There can be only two conclusions from this week’s press conference: James Franklin’s intimately aware of every aspect of this program; and Coach cares about you, dear reader. Incontrovertibly, he heard the confusion from PSU fans over the age of 26, few of whom had ever heard of Sheck Wes, or Sheck Wes’ song Mo Bamba - and he chipped in with something for those under the age of 50.
It can’t be explained, but they were all there. Sean Spencer, as Big Boi, first mentioned that Greyhounds don’t float on water. Then, the rest of the Love Below crew appeared on stage. James Franklin as Benjamin Andre. James Franklin as Dookie on drums. Three more James Franklins as the Love Haters. Coach Franklin - rocking a gorgeous Rickenbacker Jetglo - as Possum Jenkins. James Franklin, grinning, as Johnny Vulture. And, of course, Coach as Andre, Ice Cold, 3000.
One of the James-es gave a count, and the rest started Hey Ya-ing. The middle-aged demographic rejoiced, and danced in the aisles.
And Then The Press Conference Started
JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, appreciate everybody coming out. Weather is really nice out there. Better than I anticipated. Never really know what the weather is like until I go to practice or come to the press conference.
Kind of summarizing the Iowa game, it’s kind of interesting. You look at the statistics that we talk about each week. It’s pretty much a wash. Turnover battle was even. Penalties was basically even. Drive start battle was basically even. Sack battle was basically even. Explosive play battle was basically even.
So we were fortunate to come out of that game with a win against a really good football team here at home, especially having to overcome the two safeties, which in my 23 years as a coach and however may years as a player, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that.
So we were fortunate to be able to overcome that, but our guys have shown over a number of years that we are a resilient group, we’re gritty and gutty, and guys stick together. Guys stick together on the sidelines supporting one another and all those things. That’s good to see.
So happy about that. Moving on to the challenge this week is Michigan and Coach Harbaugh and The Big House. So a tremendous opportunity. I know our guys are excited about the opportunity. If you look at them they’re a veteran team; 21 of was 29 starters returning this season.
They opened the season with a loss to Notre Dame, and since then have played really well. Offensive coordinator, Pep Hamiltin. I’ve known Pep forever. Pep spent a lot of time in D.C. and Howard when I was at the University of Maryland. I’ve known Pep for a long time. He does a really good job. He had a nice career in the NFL for a number of years were he gained great experience, and has been at Michigan for the last two years. He and Coach Harbaugh are heavily involved in the offense.
Big thing with them is their balance. They’re extremely balanced offensively. I think in some ways similar to what we faced last week in terms of run first team, and a lot of their offense is based around their tight ends. They got two very difficult matchups as tight ends, both in the run and pass game. So that will be a really challenge for us.
Then the transfer quarterback, Shea Patterson, has really helped them. They were able to get a veteran guy who has played a lot of football and has mobility, so that will be challenges.
The stat that probably jumps out the most with those guys is time of possession. They’re seventh in FBS. I think we know the defense plays a huge part in that.
Offensively they’re committed to running the football 72% the time on normal downs. They’re what we call the truck play or pin and pull. Split flow zone, inside zone, and then the kick play.
Big 12 personnel team based back to the tight ends that we talked about, and then mix in 21 personnel and then 11 personnel is their third most likely personnel group, which goes against the norm in college football.
Shea Patterson, been very impressed with him; completing 67% of his balls. The running back is doing some really good things now. Karan Higdon is a senior and has got 831 yards, and probably most impressive is the 5.4 yards per carry as well as him catching the ball out of the backfield.
Donovan Peoples Jones, who we know very well who we recruited. Big, strong, physical, fast receiver; has done a nice job for them.
And then the tight end, Zach Gentry, 6’8” 262 pounds. If I remember correctly from recruiting out of high school, I think he was a quarterback, a quarterback at transition.
Don Brown on defense. I think you guys know we got a lot of history with Don. He’s done a great job. You look all the way back to his time at Boston College. Were faced them in the bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl when he was the defensive coordinator. You look at his time now at Michigan. He’s had either the top defense in the country or one of the top defenses in the country really since he’s been doing it now for the last how many years.
We have history even before that. He was defensive coordinator at Maryland when I was the offensive coordinator. Got a lot history there; got a lot of respect for Don both personally and professionally, and his family. I think he did a great job. Really, really good job.
They lead the nation in total defense and pass defense. They’ve held seven of their last eight opponents to the lowest yardage total of the season. They’re a base four down front, but they’ll mix in some three down stuff.
They’re a press a man pressure defense. They’re going to try to overload you in the box and take every yard away. Most defensive coordinators will give you something while trying to take another thing away. Don does not want to give up a yard in the game. He tries to take everything away from you.
That’s how they play. They’re going to try to pressure your quarterback, overload the box in the run game, and going to take all easy throws away because they press pretty much every play. They know how you’re going to try to attack them and you know how they’re going to try to stop you. They spend all week preparing on those things that people try to do to try to attack press man coverage, and we spend all week trying to come up with ways to beat it.
The total defense, they’re first in the Big 10 and first in the country. Passing defense, first in the Big 10 and first in the country. Scoring defense, first in the Big 10 and sixth in the country. So they’re doing a great job.
Chase Winovich is a guy that when we got the job here at the State of Pennsylvania we tried to get involved in but it was just too late. He’s done a great job. I talked to him Big 10 media days. I think he got there at 208 pounds as a linebacker, and has transitioned into a 255 pound defensive end. His motor on tape is. He plays the game really, really hard.
Devin Bush is as impressive a middle linebacker as you’ll see. He flies all over the field and is explosive, strong, and powerful. I think you guys all know we knew Lavert Hill very well, extremely well. He’s playing at a high level for them, too.
Then special teams, Chris Partridge runs their special teams. It’s his third seen there. They’re fast, they’re physical. Guys that jump out to us, Jake McMurray is is a wide receivers; starts on three special teams units for them. Jordan Glasgow the Glasgow family seems like they’ve had a big impact at Michigan for a number of years he starts on a four units for them.
Their punter, Will Hart, is punting the ball 50 yards consistently. Able to swing the field for them. Ambry Thomas is another guy we know really well that we recruited that has a huge special teams role for them. Then we talked about Donovan Peoples Jones as a punt returner.
I skipped over the players of the week. From last week, offensively was Trace, defensively was Yetur, and special teams of Pinnegar. I didn’t go over that because it’s probably obvious to everybody. Probably could have figured that out.
Q. Good afternoon, James. How would you describe the Michigan defensive line? You had a lot of praise Iowa’s defensive line last week.JAMES FRANKLIN: I think they’ll really good. I think the difference is with Iowa they were really controlling the game on the defensive side of the ball with their D line. They put a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure on their D line. It started and ended with their D line.
Literally, you saw on tape you would line up in empty formations, and they play a four man box. They were able to do that because of how they coach and how they played those defensive lineman, especially with their length, which is really unusual. So I think it really started and ended with their D line in a lot of the different ways.
Where Michigan, their personnel is impressive. Gary, we all know about him. The defensive end we just talked about, we know about him. The middle linebacker.
But I would say what really is Michigan is the corners. It starts with their corners. They’re able to put those guys on an island and play press man coverage all the time.
Again, there are very few plays you look at on film and you see a light box. They’re going to overload you in the box. Everybody is at the line of scrimmage pressuring you in your face. High pressure, run game blitzes, pass game blitzes, and it’s challenging. There is no doubt about it. I think you guys have heard me mention this before. Reminds me when I first got to the University of Maryland. Played Florida State and they were really talented and they played press man and they overloaded the box.
There wasn’t a whole lot of yards when you watched the tape. You’re fighting for every yard you could get. That’s how I would describe them. Don as a defensive coordinator and their defense, I would describe them as greedy. They want to take everything away. Most defensive coordinators and coaches don’t really approach it that way.
So it’s really challenging. I think their personnel is extremely good. They’ve been recruiting well for a long time, even before this staff arrived. Personnel has always been strong at Michigan. But I think their scheme combined with personnel is very challenging.
Q. I want to ask you about Patterson. What stands out about Shea Patterson?JAMES FRANKLIN: Usually I can’t hear some of you guys but everybody in the room mouths you what you said. Literally you guys did get it? I had a hard time. Sounds like crumbled. What stands out about Shea Patterson? Thank you. This is like a co op. We all work together.
I would say a couple things. They were able to go out and get an experienced quarterback, so they got a guy who has played a lot of football. He’s been in big moments, those types of things. He’s a guy that I would probably describe a lot like Trace. You watch him, and he’s able to make plays from the pocket, from outside the pocket, and also able to make plays with his feet.
Like I mentioned earlier, he’s already played a lot of football. They were able to bring a guy into their program that had a lot of experience already, and I think has really helped them. So he’s added another dimension to their offense, and I would describe him in a lot of ways like Trace.
Q. (Regarding Denny Douds.)JAMES FRANKLIN: Denny Douds, right? I don’t know. The connection must be bad. A lot of times it’s just withone person, but this seems like it’s all of you.
I did hear Denny Douds. Huge impact. Denny really served a lot of roles for me. Denny was my head coach in college. Denny was a father figure in a lot of ways for me. For me for a good portion of my life I didn’t really have that role in my life, so Denny kind of filled a lot of those gaps for me.
Then after I got done playing and thought I wanted to coach, I lived with Denny and his wife, Judy, for a period of time until I found a place to stay. So I remember coming in nights after practice and after meetings and we would sit on the back porch, and Denny is a huge ice cream guy, so we would eat Klondike bars on the back porch and talk stories, and I would ask him a thousand questions as a young ball coach trying to figure some things out, where I wanted to go with all this.
He’s always been a great sounding board for me. When I was at the University of Maryland they used to come and visit all the time. Pretty much everywhere I had been from that point on they would come and spend time and talk ball, or I would go up there and spend time and talk ball with them.
Denny has been a huge part of my life for a long time. Long time. I think he’s been a head coach there for 43 or 47 years. I think he’s been at ESU for like 53 years. Just been a huge impact on my life personally and professionally.
I love Denny. It was really cool couple years ago to be able to go back there for his 50 years. They had a banquet in the summer for him. That was really cool. Not only were we able to see Denny and his family, but then it brought back hundreds of former players. It was kind of strange. You would have guys in the room that were 62 years old that played for Denny and guys that were 26 years old that played for Denny, and everything in between. Fathers and sons. It was really pretty cool.
The wins are important in this business. We all get it. But I also hope that I have the opportunity to have the type of personal impact that Denny had on people and had on that community and all those types of things. I haven’t reached out to Denny yet because I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to say to him. Kind of been struggling with that, to be honest with you. I’ll give him a call.
Try to give him some time as well, because, you know, it’s just you been in the same place for as many years as he’s been there and all the lives that he’s touched, when you walk away it’s hard. I think we have all seen that. We’ve seen that here at Penn State. We’ve seen that nationally. It’s hard at the end.
So I’m going to reach out to Denny and hopefully get some time with him to talk and make sure he knows how much I appreciate him professionally, but more importantly personally. I think it’s just a great example why sports are looked at the way they’re looked at in our country. Coaches have a huge impact. Coaches and high school teachers and elementary school teachers have such a huge impact on young people in our communities and complement what’s being taught and learned in the classroom and setting kids up for success later in life with great life lessons.
I guess where I’m struggling with is how do I put all this into words it Denny? How do I explain that during a game week on a phone call when I would rather do it in person. Trying to kind of work through all that.
Q. Trace has been called the best player in college football. How is he, and what does Trace do to maintain his durability?JAMES FRANKLIN: Best player in college football, I’m assuming he’s talking about Trace. I’m just kind of -- I heard best player in college football, so I just assumed what he’s talking about. I just think it’s the collection of work. You know, it’s all of it. It’s not just the stats. It’s not just the wins and losses. It’s all of it. You think about what that guy has been able to do in his career, the number of wins. I mean, we played good football here at Penn State for a long time, and he’s got a chance to be the winningest quarterback in program history. Probably the most important stat that you can get.
He’s done unbelievably academically. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great role model. He’s been a great son, been a great brother. He’s been a joy to coach. He’s been a tremendous example, both verbally and through his actions.
His production is hard to argue with, both in the pass game and in the run game. You know, so it’s the combination of all of it. There’s players that have had really good years, but again, if you’re coming up with a list of characteristics or attributes or things that you were looking for to determine a guy’s career, you know, he’s got most of the boxes checked. You know, so when you talk about how valuable he’s been to this team, but more importantly how valuable he’s been to our organization over the last four years, I think one of the great examples of Trace’s impact is Tommy Stevens. I think because of how Trace has been and his relationship with Tommy, to sit here and say that that didn’t factor into Tommy staying, I think that was a big part. I think Tommy’s respect for Trace and their relationship. For Sean Clifford, you know, for Levis, for Shuster, for all these guys. That’s a strong room that we’ve got, our quarterback room, and it starts at the top with Trace and with Ricky.
There’s just so many ways that I could describe it. When it comes to community service, he’s been the model. He really has been. He’ll leave a legacy here not just outside of our building with how he’s treated people and how he’s played, and he’s been a warrior, but also inside our building. I mean, the same thing that you guys see, there’s examples of that.
Everybody knows he got dinged up in the game, so I’m not keeping that a secret. Well, literally by 7:00 a.m. he’s done more than most people do all day to give him the best chance to be healthy, to practice at a very, very high level, and then also to make sure that he can go and be present and dominate in the classroom.
So he just -- he’s a great example. He came in with a tremendous foundation from mom and dad. I actually met with mom and dad and Trace yesterday. They’ve done a great job. And then we were fortunate and able to build on that. But it’s been a real complementary process between our staff and Trace’s parents, and all along this journey kind of working together for what was in Trace’s best interest and what was in Penn State’s best interest.
Q. Special teams, the guys have done some really good things there. How close are you to getting that whole clean special teams game?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, after this Saturday, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I think some of it is personnel. I think some of it is some of the things that we can do better from a scheme standpoint to put our guys in better position. We just need to be more consistent. We do some really good things on special teams, but then we’ve also had some plays that have really hurt us. There’s no doubt about it that we need to be better there and we need to be more consistent there, and then going on the road against a really good opponent in a challenging environment, you know, we can’t afford to make those types of mistakes like we made on Saturday. I think we all recognize that and are working really hard to mature in that area and grow in that area.
But we’ve made a bunch of big plays, as well, we’ve just got to get rid of the plays that are hurting us.
Q. On 3rd down, last week you guys were 25 percent on 3rd down conversions. I was wondering what has to be done for that to improve and especially against a Michigan team that’s one of the best in the country at stopping teams on 3rd down?JAMES FRANKLIN: Better on 3rd down. Yeah, that’s going to be a real challenge. You look at Michigan defensively, it really doesn’t change a whole lot by field zone or situation. They are who they are. So it’s going to be a real challenge. They’re not just good in one area, they’re really good in general on defense. I mean, statistically they are dominant. They are dominant.
Their time of possession has been impacted because they get off the field on 3rd down and continue to give the ball back to their offense over and over and over again by being great on 1st and 2nd down and creating challenging 3rd down situations and either getting to your quarterback or breaking the ball up. So that’s going to be a big story line for the game is can our defense get off the field on 3rd down and create opportunities for our offense, and then is our offense going to be able to execute on 3rd down and try to swing that time of possession back into more of a balanced situation and put our defense in a better situation and put our offense in a better situation.
That’s going to be a big story line of the game. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. But it’s not just 3rd down, it’s all of it, and like I said, there’s not a whole lot of change in how they try to defend you, and it’s an aggressive, in your face -- and they’ve got a bunch of different calls and they’ve got a bunch of different wrinkles that they do, but for the most part you’re going to have to be able to handle the pressure, not only in terms of your quarterback, them trying to get to your quarterback, but also run blitzes and then also what they do on the perimeter with their defensive personnel in terms of press coverage in your face and challenging every throw.
Q. I’m wondering, why do you think you guys have been so good in the red zone, and what role does play calling have in that?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think we’ve been good in the red zone this year for a couple reasons. You know, I think when you’re able to run the ball better, whether it’s traditional runs with your running back, and I think our improvement on the O-line and tight end and what Miles is doing has had a huge impact on our red zone. As you get down there in the red zone, your playbook starts to shrink because you don’t have a lot of the vertical concepts to your passing game.
The teams that typically are the best teams in the red zone are the ones that are able to run the ball, so I think that’s probably one of the bigger differences this year is our ability to run either with the quarterback or with the running back down there has been helpful, and I think we’ve made some plays. I think our tight end development at that position has helped us in the red zone, as well, really with all of those guys, Holland, Bowers and Freiermuth, so I think that’s been a part of it, too. And I think our offensive staff has done a really good job of studying it, have a really good idea of who they are, how they want to attack them and cause conflict in their assignments and their responsibilities, and so far so good. And then when you’ve got a young talented kicker that’s starting to gain some confidence and grow there, I think that helps, as well. I think he’s made six out of his last seven field goals, so that’s been a big part of it. But I think we all know when you get in the red zone you’ve got to score touchdowns against good teams. The field goals are good, but if you want to go on the road and beat a good team, you’ve got to score touchdowns when you have the opportunity.
Q. The defensive ends have gotten a lot of attention the last couple of weeks, but have you noticed an improvement in guys like Givens and Windsor?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I actually think you look at what we were able to do last week, I thought we did some really good things across the board with our defensive line. I think the area that we’ve got to get better is some of the penalties that we’ve had. Those things we’ve got to get cleaned up.
The aggressive penalties that happened during the play, I think we want to limit them, too, but you can live with them, but it’s the yards that we just give away. We’ve got to get those cleaned up, especially in critical situations.
But I think our D-line, as you know, coming into the season, D-line and linebacker were probably two of our biggest question marks. I think as the season goes on, our defense is playing better. Why are they playing better, because of our D-line is starting to get better and play with more confidence from a depth perspective. And the same thing with our linebackers. We’ve got some young players that are starting to gain confidence, and we’re kind of starting to have an idea of who our guys are at that position.
I thought last week we did a pretty good job of controlling of line of scrimmage. So we’re going to need to continue to do that because week in and week out in this conference, like we’re going to -- like the challenge we’re going to face this week, we’re going to have to do that. This team wants to run the football, and then they want to complement it with their passing game and getting their tight ends into match-ups, favorable match-ups, so we’re going to need to continue growing there.
We’ve had some injuries. We’ve had other guys had to step up, so there’s been a lot of different factors there, but I do see us getting better.
Q. Do you go back to what happened in that game against them in 2016 at all to try to simulate the experience in the big house, or are the situations completely different?JAMES FRANKLIN: The game that we went there three years ago? Yeah, I don’t -- I think we’ve already learned from that experience. I think if you look at how we have played really since that game, we have made a lot of corrections. We’ve gotten better. I think we’re one of the better teams in the country when you look at that, and not only overall record but also specifically how those games have played, the wins, the losses, all those types of things. We’ve been very competitive.
I think I’m not happy and we’re not happy until we win them all. I get that. But to sit here and say we’re going to go back to that game three years ago, no. We’ve evolved, we’ve learned, we’ve grown. It’s going to be a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. We’re excited about the opportunity, and we’re excited about the challenge.
Three years ago compared to now are two completely different teams, two completely different points in our program’s development and history. You’re always learning, but the players on this team, a good portion of them weren’t even here when that game took place.
Most important thing we can do is study these guys statistically, study these guys when it comes to tendencies, watch as much film as we possibly can, and come up with a plan that’s going to put our players in the best position to beat this team this year, and it’s pretty much that simple week in and week out, and that’s also coaching fundamentals and techniques and getting our guys prepared for the players on our team who haven’t been there yet, of what that environment is going to be like.
It’s all of those things.
Q. James, what do you see, do you and Brent see as Micah’s upside at linebacker? A lot of people out there were like, why don’t you just play him at D-end, but I’m assuming you guys see something for him long time at that position. What do you see for him there?JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I think you probably see both. You know, I don’t think there’s any question that Micah could play D-end. We had an opportunity where we had a little bit more depth at D-end, and we had more questions at linebacker and felt like he could answer some of those questions, and he wanted to do it. I think one of the things that’s nice is I think as Micah continues to grow and get more confidence and Brent gains more confidence, as well, I think there’s a lot of ways we can use him in both ways. I think we can use him as a linebacker. I think we can get him into situations from personnel packages where we’re using him to blitz the quarterback and rush the quarterback.
So in a lot of ways you’re able to take advantage of all his skills. But that will be a constant conversation over the next number of years here, but for us right now, I see him getting better each week and gaining confidence. The reps usually show that, indicate that.
So I think you’ll see Micah continue to grow and play with more confidence, and I think you’ll also continue to see Micah have more and more production, and then I think as he continues to really start to master that position, I think you’ll start to see us put more things on his plate.
Now, Micah wants all those things right now. I mean, Micah wants to play linebacker, he wants to play running back, and he wants to wrestle for Cael, and he’s not kidding. He talked to Cael about it. He wants to do it all, and he wants to do it all yesterday, and that’s just kind of getting Micah to understand -- let’s focus on one thing at a time and get really good at that one thing before we put the next thing on his plate.
But he’s good. He says it, kidding around, but he’s deadly serious, and we have a lot of fun with him, but right now, we’re pretty pleased with how he’s handled himself in the classroom and how he’s growing as a linebacker and how he’s embracing all the aspects of our program. But it’s one day at a time. It’s one step at a time, no different than anything else.
But I think you’ll see it. Over time it’ll happen, slowly but surely.
Q. Speaking of one of your other linebackers, Cam Brown seems to have really stepped up his game the last couple weeks. Is that what you’ve seen from him, and with such a unique talent like Cam who’s 6’5”, plays linebacker, is this what you envisioned for him at the very beginning when you signed him as a linebacker?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. He always could run. He was always aggressive. He’s an intelligent guy, as well. So yeah, we thought he could do a lot of different things for us.
I think part of it was kind of finding the right position for him. I think that was part of the journey for him, as well. I think the other thing is because he’s so long, getting the right type of mass on him was challenging. When you’re that big -- he put on 20 pounds, and it still didn’t really look like it a whole lot, but there’s one thing to putting on weight, it’s another thing to put on strength and durability and those types of things. So we’ve been very pleased with him. He’s playing aggressive. He’s playing violent. He’s playing fast. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. So yeah, we’ve got very high expectations for him, not only this weekend but also in the near future.
He’s coming along nicely. I know Brent really enjoys working with him, but I think he’s got a very bright future, and he’s going to need to play well on Saturday.
Q. Trace had that long run Saturday after hurting his leg, kind of showed his toughness. I’m just curious, you mentioned he’s gritty before; is that the epitome of his toughness? Can you think of an example or two where he’s kind of impressed you with that toughness, and how do you think that’s going to affect him come Saturday, as well, then?JAMES FRANKLIN: Well, I really do, but as you know, I’m not going to talk about how it’s going to affect him on Saturday, but yeah, I think it’s a really good example. Again, I don’t think it’s one moment. I think Saturday was a moment that probably exemplified that, but I think overall, what he’s been able to do for the last three and a half years I think is really the story. I don’t think one game is going to define Trace McSorley. It’s the whole package. It’s the running, it’s the passing, it’s the leadership, it’s the toughness, it’s the academics, it’s the community service. It’s all of it. And I think that’s why whenever I listen to press conferences that the coaches were saying or read transcripts or whatever it may be, everybody talks about him.
Last year Saquon Barkley got a lot of attention, but a lot of coaches you talk to say, yeah, Saquon Barkley was a very, very special player, but it started and ended with the quarterback. He made it all go.
So I think there’s a lot of good coaches in our league. You could make argument maybe the best in the country. There’s a lot of respect for Trace universally. I just -- Saturday was a really good example of that. He got banged up a little bit, he went down, and it was like the whole stadium, you could like literally, there was no oxygen left in the stadium. The whole stadium took a deep breath, and then when he came out of that tent and started jogging around, that moment probably kind of tells the story. But I would say actually the fact that he’s been playing this long and there have been very few times that he’s even laid on the field in the first place talks about it, the way he’s been able to develop because of his toughness, because he never misses practice, the way he’s been able to develop because of how he takes care of his body, how much sleep he gets at night. He’s never cramped. And I know these things sound small, but it’s because of his sleep and because of his nutrition and because of his hydration. Because he does all those things right allows him to practice at a high level every single day without losing time. Because of how he practices and because of how he trains allows him to play at a high level.
And the reality is if you’re not living right in every one of those areas, it’s going to come back to haunt you at some point. One of those areas is going to catch up to you, and it’s going to limit your development. And Trace is a guy that is willing to make all those choices day after day, whether he’s in Lasch building or outside of Lasch building that are going to give him and us the best chance to be successful.
I think that speaks volumes.
Q. With Jake Pinegar, even when he wasn’t seeing that success translate to field during games, you mentioned during practice he was still hitting the kicks. Now that he’s hitting them in the game, have you seen any kind of change in him in practice?JAMES FRANKLIN: Not really. I think it goes back to what I was telling you guys before. I was seeing, we were seeing great things from Pinegar at practice every single day. He was doing some really good things. But we all know going into Beaver Stadium, it’s different. That’s a different environment. I can’t imagine there was too many games in Ankeny, Iowa, that were similar to Beaver Stadium. It’s different for him.
But he’s been great in practice. He’s worked really hard, both on and off the field. Having some success on Saturdays allows him to continue growing and building on it. But I think it goes back to me saying before that we’re a developmental program. We’re going to recruit these guys and we’re going to love them and we’re going to work them hard and coach them hard and develop them.
No different than we talked about drops. If you see these guys and they’re investing and doing everything that they should be doing, that’s going to allow the coaches and the players themselves to have a lot of confidence, that they’re going to have the success that they want to have, and I think that was the same thing with Jake. He was really hitting the ball well in practice. We’ve done a really good job of creating competition at that position, so I think that’s helped, as well.
But yeah, it was great to see him go out and play well on Saturday. We needed it, and he needed it.
Q. This morning Garrett Taylor told us that you pointed out in the Sunday team session, Yetur Gross-Matos’s practice habits. I’m curious what those habits have looked like and how you’ve seen them translate on game day?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, so Yetur is a guy that he doesn’t know anything else but full speed. Some guys you have to coach that, and they figure it out later in their careers. Some guys you fight with them their whole career, and they never practice as hard as they should practice, and then it never translates and they never end up maximizing their potential or their ability, and then other guys just naturally have a great motor. I think this guy at Michigan, their D-end, 15, Winovich -- am I saying his name right? He’s got an unbelievable motor. I think Yetur has got a great motor.
And I think what’s really good and I think what’s really important is when your team sees a guy like that practice like that all the time and then is able to have the success that he has, that sends a great message for our whole team in terms of what work ethic and motor can do.
I don’t know if I’ve been around a D-end two weeks in a row with that type of production in the Big Ten. Really, really impressive, and I think the most important thing is -- you know, sometimes Coach Pry will call a stunt or Coach Chaos, Spencer will call a stunt, and we’ll slant into a gap and no one will block him and you tackle a guy in the backfield and the guy gets up and goes crazy and all that kind of stuff. But a certain percentage, the scheme made the play for him. And then you have the guys who defeat a block and make a play, and they did it.
And right now what I see happening is kind of a combination of those two things. A lot of his tackles, if you’ll go back and watch his production, it’s not at the point of attack. He’s the backside end, and he’s running the play down on the opposite side of the field. So to me, whenever I can show that in a team meeting on Sunday and show those type of effort plays, I think it goes a long ways.
I’m really pleased. He’s a guy that I think you guys know we’ve been excited about for a while. He’s got the body type you’re looking for, he’s got the athleticism you’re looking for, he’s got the mentality. And then, hadn’t played a whole lot of football for us, and is gaining confidence and has spent time in the weight room in the off-season. So it’s all starting to come together for him right now. We’re going to need him to play really well on Saturday, and as you can imagine, they’re also doing the opposite. They’re saying, this guy is playing his tail off right now, identified him, and they’re saying, we can’t allow this guy to have the type of production he’s had the last couple weeks.
Just like we’re trying to continue the trend, they’re trying to stop the trend.
Q. You guys, almost half your staff is in new roles this year, you mentioned special teams scheming earlier. Has there been more of a transition there? Have you been part of that before, other than maybe your first year here, where people were in new spots, and how much growing pains did you anticipate? How would you gauge that factor?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think that’s definitely a factor. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. You look at my career as a head coach, we’ve had pretty good consistency. I think you guys have also heard me talk in the past about the importance of experience. Experience counts, and stability counts, and consistency counts.
Joe Moore had to leave to go be the head coach at Mississippi State. That’s the right thing for Joe. That’s the right thing for his family, and that’s a win for everybody. That’s a great situation. But we can’t have guys leave for lateral moves. You know, lateral moves in terms of job description and professionally. That’s what can’t happen, because the reality is every time you lose someone and you have to replace them with someone new, there’s a transition process. There’s growing pains.
So that’s always a part, year in and year out, no different than losing players that graduate and losing players to the NFL, replacing those guys. There’s growing pains that come with that. We lost three D-tackles last year. We knew coming into this season that was going to be a big question mark for us, getting those guys.
And the same thing with the coaches. The administrative that’s been with us for a long time. Probably the fact that those guys have now been with me all these years, it probably saves an hour and a half a day. So if you hire someone new, I’m spending an hour explaining all those things that these guys, I don’t have to say a word to about. Whenever you hire a new coach, they may have great experience, but you look, they’ve come from somewhere else that has a different system and has a different culture, and they have to fit into it.
I think a lot of times when you have turnover, you know, when you really start to get a return on your investment is year two. So yeah, I think for us, we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can in terms of creating a really good environment and that people want to come to work at every single day, and then also that financially we’re paying the same salaries that everybody else is in terms of our peer groups. That’s got to happen, because to sit here and say that that’s not a factor, it is a factor. This is a special place, but that’s a factor.
So yeah, I think retention is really, really important for us to keep growing.
And again, if people leave for obvious promotions, that’s a different story.
Did I answer your question? I don’t know if it’s the mint green shirt, but you just seem -- your spirit is a lot better. Your spirit is a lot better. Sometimes you’re a little bit like -- what is that cartoon with the one -- is it Eeyore? But the mint green, it’s got your spirit -- your wife is going to be all over that, huh?
Q. From a coaching perspective, where is the disconnect between what you’re preparing for each week and then how it’s executed, because you’ve mentioned some of these special teams things, you’ve been preparing for them all week and then they work. How do you get a team to execute on those plays across the board, offense, defense and special teams for things that you know are coming and then you execute like you practiced for them?JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, let’s be honest, on offense, defense and special teams -- your point is a good one. So on offense, defense and special teams, there is going to be plays that we prepared for and schemes that we’re expecting to see, and we are going to execute at a high level. But there’s going to be plays where we don’t. They’re on scholarship, too. They’ve got really good coaches, too, and there’s going to be times where they get you. That’s going to happen. You want that percentage to be as small as it possibly can be.
There’s also going to be the other end of that where something is going to show up in the game that Michigan is going to get from us that we haven’t shown before and that we’re going to get from Michigan that we haven’t seen before, a new wrinkle. Something is going to show up. And then when you have to go back and say, okay, we haven’t seen this, but here are our rules for bunch. Here are our rules for empty. Here’s our rules for unbalanced. Here’s our rules for an odd stack. So you can’t cover everything all week long. You’ve got to invest your time in the things you think you’re going to see and then have rules to cover the others.
And then you’re going to have some things that you cover and you work and you don’t execute, and that’s happened a few times.
I think what happens sometimes with guys is they know their responsibility, but then they try to do too much, so they know their responsibility, and then they try to do too much to help somebody else or take on somebody else’s responsibility, and that haunts you.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to be disciplined enough to do your job within the scheme. If you’re responsible for the A-gap, you’ve got to be in the A-gap. You’ve got to be in the A-gap. And I think what happens sometimes is the ball is about to hit the B-gap, and you get out of the A-gap and jump in the B-gap to make the play, and you make it, but then the next time that happens, now you jump into the B-gap and the running back sticks his foot in the ground and hits the A-gap and now you didn’t do why you are job. So it’s that fine line of I’ve got to do my job and I’ve got to trust that the other 10 guys are going to do their jobs consistently. And you may get away with that a few times where you go outside the framework of the defense or the offense to make a play and it works for you, but that same percentage where it works for you, that same percentage is going to come back and bite you at some point. Does that make sense? So it’s the maturity to say that I’m going to do my job and I’m going to trust that the other 10 guys are going to do their job. And the hard part is when they get outside of their framework and then they get rewarded for it, that’s where you’ve got to be careful because now they’re likely to do it more at a higher level, and it’s going to come back to beat you more at a higher level, and I think that’s what’s showed up a few times.
The fake field goal, literally, you go back and watch the tape, we are pointing at the guy, my guy, my guy, pointing, and then what happens, the play starts, the guy goes down to block someone, our guys get off of our man, and all of a sudden he slips out and then makes an unbelievable catch.
So we’ve just got to get all 11 guys, very Bill Belichick, do your job, and you’ve got to do it, not just one play, you’ve got to do it for four quarters because the one play you don’t when you play good teams, they’ll take advantage of it.