the mutt.
“Who saw ‘Old Yeller’? Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure. I cried my eyes out.” As Coach spoke these words, a few of the beat writers begrudgingly raised their hands.
“So we’re all dog-faces. We’re all very, very different. But there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to get our hopes up for this 2018 college football season. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re football fans. But we’re Nittany Lion football fans! We’ve been kicking ass for 60 years! (Mostly! Sometimes!) We’re five-and-two!
“Now, we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Kirk Ferentz wants to run over us on Saturday. All we have to do is to be the great Nittany Lion footballer that is inside each one of us.
“Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud.”
And Then The Press Conference Started
JAMES FRANKLIN: Hey, guys. Appreciate you guys coming out, covering Penn State football like you always do. I really do mean that. I appreciate what you guys do for our program and for our players.
Quickly to kind of go through the Indiana game and kind of summarize it. To me the important statistics that we talk about every single week with you guys and with the program, I think that was really the difference in the game. We won the turnover battle, which was significant, although we did put the ball on the ground in special teams I think four times and were able to get them all back in probably the windiest game I’ve been a part of. At the end of the day, we were able to win the turnover battle, which was really important.
Penalties, I think that was a big factor in the game. We were able to win that battle. The drive start battle, we were able to win that. The sack battle, we were able to win that. Maybe a little bit deceiving because most of it showed up in the fourth quarter, but either way, we won that battle.
We did not win the explosive play battle, but everything else we won. So I think that was really kind of the story of the game.
Just some notes that we went over as a staff and with the players. You know, the positives of the game. We’ve done a really good job over the last couple years of eliminating guys that could be problems, especially on special teams, punt returners, kick returners that have given people fits.
We went into it with No. 5, identifying him as a guy that could not impact the game in a big way, and we were able to do that. He had three returns for a three-yard average, and we were able to cause a fumble. That’s two years in a row we were able to cause a fumble, one for a touchdown last year and this one we just recovered.
He had been averaging 12 and a half yards a return, so that was big. I’m really proud of that aspect of being able to identify guys that could be challenges or issues in the games and having a good scheme and having a good plan and having a good mindset to eliminate those guys.
Special teams, two kickoff returns that equated to two touchdowns and a forced fumble, so that was big. Next-man-up mentality was great because we’ve had some injuries this year, so that next-man-up mentality, I think that was really good, especially at the wide receiver position. Yetur and Shaka had really big games, and to see still somewhat young players was great.
And then opportunities for growth. Although we had three penalties, and I think that was really good, they were costly penalties. So we had a holding penalty that took away a 1st down on offense. We had a defensive hands to the face that gave them a 1st down. Then we had a defensive offsides penalty that was denied that went for a touchdown, and we didn’t rush. They got a free play and were able to throw the ball up to the end zone, so we’ve got to get those things cleaned up. But that was the general notes that we went over with the players on Sunday.
Players of the week, Miles, Shaka, and J.T. Miles on offense, Shaka on defense, and J.T. on special teams. So thank you very much, Kris Peterson. You always come in handy and are extremely valuable. So thank you. Didn’t have that in my notes.
Iowa game, we’ve moved on. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time on Indiana after Sunday, so moved on. Got so much respect for Coach Ferentz and what he’s been able to do in his career. A pretty amazing 20 years he’s been there. I think he’s the longest tenured coach in the country. 16 returning starters off last year’s team.
Their offensive coordinator, Coach Ferentz’s son, has done a really nice job for them over the last couple years. I think they’ve only allowed six sacks, the fewest in the Big Ten this year. The quarterback, Nate Stanley, has really increased his completion percentage from 55 percent to 61 percent this year, and then their tight ends are what make them go on offense.
Both Hockenson and Fant are really nice complementary pieces for each other. Fant may be the best receiving tight end in the country, and then Hockenson does a really good job, as well. Hockenson does a really good job at both. He’s extremely physical. He’s nasty but makes a bunch of plays for them and brings the mentality to their offense.
They’re a run-first team, more of what you would call a traditional Big Ten offense: run first, set up the play action pass off of that. They’re a multiple personnel, 12, 21, 22, and 11. I think probably one of the things more challenging this year than in years past is when those two tight ends are on the field they can line up in a two-back set, they can line in a two-tight-end set, they can line up in a three-wide-receiver set, and this year they could line up in what we would term a spread set, like a four-wide-receiver set, but they’re doing it out of 12 personnel.
So as defensive coordinators you like to be able to put people in categories. At 11 personnel they do this, at a 12 personnel they do this, at a 21 personnel they do this. That is challenging to do, obviously, based on their guys.
I’ve already mentioned the two tight ends, and then Nate Stanley the quarterback, and then their running back Toren Young, are the guys that have really jumped out to me on tape.
And then defensively Phil Parker. They’re as sound as it gets on defense and really have been for a long time. He’s been their defensive coordinator now for six years. They’re disciplined, they’re physical, and they’re well-coached. Base front, four-down front. They’re typically going to be some type of two-high defense, whether that’s quarter-quarter-half, whether that’s cover-two, or whether that’s quarters.
And then they’ll mix in some other things where they close the middle of the field up and play either cover one or some type of zone pressure.
You know, the thing I think that really kind of stands out about them is their front. I think it’s by far the front best that we have faced in two years. They are long. They are physical. They are stout. They make a bunch of plays. It seems like they’re 6’7”, 290 kind of across the board. I think the D-ends are like 6’7” and 6’8”, 270 something pounds. Very Carl Nassib like I would describe their D-ends. And then at D-tackle, one of their D-tackles is 6’8”. So they are big, they are strong, and they do a really good job of not only being able to stop the run, but also being able to rush the passer in obvious passing situations, and then also batting balls down. So that will be a real challenge for our front.
Anthony Nelson, defensive end; AJ Epenesa is probably their best pure pass rusher, although Nelson is really good, as well. And then in the back end, Amani Hooker is a guy who’s played a lot of football for them.
And then special teams, I think the biggest thing there, LeVar Woods is their special teams coordinator. Doing a really good job there. Leading the nation in kickoff return average at 30.1 yards. That will be a real challenge for us.
Guys that stand out on special teams is a kid from Newark, New Jersey who’s a wide receiver for them. Ihmir Smith-Marsette is the guy that they’re using on kickoff returns, and then they also have Amani Jones, who does both of those things, is doing a nice job for them on kickoff coverage and kickoff returns.
And then Geno Stone is a guy from Pennsylvania here in state that’s playing on really all four phases for them and doing a great job. There are my overall notes. I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. You mentioned the quality of Iowa’s defensive line; how do you think your offensive line has played to this point?JAMES FRANKLIN: I think we’ve really taken some pretty good steps over the last couple years, and that includes this year. I think things that jump out to me is I think Miles has been pretty consistent, that we’ve been able to run the ball pretty much each week.
We got much less tackles for loss. I’ve mentioned to you guys before I think that’s a combination of our O-line and tight ends, and I also think that Ricky Rahne is doing a good job. We’ve had some problems in the past where they’ve brought in edge pressure, whether it’s a Sam or Will pressure, and we’ve already gotten into our play call. We’ve been in a situation where Saquon was getting the ball and there was someone right in his face. There’s less of that. So I think that’s a combination of some of the scheme things we’re doing, and I think our O-line and tight ends have been better.
I think in pass protection we’ve been solid. I think we can be better. I think sometimes you have to be careful because the stats sometimes can be deceiving because Trace is able to avoid some things. But I think we’ve been good. I think we can be better there with the offensive line developing from a pass pro.
But from a mentality, they’ve been excellent. From a team first mentality, they’ve been really, really good. From a big picture conceptual perspective I think they’ve been really good. I think the rotation that we used last week with Chaz and with Fries have been really good.
I think sometimes my approach to injuries, I think, is the right thing to do for our organization, but I think sometimes guys may be nicked up and the media does not know that, and I think that affects some things sometimes. I think us being able to get Chaz Wright some reps in there I think elevated Will Fries’ play, and Chaz has earned that. He’s played at a pretty high level the last couple years.
Q. Opponents have been rushing for 165 yards per game versus the defense so far. What has made it so challenging to stop the run this season so far that you’ve seen?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think to be honest with you guys, we talked about that before the season. We knew we had question marks at defensive tackle and we had question marks at linebacker. And I think we’ve made some progress there, but I think we’ve also had some injuries that have magnified some of those questions that we’ve had at those positions.
I see elements that are promising that make you feel good. We show flashes of being really good at times. But then I also think there’s times where guys try to make plays and get out of their gap, and it costs us.
You know, coming into the season, we knew those were some of our challenges. I talked about them fairly extensively coming into the season, and I think in some ways we’ve solved some of those challenges. In some ways those challenges still exist. We’ve got to take another step this week. We’re facing a team that that’s their identity. That’s who they want to be offensively, and it’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us.
Q. How do you know when a young wide receiver is ready to play a larger role? I’m thinking specifically of Jahan Dotson who got in the game last week, but that could apply to any of your freshmen.JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think it’s probably no different than anything else. It’s balancing what they’re able to do in the pass game in terms of route running, in terms of assignments, in terms of recognizing defenses, and also in terms of the run game and being able to hold up physically with our perimeter running game, which is a big part of what we do. So it’s a combination of all those things that you’re trying to factor in.
And then you’re also looking based on practice, based on practice and game evaluations. Do they give us the best chance to win? So that’s a constant weekly discussion on how we’re going to approach those things, and I think we go into it each Sunday saying, Okay, let’s see how this week goes to make those decisions.
I talked to all three of those guys on Sunday night after practice that this was going to be a big week for them, especially with losing some guys last week, that those guys need to prepare as if they’re going to be starters this week and then come Thursday or Friday we’ll make decisions.
Q. Your defensive ends you mentioned, Yetur and Shaka, can you describe a little bit about where their development is right now? Because Shaka maybe people didn’t notice a whole lot before Saturday, and all of a sudden the huge fourth quarter. Is he getting ready to have more of an impact on a regular basis, get more snaps? Where is he at?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think -- I guess where I mentioned earlier is you look at Yetur, Yetur was able to get one of those sacks early in the gam and then one a little bit later, and then Shaka got them in the fourth quarter; both were impactful and are important.
Defensive line, when you’re in a situation where it’s an obvious passing down and the team has to throw, the defensive line is at an advantage. Shaka is talented enough to take advantage of that situation.
But I do think there’s a difference between getting a sack in a normal situation of a game and being able to get a sack in an obvious passing situation of the game. Most importantly, Shaka was able to take advantage of that and do a really good job. Yetur was able to kind of spread it out kind of throughout the game with 10 tackles, as well, so they both played extremely well. But Shaka has shown us flashes of really good things for a while.
I think sometimes he’s not the biggest guy, so I think sometimes we don’t give him enough credit for what he’s able to do in the run game. But I think that’s the next step, is to get more tackles on normal downs, get more tackles for loss on normal downs, get production when it comes to sacks early in game, and then be able to do it when it matters most, which is what Shaka was able to do at the end of the game in a critical situation. So I think it’s a combination of all those things.
But most importantly, those two guys played well. I think there’s going to be confidence that comes from that, and we can grow and we can build on it. That will be the plan.
I think the other thing is making sure that we practice at that type of level with our entire defense and with our entire offense all week long.
Q. Trace has averaged 18 carries a game in the last four games. Is that a function of opposing defenses keying more on Miles? And I also wondered how concerned you are about Trace taking extra hits with all the extra carries he’s been taking lately?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think in general my concern right now is Trace is carrying too much of the load on offense. That’s something that we need to do a better job of. We need more players having a bigger impact on the game on offense. So that’s probably my biggest concern.
I think Miles really is starting to take a step. I thought last week was his best game. I think that’s probably my biggest concern with everything. We need to spread some of those big plays and some of those runs and some of those catches, and just overall offensive production needs to be spread out a little bit. That’s what I would say.
I think sometimes there’s a misconception that we are running Trace more or that we are -- Kris had shown me something that we’re using Tommy as a -- what’s the term? A decoy or things like that. We really don’t do that. If Tommy is in the game he’s part of the read, and the defense will determine whether he gets the ball or not.
Most of Trace’s runs are going to come from one of two things. It’s either a scramble off of a normal pass play or it’s some type of read where it’s a zone read or some type of RPO. It’s not necessarily that we go into the game saying Trace is going to run the ball this many times or we’re going to throw the ball to this guy. Our offense doesn’t really run like that.
You know, if Tommy gets the ball thrown to him it’s because the read told us to throw the ball to him; or if the ball is not thrown to Tommy, it’s not that he’s been a decoy, it’s that the read told us something else or we read it wrong, and then it’s the same way in the quarterback run game. It’s all pretty much RPO-based. We don’t have a whole lot of just straight called runs in our offense.
Q. You’ve said that a lot of the time your defense is really more of a 4-2-5 than a 4-3, and I’m wondering if that changes a little bit against this opponent, and what are the challenges in particular for linebackers against a team that runs it pretty well but also has two tight ends on the field that are receiving targets?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, it’s challenging. I think whenever you can be multiple like they are out of one personnel group -- and not just do it, do it well -- it’s challenging. Yeah, I think you guys have seen us in the past against these type of teams. Maybe you play more regular personnel where you have three true linebackers on the field. I think you guys have also seen us play just like when we play some passing teams we’ll get into what we’ve called our wild package, which is three or four defensive ends on the field.
I think you guys have also seen where we put three to four D-tackles on the field at the same time to maybe be a little bit more stout at the defensive end position.
There’s a lot of different things that we do, and it’s all week to week based on our opponent and what they try to do. Yeah, this will be a challenge for us. Completely different style and approach than what we saw last week.
Q. Journey Brown played a little bit on Saturday; Ricky Slade has been the guy at other times to come in. What has Jeremy done to warrant more playing time, and are you still looking for a go-to guy that can come in and give Miles a rest with Marc Allen out?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, Ricky was a little dinged up, and Journey has had two really good weeks of practice. There was a lot of conversation as a coaching staff last week. Conversation last week about Journey is really starting to do some good things. He’s got a lot of gifts, he’s got a lot of talents, but I think early on in his career, he was just thinking a lot. You’re starting to see him think less and let those talents come forward.
But we felt very comfortable putting him in, and he did a nice job. So I think his package will continue to grow, and then I think Ricky I think has got a chance to grow and learn from the experiences that he’s got already on game day and really have a nice second half of the year.
But you’ve got to have three guys that you feel good about. When we lost Mark, it was Journey’s time to step up for us. I think he’s done that now, but we’ve got to keep building on it. We’ll see how this week goes.
But like I said, I think Miles is playing at a pretty high level right now. I thought last week was his best game, and now we need those other two guys to continue growing.
Q. Micah seemed to be very productive when he was out on the field. Is that a fair assessment, and what do you think he needs to do to maybe earn more of the snaps at that position?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we discuss that every single week. Micah is a really interesting guy. Got to know him during the recruiting process. I’m getting to know him even better now. He’s very thoughtful. He sends me messages all the time. He’s very thoughtful. It’s very important to him. He cares a lot, but he’s still growing up and maturing. I think Coach Pry is doing a really good job of that. I think Micah is really open to that. I think that’s a big reason why he came here. We were very open and honest and transparent about how he was going to be coached and how he was going to be treated. So I see him taking steps.
A lot of the stuff for him is not necessarily the physical aspect. It’s all the details. It’s all the details, how to meet, how to practice, even at the hotel. It’s just all those details, and I think him and Coach Pry are building a really good relationship that’s built on trust. I think that’s really what we’re talking about is his role growing and increasing as he continues to show signs that he is dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s consistently.
But I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s shown some real flashes and has had pretty good production. But there’s also some times where there’s some things that got to get cleaned up.
I think it’s going to be a natural evolution.
Q. Has anything about Pat Freiermuth’s development surprised you, and did you anticipate he could be such an integral part of your offense at this stage of his career?JAMES FRANKLIN: You know, when you recruit these guys you have very high expectations of who and what they can be, and we got a chance to evaluate him in games. He came to camp two years in a row and really improved there. He comes from a family of coaches. Got a great mom and dad that handled the whole process really well.
You know, so he’s probably come in probably more mature than your typical freshman. I think it also helped that he came in here, he’s 257 pounds, and I think he’s 260 now, but runs well and catches the ball well.
And then I think the thing you never know is when they get here and they go up against other good players, is it too big? Is it too fast for them? When they get into the stadium, is it too big? Is it too fast for them? And every time we put him in a situation, it wasn’t. It wasn’t. He just did the same thing on Saturdays that he does in practice every single day and had a good summer and asked a lot of great questions and those types of things.
I think with every guy that we’re recruiting now we’re expecting and hoping that they’re going to come in and be able to have an impact. Now, whether that’s starting, that’s tough to say. But he’s just kind of -- every day has built that trust that we just kind of were talking about, and it happens slowly. Then there were some injuries that he was able to get some more reps and take advantage of it, and just kind of kept growing from there.
We’re very pleased with him. I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him, and been very impressed with his freshman year so far.
Q. You mentioned those freshman wide outs to have a big week this week. We didn’t see Juwan in the second half out in Indiana. Do you expect him to play on Saturday?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we we’re hoping to get him back in the game on Saturday and weren’t able to do that. Me and Juwan have been going back and forth for the last 48 hours because I talked to the trainers to get their feelings on it, but then I think it’s also interesting just to kind of hear what the players say themselves, what their temperament is about it.
He’s pretty confident that he’s going to be back, and so is Andy. But it’s early in the week, so we’ll see.
Q. This question is about the implications of a defense staying on the field, because the discrepancy was kind of stunning. The last two weeks you guys have been on for 189 and Iowa has been on for 104. There’s like a whole game --JAMES FRANKLIN: Who’s been on?
Q. Iowa’s defense has been on for 104 plays for the last two games total. You guys implications for practice, for strategy, for substitutions?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yes. Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. Those are things we discuss on Sunday, how many plays we played in the game. As you guys know, we use the navigation devices, distance traveled, and all those types of things, so it definitely factors into how we practice. Not as an entire team, but how we’ll modify those guys’ reps. And what we always do is then we check the data on Friday and compare it to the previous Friday and see have we recovered, been able to get the work that we needed to get done during the week, and have they recovered so that they can go out and play at a high level on Saturday. So all those things are factored in.
And I think that’s probably a couple things that we’ve talked about, as well, is we need to be better on 3rd down as an organization. Our offense needs to be better on 3rd down, which will create more opportunities for our offense to stay on the field and scoring opportunities, but the other impact of that, it keeps our defense off the field.
Now, when our defense is on the field we have to do a better job on 3rd down of getting off the field. I think sometimes when you look at time of possession, a lot of times if the offense is not sustaining drives, then you look at the defense and you say, The defense is being put in a tough spot because the offense isn’t sustaining drives as much as we possibly can, but the defense has the ability to go three-and-out and send it back.
It’s truly a team stat. Offense we’ve got to be better; on defense we’ve got to be better. That’s something that I think is going to be important in this game. Turnover ratio, like always, because that factors in very similar to staying on the field on 3rd down or getting off the field on 3rd down. We spent a lot of time talking about that on Saturday, because I think you’re exactly right, I think we played 106 plays on defense, which is way too many.
Q. I want to talk about your Z receiver position. Through four Big Ten games, the two co-starters you have there are combining for less than 20 receiving yards per game. Last Thursday, Ricky Rahne told us it wasn’t a personnel issue, it was how you were handling defensive strategy across the other guy. Given another game to assess that position, do you think that is the case, and how do you handle that moving forward? I have to imagine 17 yards per game combined between those two players probably isn’t what you were looking for.JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, we need more production. I think if you look at some of that it’s drops. But I think if you also look at our offense over -- in the past, in terms of what positions and the guys that are playing each position, who produces the most catches and the most yards in our offense, I think the Z is always a little bit behind those other positions.
But yeah, I think you look on Saturday, I think at that position we had one dropped explosive play and we had one dropped touchdown. So I think it’s a combination of all those factors.
But I think in general, our Z usually gets a little bit less opportunities and touches than the other two positions. That’s not overall scheme. A little bit of that is that. Part of that is also, like Ricky is saying, how defenses play us. But I do think that’s not completely unusual in our offense.
Q. Jonathan Sutherland has been getting more and more playing time starting on special teams and filling in for Garrett on Saturday. How would you assess his progression so far this year on defense?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, good, and we’re going to need it on Saturday, so he’ll get a bunch of reps on Saturday. As you guys know, GT will not be able to play the first half, so Jon will get a bunch of opportunities there and he’s progressing nicely. He’s got some real strengths. He’s a downhill -- you look at the play he caused the fumble on and that’s kind of who he is. When he makes his mind up to go make a tackle, there’s very little breakdown. Most guys will come under control and chatter their feet and get their hips underneath them and then make the tackle, and with Sutherland, he’s more like a missile. He just goes. I think he flashes that way a lot.
I think he can bring a lot of the physicality. I think his game and Marcus Allen’s game is very similar in a lot of ways. I think as he continues to get more confident, I think you’re going to see him be even more aggressive. I think you’re going to see him be more violent. But no different than we talked about earlier with Micah, your safeties and your linebackers got a lot on their plate in terms of adjustments, in terms of communication, and especially at the safety position; probably even more so at the linebacker, because a lot of times they’re the last line of defense. If you’re wrong on the back end, it’s going to be a long day for you.
I know Tim Banks is really excited about him and his development, and they’re working closely together. This week is going to be a next-man-up opportunity for him, no different than we had with Shelton’s situation the week before.
Q. Would you or I guess how would you -- you mentioned Trace carrying too much of the offense. How do you kind of -- have you sensed that he’s maybe getting worn out at all, not just physically but maybe mentally with everything that’s being asked of him, plus so many changes around him?JAMES FRANKLIN: No. I think as you guys know with Trace, he’s really Steady Eddie. He never really gets too high; he never really gets too low. The only time you ever see that is after a touchdown when he does his celebratory grand slam, home run, whatever you want to call it. But he handles things really well. He communicates really well. He came in and had a good conversation with Coach Rahne about something that he wanted to make a suggestion on offense about tweaking something that we do in terms of practice, you know, what periods we jog through and what periods we go full speed, to try to help with some timing and things like that.
But Trace is a guy that’s always part of the solution. He’s never about the problems. I think we all realize it’s easy to identify problems, but Trace is a solution guy. He’s always been really good at that from a leadership standpoint. He’s always been really good at that from an ownership standpoint.
Mondays, for example, I think he had the entire offense in there, which I think happens every Monday, watching tape together, having discussions, all those types of things, which culturally is really important for us.
Q. You’ve mentioned before that the farther away from the ball, the easier it is to play earlier in your career. You’ve got a couple of young defensive tackles that you’re leaning on now. None of it looks easy on the field, but is there a part of the game, run versus pass, or understanding one part or the other, that comes a little more naturally to a young defensive tackle or maybe something that will be easier to pick up for them as they get into the later part of their freshman year?JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it really kind of depends on the person and their skillset. You know, so one of the challenges is typically if you’re a defensive lineman who’s playing as a true freshman, it’s probably because you’ve been bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic than the people you’ve gone against your whole life. A lot of times guys can lean on that athleticism, even when they get here.
The biggest difference in my opinion is the physicality, especially when you’re talking about the closer to the ball you are. For the first time in most of these guys’ lives, they hit someone and the person hits them back as hard or harder, and that’s a strange feeling. If you’ve always been the aggressor and people have backed down or you’ve always been the aggressor and been able to knock people back, and now you get knocked back or someone comes back at you as aggressively as you’ve come at them, and they’re older, they’re stronger, they’re more dense, those types of things.
So I think that’s probably the biggest challenge for a freshman O-line and D-line is the physicality. They can get away with some things at the high school level from a technique perspective because they’re just better. They can play high and still not get knocked back in high school. They cannot have their hands inside and still be able to defeat a block. But if they’re not technically sound they’re going to have a hard time. If they’re playing high at this level they’re going to get driven off the ball. That’s probably the biggest challenge.
The speed and quickness and athleticism also is at another level, but I do think probably the biggest thing is just the physicality aspect of it and how quickly can you rebound mentally from that. Some guys, they go hard and they end up getting knocked on their rear end. That’s a reality check. This is a very humbling sport. It does that to all of us.
Some are able to bounce back very quickly from that, and some start to question themselves, which is hard because it’s the first time they’ve ever really questioned themselves in their careers.
Q. You guys put Jan Johnson on the scholarship at some point recently here. When did that happen, and what does it mean for you to be able to do that with him, given his whole path here?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think first of all, the expression I prefer to use with these guys is he earned it. We didn’t give him anything. Jan has earned it. I’ve been planning on doing it for a while. It’s kind of like you decide to get engaged and you’re just looking for the right moment to do it, and I’ve been thinking about doing that with Jan for a while.
But it’s like, what is the right time? And I was thinking about doing it in the locker room after the Indiana game. I thought it would be really cool to do that. I was talking to the team on Thursday and I was just kind of talking about Jan, and I was talking to the team about everybody in this room is sitting there, and every person in the room’s role was critical and important to what we’re trying to do. On top of that, that their circumstances could change like that.
Jan’s story is pretty incredible. You think about this. He walks on to Penn State. He walks on. In his first year, the wrestling coach, this guy by the name of Cael Sanders, you guys probably know who he is. Cael came over and said, Hey, Coach, we lost our heavyweight wrestler, and we’d love to see if one of your guys could help us. We know Jan wrestled in high school.
So as a true freshman he goes over and wrestles. He’s 220 pounds and he wrestles 285, the heavyweight, and allows them -- I’m not an expert on wrestling, but I know if you don’t have anybody to wrestle you lose a certain amount of points. If you have someone to wrestle you lose a certain amount of points. If you get pinned you lose a certain amount of points. If you win you get a certain amount of points.
So in a lot of ways he helped them that year win a National Championship. Does that, and then comes back and rejoins the team and then ends up, if I’m remembering correctly, the next year we have a bunch of injuries; plays in the Michigan game; tears his ACL. Then last year he’s the starting tight end on the scout team. He’s the starting tight end on the scout team because he gives us the best look.
And I’m telling everybody, I said, Think about it. Jan, where are you right now? He said, The starting Mike linebacker. I said, Where were you last year? He said, I was the starting tight end on the scout team.
So it’s just a really good example of Jan has always put the team first. Always. Always. He’s always put the University first, put the athletic department first. The wrestling team needed him. He went over there and did what he had to do to help that organization. You ask a guy who’s trying to earn a job at linebacker to go play scout team tight end? Not once did he question it. Not once did he ever hang his head. Not once did he let his shoulders hang.
Whatever Coach Pry and myself asked him to do, he did it to the best of his ability. On top of that, I didn’t mention, he graduated last year. He’s working on a master’s degree right now. So I’m telling this story in front of the team, and as you guys know, I get emotional. I’m just like, I don’t know why I’m waiting until Saturday. Jan, you’re on full scholarship, and the whole place goes crazy. Typically Mike Hazel and Jevin want to have a camera in for this, but I didn’t know I was going to do it. I just think it was the right thing to do. I’m talking about Jan, and I’m like, What are we waiting for right now. There’s no better time than the moment.
And telling that story I think we can all learn from Jan. I think we can all learn from Jan and people that are members of teams, people that are members of organizations. When you daily and time after time and moment after moment put the organizations’ objectives ahead of your own and you put the people around you objectives and goals ahead of your own, that’s a recipe for success in life. And Jan is that guy. So it was really cool.
Then we tried to call -- I know I’m talking too long about this. Then right after the meeting we tried to call his dad. His dad refused to answer the phone. We called his mom. His mom refused to answer the phone. So we didn’t even get Jan -- because they had another child that had a sporting event, so we didn’t get their parents until late that night. Then Jan’s dad is like, Yeah, I kept getting this call from Maryland. I don’t answer calls -- some of you guys know I’ve got a Maryland number. He wouldn’t answer my call. I’m like, I’m trying to call you with good news.
But it was really cool. I think Jan is another example. Charlie Shuman, B Smith. We’ve had so many examples of guys like this, which is to me what makes college athletics and college football so special.
Q. I know you talked about how well Miles is playing. How do you enter the Big Ten schedule? You mentioned the importance of that three-person rotation. Through four games the other guys have touched the ball twice out of the backfield, Journey once and Ricky once. Is that something you want to get back into the next five games, getting Ricky and Journey involved, or is it just more that there’s not a reason to take Miles off the field because of the way he’s playing?JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it’s a combination of both. It’s a combination of Miles is playing really well right now, and I think it’s also a combination of I told you Ricky was a little banged up last week. Journey was starting to kind of take that next step that we felt comfortable putting him in the game, that he could use his ability and could play with confidence and those types of things.
I think it’s kind of a combination of all those things. Miles is playing pretty well. It just so happens that you lose Marc Allen, and then it just so happens that Ricky gets dinged up and then Journey is the next guy up. J.T. is another guy that we had a lot of confidence in that we could put in.
But I think it’s not one of those things. It’s a combination. We’re going to need those other two guys to continue to take on some of this load. So I think to your point that you’re making is a lot like Trace. We don’t want Trace having to carry so much of the load of the offense. We also don’t want Miles having to carry so much of the load of the running game.